KU UCU call for immediate halt to unnecessary face-to-face teaching in Faculty of HSCE

This letter was sent by Kingston UCU on 27th January to David Mackintosh (chair of JNCC) and Andy Kent (Dean of HSCE) in response to shocking treatment of staff in the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education:

Dear David and Andy,

We are writing to you as JNCC Chair and Dean of the Faculty of HSCE demanding that you take immediate action to protect the health and wellbeing of our colleagues in the faculty of HSCE. We have received alarming reports from colleagues who feel that senior managers are putting undue pressure on staff to return to face-to-face teaching, this despite current government advice and staff presenting very legitimate concerns about their own health and that of vulnerable members of their close families.

Today staff report that, at a meeting at Kington Hill yesterday, senior managers paid no heed to concerns raised by staff regarding safety within the workplace. Further, no new safety measures at Kingston Hill were presented, in contrast to St Georges where an up-to-date risk assessment is fully published, staff are offered vaccines and Type II Face Masks are provided for both staff and students. Staff report that senior managers put focus on the ‘student experience’ while paying no attention to the health and welfare of staff.

We appreciate that students may find the current situation unsatisfactory, as do teaching staff and much of the UK population. However, we are all making the best of a difficult situation in trying times. The solution is not to respond by putting our members and colleagues at risk and adding to their stress levels by issuing demands that are inappropriate in a pandemic. In fact, the government are asking people to act as if ‘they had Covid, and that others had Covid’ in order to keep themselves and others safe. The university should be advocating this too by allowing that, where at all possible, teaching should be carried out remotely.

Staff have expressed that they feel their concerns are being dismissed out of hand and that the university is failing in their duty to provide a safe working environment. We note that the only easily accessible risk assessment document available on Staffspace relates to the Townhouse and is dated Sept 2020. This is very clearly unacceptable and a failure of the university’s legal obligation to staff.

Further, senior managers are putting excessive expectations on staff, it is reported leaders in the School of Nursing have expressed an expectation that all staff undertake face-to-face teaching, be a ‘back up teacher’ in case colleagues are off sick or have childcare issues and that all face-to-face teaching lectures be recorded and made available to those students who don’t attend. It was further suggested that face-to-face teaching was no different to going to the supermarket. We find this type of comment highly offensive and reflective of a deplorable attitude towards staff wellbeing which seems to be permeating our senior management layers. It illustrates a clear disregard for the real risks faced by our members, including not only in face-to-face teaching contexts but in commuting to the workplace.  We demand that these comments be publicly retracted along with an apology to staff for the stress they may have caused.

KU UCU branch

Blatant dereliction of civic responsibilities and duty of care to KU staff, students and the wider community.  

KU UCU are dismayed at the latest notification from the Vice Chancellor communicating the message that it is “business as usual” at KU, despite the dramatic deterioration in the national situation.

The university management seem to take no account of the fact that we are in a national lockdown, and most concerningly seem to have no appreciation of the real issues and practicalities that affect staff and students travelling to the university for on campus teaching.

To be clear, KU UCU view management’s failure to react appropriately to the lockdown (i.e. moving all teaching online where possible) as a blatant dereliction of their civic responsibilities and their duty of care to KU staff, students and the wider community.

We are also fully aware that the new government advice includes the recommendation that “universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible“.

Attached here is an update from the branch committee, the document detailing health and safety failures are KU and management’s disappointing response.

KU UCU Branch Newsletter October 2020

Kingston University Health & Safety failures

Vote of No Confidence Management response 26102020 v3

KU UCU Branch Committee

KU UCU vote of no confidence in university response to Covid-19

At the emergency meeting of the KU UCU branch last week, the branch passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in the ability of the Vice-Chancellor and Gold and Silver Command teams to provide staff with safe physical working conditions. This was a necessary outcome of the various unresolved concerns which your branch committee has, e.g. in relation to testing and tracing, lack of consultation etc. 
Your branch was ahead of UCU national, SAGE, and Independent SAGE in demanding for online teaching to be the default at Kingston University. Given the fact that London is shortly to move to Tier 2 restrictions due to increased transmission rates, this demand still seems the only reasonable and responsible position to take. 

Latest Communications from KU UCU to Senior Leadership

This was sent today (21st September) from the Kingston UCU branch committee to the Senior Leadership Team, through the official channel of the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC):

Dear JNCC colleagues,

KU UCU fervently request that Senior management adopt an immediate change of policy on face to face teaching in TB1.

