Schools reopening plans abandoned – what does it mean for my business?

Schools reopening

The Education Secretary has announced that schools will no longer be obligated to fully reopen before the school summer holidays. Rather, schools will be given the autonomy to decide which years can return – other than reception, year one and year six students who already returned in England.

This development comes as the threat of coronavirus overshadows plans to relieve parents of the pressure that comes with providing childcare, and as the lack of PPE leaves teachers worried about the possibility of a second wave of infections. Although schools have taken precautions to limit classroom sizes, headteachers have posed the argument of their incapability to house more students if schools are forced to open to all primary year groups.

This turnaround may be welcomed by primary schools across England but may pose considerable setbacks for an employer’s workforce for the foreseeable future.

Why might organisations need to be worried?

Even though it has been reported that secondary schools will be reopening in September, until the Government announces concrete plans for when primary schools are set to reopen, organisations may find themselves juggling a reduced workforce as childcare options become a nationwide concern. This is because organisations who have begun making plans to return furloughed staff, or those working from home as a result of the pandemic, back to the office may be faced with multiple requests for annual/unpaid leave around the same time, or refusal to return because of childcare issues.

What options are there?

To overcome this, organisations may:

  • keep affected employees working from home who already are
  • implement working from home if not already in place and if possible
  • implement flexible working
  • depending on the number of affected employees, and their roles within the business, have remaining employees take up any workload 
  • outsource and/or re-direct workload internally
  • At this stage of the pandemic, organisations may already be well-equipped to allow working from home, so it is not necessarily a foreign option. Ultimately, organisations will benefit in the long run from school closures and exploring long term remote working options, then for the coronavirus to make a second sweep across the country, forcing organisations to once again readjust their workforce to reflect any additional, more stringent changes.

Further, as school summer holidays are a yearly occurrence, pandemic notwithstanding, organisations can take the same measures as they usually would during these times – fine-tuning it to reflect the longer period it will be needed for. However, it cannot be ignored that organisations have discretion in allowing employees to take leave at a certain time, so care must be taken in considering rejecting leave requests as this may affect employee morale.