0151 666 3040 unison1@wirral.gov.uk


Thursday 26 January 2023, 12:19

As you will be aware NEU have announced that their teacher members will be taking strike action in schools and sixth form colleges over pay and funding, starting on 1 February after teachers voted overwhelmingly for strike.

They have announced a series of days of strike action in England and Wales for teachers.

The planned dates of action that affect our area are:


  • Wednesday 1 February (All England and Wales)
  • Tuesday 28 February (Northern, North West and Humber)
  • Wednesday 15 March (All England and Wales)
  • Thursday 16 March (All England and Wales)

We provide below the Unison advice for working on that day, and Wirral Unison’s position if anyone feels unable to cross a picket line as a matter of conscience.

UNISON National Advice

UNISON respects the rights of other trade unions to take industrial action and supports the other unions’ strike action. We urge members to support legal protests and rallies organised by NEU that take place outside your contracted hours of work.

However, UNISON members in schools and sixth form colleges have not been balloted for strike action or action short of strike action on this occasion and are therefore advised to continue with their normal duties and responsibilities.  UNISON members should not take on any additional responsibilities being given to them directly as a result of other unions’ industrial action.

Support staff should not be expected to provide cover for, or take classes, where this would normally be done by teachers who are taking action. Staff should not be moved from the duties they would normally have carried out in order to cover work and frustrate the industrial action of colleagues. This includes any staff employed as either HLTAs or Cover Supervisors. Members who are under pressure to provide cover for striking colleagues should contact their UNISON rep, branch or region for further advice and support. Members are reminded that due to industrial relations legislation, only those employees who have been involved in a legal ballot are allowed to take industrial action.

HLTAs and Cover Supervisors

Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) should only do ‘Specified Work’ with the support and/or supervision of a Qualified Teacher. Cover Supervisors supervise students who are working to a lesson prepared by a Qualified Teacher, usually a classroom teacher. If you are in either of these roles you should not be expected to take whole classes on the day of a strike if the teacher that normally supervises, supports or prepares your work is on strike.

DfE Guidance on Industrial Action in Schools (England only)

The DfE have updated and recirculated their guidance on industrial action in schools. The guidance is non-statutory, this means that schools are not obliged to follow the guidance.

Handling strike action in schools - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The advice makes clear that for maintained schools, the decision on whether to close a school or not is the responsibility of the headteacher, and for academies it rests with the Trust. However, this decision is usually delegated to the headteacher.

The guidance is aimed at headteachers advising them on ways that they can try and keep their school open. This includes guidance on the recent government legislation allowing agency staff to cover strike action. UNISON is currently challenging the legality of this legislation and it is not accepted by many agencies. If you are aware of any instances of agency staff being brought in to cover striking colleagues, please report this to your regional office.

The guidance also suggests that schools can use some of the emergency measures introduced during the Covid pandemic to keep schools open, including asking staff to provide remote learning. We do not accept this would fall within the definition of normal work for support staff and they should not be called on to deliver remote learning on strike days.

Wirral UNISON understands that we will have members who as a matter of personal conscience, do not feel able to cross a picket line. Wirral UNISON recognises and respects that choice.

The Local Government Association website states “Where picketing takes place, employees not directly involved in the industrial action may refuse to cross picket lines. Such employees can normally be regarded as being on strike and treated accordingly. That includes in terms of pay deductions. It is also worth noting that members of trade unions which have not balloted for industrial action or which have balloted but returned a ‘no’ vote, do not have the same statutory unfair dismissal protections afforded to others going on strike”.

If, in the hopefully unlikely event that the employer does take action against someone for not crossing a picket line, then this Branch will fully support that member or steward.

We will therefore be writing to the Council, employers and Heads raising the following points and seeking agreement.

Support Staff should not be asked to undertake any additional responsibilities being given to them directly as a result of other unions’ industrial action.

Support staff should not be expected to provide cover for, or take classes, where this would normally be done by teachers who are taking action. Staff should not be moved from the duties they would normally have carried out in order to cover work, this includes any staff employed as either HLTAs or Cover Supervisors.

We are aware that DfE guidance suggests that schools can use some of the emergency measures introduced during the Covid pandemic to keep schools open, including asking staff to provide remote learning. We do not that accept this would fall within the definition of normal work for support staff and they should not be called on to deliver remote learning on strike days.

If the proposal is to keep a school open to pupils, we would want to see a risk assessment to address any health and safety issues prior to the day of the strike.

If a school is closed to pupils we do not see the need for support staff to be present on site if their normal duties allow for this.

If any support staff cannot cross a picket line as a matter of conscience, that they are not subject to any disciplinary measures other than deduction of pay etc (that is treated as if on strike).


Wednesday 2 December, 15:17

Wirral Unison has today suspended it’s strike action at Woodchurch Road. 

