What UK educational institutions need to know about staff retention during a pandemic

by Louise Young
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With schools, colleges, and universities across the UK closed for the foreseeable future, educational institutions have had to make big changes to the way they communicate with and educate pupils, students, parents – and staff.

But what exactly does the Coronavirus pandemic mean for staff retention during this period? And how can all different levels of educational institutions contend with the reality that maintaining a full staff might not be possible?

At Kinteract, we’re keen to keep you updated on the important changes to the education sector during the pandemic. However, we advise that you follow this up with official government or union updates, as well as liaising directly with the educational institution you work through.

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

By now, you’ll be familiar with the term ‘furlough’ or ‘being furloughed’, which is in reference to the government’s new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Briefly, this is so that institutions and companies can keep staff protected during the pandemic and continue paying employees, 80% of their PAYE salary or up to £2,500 per month.

Throughout many educational institutions in the UK, and worldwide, however, certain team members are paid through recruitment agencies or umbrella companies, such as supply staff. Although there is no set advice on whether or not these types of organisations can claim back pay from the government, if individuals are being paid through PAYE, there may be opportunity for them to be furloughed, and therefore able to continue to receive wages.

Most, if not all, contracted teachers, however, will not experience the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This is explained in more detail below.

Am I eligible?

If you usually work through recruitment agencies as a supply staff member, but currently do not have any work, consult with your agency about your previous role and request to be furloughed. However, please note that during your furlough period, you won’t be able to work for that particular job, even if requested to.

If you have a fixed term contract with a school, it’s still necessary to keep you on board, as you’ll be an essential asset when it comes to supporting other teachers and providing care for students who require it. You’ll have also built relationships with many of the pupils during your employment and it’s important to maintain these, so that the children have some element of normality during lockdown.

Contracted teachers can expect to continue to work during the lockdown period, by setting work for students to complete at home and then spending a certain amount of time in school, looking after key workers’ children. This may mean one week in school per month and the other three or four working from home. However, if you’re in a vulnerable category, you won’t be expected to do this, as this could potentially put you at risk. Teachers may also be allocated certain pupils to check in on and make sure they’re okay. This is good for both staff and students, to maintain important relationships and support each other.

However, you may also be asked to work in another school during this period. It’s not uncommon for this to happen, especially if your school is part of a group of educational institutions.

Planning the delivery of next year’s curriculum, as well as planning for if schools reopen before the end of the school year, and department improvement and development have been allocated as the main tasks for teachers during lockdown. These are important tasks, particularly as we’re expecting to see a dramatic shift in the education sector, based on remote learning during the pandemic.

Online learning and teaching software, such as Kinteract, enables teachers to efficiently and effectively plan for successfully delivering next year’s curriculum, linking together numerous teaching, learning, and management apps. The analytical tools available allow you to see where improvements need to be made, both from an individual student point of view, as well as lesson planning.

What about Further Education?

Staff who are employed by colleges, but not primarily funded by the government, will be eligible for furlough. This may include employees who work across a number of departments, such as health and safety, finance, student administration, human resources, and marketing.

This is ideal for colleges, whose admin and support staff are often an essential part of many students’ lives. Although not all of these staff will be furloughed, it’s important that they can be, so that when the new college year begins, familiar faces will still be there for students.

Students who are participating in apprenticeships may also be furloughed – this means they can continue their training, but will not be able to ‘work’ i.e. perform any duties that could add financial gain to the business in which they’re apprenticing. Again, they will only be paid 80% of their wages and only if they’re paid at least the apprenticeship minimum wage.

What about Higher Education?

Staff are contracted a lot differently in higher education institutions, predominantly in universities. This is because of visiting lecturers, support workers, and researchers who are on fixed-term contracts.

There’s massive concern throughout universities in the UK that the pandemic could have a grave impact on the lifeline of certain institutions. Staff retention in these establishments may be harder to achieve than in primary and secondary facilities. This is due to predictions that international students will no longer apply – and that general applications will fall or September 2020 applicants will defer to next year.

Financial backgrounds of universities are built up of lots of different avenues, so it can be tricky to make definite decisions on whether staff can be furloughed or not i.e. some staff may be paid through government funding, whereas others aren’t.

Can an independent school apply for the job retention scheme?

Yes – but this depends of a number of factors. Funding is important to look at when discussing independent or ‘private’ schools. If an independent school receives public funding for staff costs in normal circumstances, then that school should continue to utilise those funds in order to pay staff, and not rely on the government to offer additional funds – such as would be the case with furloughed staff.

However, if an independent school can prove that their cash flow has been affected by the pandemic i.e. parents have stopped paying fees etc. then they may be allowed to furlough staff and seek payment from the government scheme.

For more detailed information regarding teaching during the coronavirus, please visit NASUWT, The Teachers’ Union website.

Online and remote learning

Staff and students across any level of educational institution can benefit from online and remote learning, whether this is through direct support by teachers or for parents to take advantage of. For many teachers and lecturers, this might be a completely new way of teaching, but can be just as effective as classroom-based tuition.

Teachers are a pivotal part of any student’s learning experience – especially with the important relationships that are built. Using a digital platform only enhances that teaching experience for the student, rather than removing or replacing the teacher. It creates an environment that actively supports both teacher and student, through interaction and analysis of academic and teaching performance.

If your educational institution needs assistance in transitioning to remote learning, for now and the future, visit our website for free access to Kinteract until July 2020. Book a demo today.