Teachers at east London colleges ‘forced’ to travel to give online lessons

Havering College of Further and Higher Education is merging with Havering Sixth Form College and New

Havering College of Further and Higher Education is merging with Havering Sixth Form College and New City College. Picture: Havering College of Further and Higher Education - Credit: Archant

Tutors at New City College (NCC) campuses have been told to go into work to deliver online lessons, despite concerns over Covid safety measures. 

In an all-staff briefing this morning, teaching staff claim they were ordered to be at their desks at 8.30am or face disciplinary action by NCC’s group principal and chief executive Gerry McDonald.

An NCC spokesperson has denied these claims and added that Mr McDonald advised staff to "talk to their managers about flexible travel times, if needed".

The move prompted a furious backlash from tutors, who are expected to go into work to give lessons to their students, who are not allowed in under tier 4 restrictions, remotely via Microsoft Teams. 

A member of the teaching staff at Havering College sixth form in Hornchurch, who asked not to be named, said the NCC senior management’s demands were “beyond belief”. 


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He said: “It is absolutely outrageous that we are being forced to travel in on public transport to work from the classroom when the lessons are online anyway. 

“Havering is one of the worst-hit areas for Covid and what the principal is asking us to do goes against the government’s very clear guidelines to work from home if you can. 

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“It’s completely beyond belief and is breaching expectations and regulations.” 

New City colleges' executive principal Gerry McDonald. Picture: Mike Brooke

New City colleges' executive principal Gerry McDonald. Picture: Mike Brooke - Credit: Mike Brooke

The teacher added that the reason staff had been given for having to go into the office was because it would be easier to deal with any IT issues from the college sites. 

NCC runs colleges and sixth forms across east London, with Havering College sites based in Hornchurch, Rainham and Ardleigh Green, as well as campuses in Poplar, Chadwell Heath, Stepney Green, Hackney and Loughton. 

It is estimated the college group employs almost 1,000 staff, with around 150 of them based at the sixth form centre in Hornchurch. 

An NCC spokesperson said teaching staff are expected to work from the classroom to support students who have BTEC exams coming up, as well as vulnerable students. 

They said: “College staff are categorised as key/critical workers within tier 4 guidance.  

“We have asked staff to attend campus this week if they are not sick or isolating.  

“This is so that they can be fully supported to deliver online lessons, to support our students who between them are sitting around 5,000 BTEC exams in the next few weeks, to support vulnerable students who are entitled to attend campus and to receive on-site Covid tests.” 

But another teacher, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “Many staff have major concerns with what is going on at the college - against government guidelines, we are being made to go into college. 

“It’s remote learning for students but we are being made to go in when we could be using Teams from home.” 

The teacher also raised concerned about Covid safety measures at the site and claimed there was “next to no social distancing going on”.  

“Most students don’t wear masks and even senior management don’t seem to care about personally wearing masks,” he added. 

A teacher said up to 60 members of staff had sent or were planning to send letters to the group principal, stating they would not be coming into the colleges to work under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. 

Last week, the NEU advised its members of their legal right not to have to work in an unsafe environment.  

Dr Mary Bousted, the union's joint general secretary, said: “Whilst we are calling on the government to take the right steps, as a responsible union we cannot simply agree that the government's wrong steps should be implemented. 

“That is why we are doing our job as a union by informing our members that they have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions which are a danger to their health and to the health of their school communities and more generally.” 

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