Prompted by the rapidly changing Covid 19 national situation and particularly the dramatic increases in cases in our city, we request that all teaching be moved online except where face to face teaching is essential on pedagogic grounds.

The university has stated a commitment to review policies if the national situation changes. That time is now!

Further, KU UCU are not satisfied that campuses provide a safe working environment for our staff and students. Despite repeated requests we still have not had satisfactory clarity in relation to many H&S issues, particularly reporting of positive cases, and subsequent testing and tracing. We cannot recommend that our members return to a less than safe working environment. It also looks likely that the London Mayor will call for working from home and essential only use of public transport in the next few days. We believe that asking staff and students to travel and work/ learn on campus at this time puts them at unnecessary risk, particularly when online delivery is a viable and safer alternative.

We are also concerned about reports of strong arm and coercive tactics aimed at pressuring colleagues into returning to campus. We are logging these and will raise with management.

KU UCU branch committee

Update on KU UCU position on return to campus

As promised an update on our current position (as of 17 September 2020):

Firstly, thank you for all your input and communications regarding concerns and experiences related to returning to campus. We have collated, and presented an outline summary of these to management.

KU UCU are holding firm in the opinion that all teaching, in TB1 at least, should be online except in situations where face to face teaching is essential on pedagogic grounds such as laboratory or studio sessions. This concurs with the current advice from UCU national.

Continue reading

Management response to our motion for online as default

This is the two weeks in the making management response to our demand for online teaching as the default: Response letter to UCU Branch motions AJK 150920 DM

We will send further updates, but this clearly falls short of our, and the national UCU, position on safe return to campus.

Extraordinary Branch Meeting (Online)

We are arranging an extraordinary meeting of the KU UCU branch to propose a motion relating to the University’s plans regarding face to face teaching this teaching block this Friday 28/08 at 1pm. At this meeting, we will be proposing and voting on the following motion.

This branch notes that Independent Sage have released a Consultation Statement on Universities, urging British universities to pursue online teaching as the ‘default option’ and avoid face-to-face teaching where possible.

We further note their recommendations of regular testing for all students and staff, that masks should be worn in any face-to-face teaching, and that universities should work with students to agree a contract committing everybody to act responsibly on and off campus.

This branch believes that teaching in Teaching Block 1 of the academic year 2020/21 should be online as far as possible, rather than having a 30% minimum face-to-face teaching imposed across the board. We recognise that there are course-specific circumstances where not all teaching can feasibly be done online. Where this is the case (as determined by local Course Teams), face-to-face teaching must be undertaken on a fully voluntary basis with guarantees that those who do not opt to teach face-to-face will not suffer any financial or career detriment. Coercion of individuals by line managers to attempt to force returns to on campus working should be prohibited by the university.

This branch further believes that:

    • Both staff and students should be tested on return to campus, and have regular follow up testing,
    • Masks should be required for any face-to-face classroom teaching,
    • A ‘conduct charter’ should be drawn up in consultation with UKS

Please do join us to discuss this important issue if at all possible. If this motion is passed, we will be able to present it to JNCC and it will need to be considered by management.

Please check your inboxes for the Zoom link and remember to ensure that your full name is visible when you join the meeting.

Update from Health & Safety Rep

The latest news from our Health & Safety Rep, Fatima Felisberti:

Overview of Lockdown (local or otherwise) 

Kingston University H&S team is devising plans and considering closing buildings (or parts of them) in response to any new Covid-19 cases. In the event of a general London lockdown, I was told that:

the university will need to follow stipulations from Government and would move to having as many people working at home as possible and would aim to provide as much teaching online as possible. This would be the case for any other type of lockdown, local or specific to KU”.

Vulnerable staff
We were told at the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meetings that vulnerable staff would not be forced to be on campus for face-to-face meetings, but the staff in that group would have to talk to ther line manager in advance and arrange for alternative options. I have asked about how to address any eventual disagreements, but nobody replied to my question yet.

The Covid-19 Secure Risk Assessment and Re-Opening Health & Safety Plan have been published on StaffSpace:https://kingstonuniversity.sharepoint.com/sites/staffspace/planning-for-the-new-academic-year/accessing-our-buildings-safely/Pages/default.aspx – links at bottom of the page. [NB. these are not the most up-to-date versions of these documents]

Further details about possible lockdowns, track and tracing plans, and cleaning: