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New national lockdown in England: Important advice for colleagues

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The following message was sent to all colleagues from Julian Park and Dominik Zaum, Co-Chairs of the Major Response Team

Dear colleagues, 

We hope you were able to find some time to rest and relax over the recent Christmas break, after such a challenging period for us all, personally and professionally. 

While we all hoped the national picture would be more positive as we head into the new year and the spring term, the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the UK as a result of the new strain has necessitated the new national lockdown that comes into effect from today. 

The Major Recovery Team (MRT) has met again this morning to review the new guidance and the implications for our community. We are still awaiting the legal regulations and any detailed guidance for universities and will send a more detailed email to colleagues and students as soon as possible, once these documents have been published. This will provide further information, including plans for access to buildings, our research activities, Library opening hours and student support.  

In the meantime, however, we wanted to clarify a few particularly important points. We will shortly also be sending this similar email to all students.  

Teaching

In line with government guidelines, the majority of teaching will be moved online until w/c Monday 22 February, following Week 6, at the earliest. We will await further advice from the government nearer the time about whether we can resume on-campus teaching then and we will of course keep you updated.  

The government has confirmed face-to-face teaching can continue where necessary in specific subjects. As previously communicated, for us this applies to: 

  • Education (Initial Teaching Training)
  • Physician Associates
  • Speech&Language Therapy
  • Pharmacy

We are working directly with Heads of Schools to share further information with colleagues and students as soon as possible.  

CQSD has also published a suite of resources and materials to support the delivery of online teaching.  

Working from home

All colleagues who are not involved in delivery of teaching or critical on-campus services should work from home wherever possible. Please speak to your line manager about your individual circumstances if you are unsure how this applies to your role or where there are other priorities that may require you to work on site. We will provide further guidance for the Leadership Group about this. We are awaiting clarification as to whether research activities that require specialist facilities on campus can continue under the new lockdown rules, and will provide clear guidance as soon as we can for both colleagues and students.  

Please take a moment to review the resources and support for working from home published by Digital Technology Services.  

‘Critical worker' status for Higher Education staff

The Universities & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has informed us that the Department for Education has advised that teaching and support staff involved in the delivery of education are considered ‘critical workers', vital to the continuation of education. Whether higher education staff involved in the delivery of education are working on campus or working from home, their children may be able to access schools for face-to-face teaching from the first day of term.

This is updated guidance and understandably schools are working to digest the regulations and put necessary plans in place. We understand that further eligibility criteria may be applied by individual schools, including depending on the employment status of both parents. You should also consider carefully whether it is appropriate in the context of your role and your particular circumstances. We would encourage colleagues to read the full government guidance and speak to schools directly. If you are asked to provide written confirmation of your employment status at the University, please contact your HR Partner or Adviser in the first instance. 

We fully understand that home-schooling can be challenging and, as previously, we will continue to be as flexible as possible. If you need to provide support for children with their at-home learning, as schools cannot accommodate them, please talk to your line manager about your working arrangements.  

Testing

If you are required to be on campus and have not yet booked a Lateral Flow Test, you can still do so now. If you had previously booked a test and it is no longer needed, please follow the link in your original booking confirmation email to cancel. 

Given the reduced amount of teaching on campus, the Test Centre will be running reduced hours from Monday 11 January. If you have a booking that is affected by this change, you will be contacted directly.  

Depending on when we can resume more in-person teaching, we may extend testing beyond our original planned end date of 29 January and will keep you updated when we can share more information. 

In the meantime, we understand many of you may be feeling anxious and frustrated, whether related to your work or more personally. Please remember that we are here to help. If you need support, please do not hesitate to speak to your line manager, as well as using the range of resources available on our wellbeing pages

Our COVID-19 support hotline (0118 214 7813) has also reopened and is available from 9.15am to 4.30pm on weekdays. 

We will be in touch again with more details as soon as we can, including specific advice for Leadership Group colleagues.  

Best wishes, 

Julian and Dominik 

Professor Julian Park (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Education and Student Experience) and Professor Dominik Zaum (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation) 

Co-Chairs, University of Reading Major Response Team 

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