This comes after the School has withdrawn the proposed 20% cut in hours for play workers and deferred 20% cuts in hours for Teaching Assistants until July.

Alongside this we have a clear commitment from the Council to work with the Unions in a formal way to address the issues at the school and seek actions to alleviate the need for any cuts at the school. 

Whilst we are disappointed that the Teaching Assistant cuts have only been deferred, we believe that the added time, means that with the good will of all parties a resolution can be found. 

We believe that this is a significant step forward, secured by the determination of Unison and our members at the school, supported by the local community, to oppose these damaging cuts. This is a victory for our members and the community and children that support the school. 

We remain committed to protecting our members and whilst we are hopeful that we can work collaboratively with the school and local leaders to achieve a long term resolution, if this is not achievable and pay cuts are again proposed in July we will consult our members accordingly. 

This victory, does mean that our members will not face a pay cut hanging over them over the Christmas holidays, news that will be welcomed.



Wednesday 27 May, 14:31

Does the schools guidance apply to early years provision?

On this schools advice page UNISON has produced a range of guidance for staff in schools on their safe re-opening from 1 June, including guidance on completing risk assessments and model letters for staff and UNISON branches. UNISON believes that the same standards on safe re-opening will apply equally to all early years provision and these resources may be useful.

However, there are some issues that are particularly relevant to members in early years, particularly where they work in the private and voluntary sector. UNISON has particular concerns about the re-opening of nurseries because the government acknowledges that it is impossible to impose strict social distancing with young children and staff in nurseries are required to provide intimate care to children.We are also concerned that some nurseries lack the expertise and resources to apply the measures required by government to safely re-open.

Will all nurseries re-open on 1 June?

The government has said the date of 1 June is ‘aspirational’ and will only go ahead if a series of tests has been met. We are expecting a final decision on 28 May.

Nurseries are required to undertake a series of risk assessments and checks before they can safely re-open. The decision will need to be made on an individual employer by employer basis for each individual nursery. The government has published guidance for early years settings. It has also published additional planning guidance.

Nurseries should only re-open if all safety tests are completed ahead of 1 June (or any opening date). Nurseries will need to put in place a range of measures, including additional cleaning procedures and distancing measures before re-opening. Unlike schools, where only a small proportion of pupils will be eligible to return, all children will be eligible to return to nurseries. UNISON would strongly advise that any return of children to nursery should be done on a phased basis, so that they can ensure that new measures are working properly before all children return.

Impact of COVID-19 on young children

Although the government scientific guidance indicates that young children are affected less than others if they are infected by COVID-19, it is inconclusive whether they have a lower rate of infection or that they are any less contagious than older people. Because younger children are more likely to have only minor symptoms or be asymptomatic, greater awareness and care is required. UNISON does not believe that contact with young children should be treated as a lesser risk than contact with older children or adults.

Risk assessments

UNISON and other education unions have produced comprehensive guidance on risk assessments on re-opening schools. The template provided can be used equally in early years settings. UNISON has produced a model letter that staff and branches can send to nurseries in their area outlining the union’s views on reopening and reminding employers of their duty of care to staff.

Model letter

All employers must ensure that there are clear mechanisms for escalating concerns if any of the measures listed in the risk assessment to ensure a safe return to work are not being met.

What if my employer does not recognise trade unions?

If you work in a private or voluntary sector nursery that does not recognise UNISON or other trade unions, the employer still has a responsibility to consult staff over the risk assessment.

The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations (HSCER) 1996 allows any employees not in groups covered by trade union safety representatives to be consulted by their employers on matters affecting their health and safety. The employer can choose to consult staff directly or through elected representatives. This means that although there is no mandatory requirement to consult with them on the actual risk assessment, they must consult with on any outcomes from that assessment that may affect them. This must take place before employees are requested to return to work.

Audit of staff and children

Nurseries are expected to undertake audits of the staff and children that they expect to be able to return when the settings re-open. They will need sufficient staff to abide by EYFS staffing requirements that remain in place. These include the need to have a safeguarding lead, a special education needs co-ordinator (SENCO) and sufficient staff with the paediatric first aid qualification.

If settings are unable to allow all children to safely return, they may be required to cap the number of children. Settings are advised to prioritise:

  • Vulnerable children and the children of critical workers
  • 3 and 4 year olds, particularly those transitioning to reception
  • Younger children

The nursery must provide training on the setting’s policies and procedures on limiting the spread of the virus and on the safe and appropriate use of PPE prior to the nursery re-opening. Settings should produce a plan on how they will safely manage the return of children with SEND requirements. They should ensure that they have emergency contact details for all staff and children.

Social distancing in nurseries

The government advises that social distancing regulations should apply where possible, for example, between staff and among staff and parents. The government has acknowledged that it is not reasonable to expect young children to be able to adhere to social distancing guidelines and remain more than two metres apart from staff and other children. The government says that settings must take this into account when re-opening safely to more children.

UNISON is gravely concerned that nursery staff are being asked to return to work without social distancing in place at a time when infections from COVID-19 are not controlled and there is no tracking and tracing mechanism. Even though social distancing regulations are not in place, nursery staff are told that they are not required to routinely use personal protection equipment (PPE).

Although the government has suggested a range of mitigating measures, we remain unconvinced that nurseries can safely fully re-open with the current rates of infection.

Vulnerable or shielded staff

Staff in nursery schools, maintained nurseries and nursery classes in schools, are covered by the NJC guidance that states that vulnerable staff should not be expected to work outside the home. If there is no suitable work for them to do, they should remain at home in receipt of full pay.

In private and voluntary sector nurseries, not covered by the NJC guidance, employers must adhere as a minimum to the Public Health England (PHE) guidance. This states that all staff that are classed as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ should not be expected to work outside their home. Staff that are classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ should not be expected to return to work unless strict shielding measures are in place. As the government has acknowledged that social distancing is not possible within an early years setting, these staff should not be expected to be asked to work with young children and should work from home where possible.

If no alternative work can be found, staff can be asked to undertake work where social distancing can apply. These staff can volunteer to undertake work that does not adhere to social distancing guidelines. We would very strongly advise staff not to volunteer to do this, nor would we expect any reasonable employer to ask them to. This guidance should also apply to anyone living with someone who is either extremely or clinically vulnerable.

Nurseries remain eligible to participate in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and vulnerable staff may be considered suitable to remain on furlough.

Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The government guidance says that nursery staff should not expect to routinely be using PPE, e.g. aprons, gloves, masks and goggles.

However, if staff are providing intimate care such as toileting, changing nappies or administering medical procedures, UNISON advice is that PPE should be used. The employer must provide adequate equipment. Staff should not be asked to provide their own equipment or be asked to provide any intimate care if there is not adequate PPE. PPE must be used if you are dealing with a child who is displaying the symptoms of COVID 19.

It has been reported that there is some confusion as to whether private nurseries can join public service schemes to procure PPE. All nurseries must have adequate supplies of PPE before they re-open.

Wearing of masks

The government guidance states that the wearing of mask provides only limited benefits within a closed environment. It states that small children who are unable to safely manage wearing masks could actually increase the risk of infection by wearing a mask and therefore states that masks should not be worn in nurseries, except when dealing with a child or adult displaying the symptoms of COVID-19.

Use of ‘bubbles’ and smaller groups

The DfE advises that one way to minimise risk the spread of infection is to operate in small groups, or ‘bubbles’ where groups of children only mix with a small number of other children and a single member of staff. The DfE recommends that these groups should consist of a maximum of 8 children. For providers of sessional care, the DfE recommends smaller groups.

The DfE recommends that wherever possible groups should be allocated separate space within a nursery. The EYFS standards on space per child still apply and if they cannot be applied safely the setting should cap the number of children attending. The sharing of toys between groups should be reduced and any toys that are shared must be cleaned prior to being used by another group. Visitors to the nursery should be kept to a minimum.

Reports from other countries where they have reopened schools have stated that they have found this difficult to apply and that children do not abide by this separation. It has also proved difficult to enforce where there is high incidence of sickness among staff or there is a significant proportion of part time staff.

If a nursery is using these systems to minimise risks of spreading the infection, they need to be subject to regular review. The nursery would need to reconsider their opening arrangements if staff and children are clearly mixing between groups.

Should I hug a child?

Staff should not be expected to routinely hug children, say on arrival or departure. However, we would not expect staff to deny comfort to a child in distress.

What happens if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the setting?

There should be an agreed protocol for dealing with cases where a child or member of staff is displaying the symptoms of COVID-19. The DfE recommends that,

  • The child should be separated from other staff and children
  • Staff dealing with the child should be issued with appropriate PPE
  • There should be a deep clean of the setting
  • The child should be tested for COVID 19

UNISON recommends that if a child or adult displays symptoms a risk assessment will be required to consider whether all staff and children that have been in contact with that person should self-isolate. In the event of a positive test, any child or adult who has been in contact with the person must be send home and told to isolate for 14 days.

In the event of a wider outbreak within a setting, it may be advised that all staff and children should isolate and the setting should be closed.

UNISON is currently seeking urgent clarification from the DfE as to whether under 5s qualify for the test as current NHS guidance suggests that the test is not suitable for young children.

Collection and drop off

Nurseries will need to introduce staggered collection and drop off arrangements to prevent pinch points which will increase contact. They should also ensure that social distancing applies to parents collecting or delivering children to the setting.

Cleaning and hygiene

The government guidance advises that strict additional hygiene measure are required in order for nurseries to safely re-open. This will require additional cleaning resources. Staff who are not employed as cleaners should not routinely be asked to undertake cleaning as part of their job. If cleaners are required to undertake additional cleaning duties, they must be paid for this additional work.

Whilst schools are able to reclaim some of the additional costs of cleaning related to the crisis, this is not yet the case for other early years settings. UNISON is calling on the government to offer increased financial support to the sector for the additional costs they will incur to enable them to reopen safely. The nursery will need to increase hygiene standards for children attending, including facilities for increased hand washing and foot pedal operated closable bins. Any towels and bedding must be washed daily. Children should be required to wear clean clothes on each day of attendance and should not be allowed to bring in any soft toys or ‘comforters’ from home. There must be clear reporting mechanisms if children are not meeting agreed hygiene standards.

The DFE recommends that all soft toys and soft furnishings are removed from the nursery, along with any hard to clean toys. They also recommend that play dough is not used and that sand pits should be closed.

Outdoor play

Nurseries are encouraged to increase the use of outdoor play during this period to reduce the risk of infection. Social distancing is encouraged where practical.

Can I refuse to return to work if I feel unsafe?

UNISON believes that our members should never be in a situation where they might endanger themselves and others in the course of doing jobs. Putting you in that situation is potentially a breach of health and safety law and may spread coronavirus to people in high-risk groups.

As a last resort, when faced with a dangerous working environment which cannot reasonably be averted, every employee has the right not to suffer detriment if they leave, or refuse to attend their place of work (or take other appropriate steps) in circumstances where they reasonably believe there is a risk of being exposed to serious and imminent danger (section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996).

Although this is very much a right of last resort, the context of a situation will be key on whether refusing to return to work or any other steps are appropriate. This means that an employee cannot automatically refuse a reasonable instruction to return to work without a good reason.

If you feel you are being put at risk it is crucial to get advice and discuss the situation with your UNISON representative.

Do the Early Years Foundation Stage Regulations still apply?

The government has introduced a range of dis-applications to the regulations during the coronavirus crisis.

Changes to staffing ratios

In nurseries:

During the crisis nurseries are only required to, ‘use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least half of all other staff (excluding the manager) hold at least a full and relevant level 2 qualification. However, meeting this will not be a legal requirement. All other requirements remain.’

In nursery schools and nursery classes in schools:

The previous requirement was;

  • There must be at least one member of staff for every 13 children
  • At least one member of staff must be a school teacher as defined by section 122 of the Education Act 2002
  • At least one other member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification

The new requirement during the crisis is;

‘Providers should use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least one member of staff is a school teacher as defined by section 122 of the Education Act 2002.

In instances where this is not possible, providers should follow the requirements for providers where there is not someone with a suitable level 6 qualification working directly with the children (i.e. there must be at least one member of staff for every eight children, at least one member of staff who holds at least a full and relevant level 3 qualification and providers should use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least half of other staff hold at least a full and relevant level 2 qualification).

Where at least one member of staff is a school teacher, providers should use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least one other member of staff holds at least a full and relevant level 3 qualification but meeting this will not be a legal requirement.

All other requirements remain.’

This means that if there is not a teacher in the class a 1:8 ratio will apply, not 1:13. Although there is no longer a legal requirement for a teacher to be in the class, this should be the expectation. It is only those staff who suitably competent are qualified that should asked to cover for teacher absence. These staff must be suitably paid to cover any teacher absence.

Other changes to the EYFS include, changes to learning and development regulations, changes to paediatric first aid regulations and removing the requirement to undertake the 2 year-old progress check and the EYSFP assessment for the year 2019/20.

Routine Ofsted inspections are still suspended, although safeguarding and regulatory inspections continue as normal.

(Guidance correct at the time of writing)


Friday 26 May, 10:45

UNISON has always been clear that we want to see children returning to school. We all know how valuable regular attendance at school is, particularly for the most vulnerable children. However, our view is that schools should only increase pupil numbers when it is safe to do so based on the principles and tests we have set out along with other education unions. The principles and tests include: 

  • Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle ?
  • No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme ?
  • A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools ?
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage ?
  • Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments ?
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new covid-19 cases

Following the announcement from the Prime Minister on 10 May that the government were planning for schools to open more widely from 1 June, UNISON emailed a short survey to support staff members working in school and early years settings to gauge their reaction. The survey was emailed to members for whom we have permission on 12 May, followed up with a reminder on 15 May. There were 45,275 responses. 

A summary of the results is given below;
Type of setting
70% Primary ?

16% Secondary ?

10% Special and PRU ?

4% Early years

Main role
63% Teaching assistants / learning support assistants ?

9% Admin and management ?

4% Nursery nurses ?

2% Technicians ?

2% Cover supervisor ?

2% Behaviour management ?

2% Learning mentors ?

2% Midday supervisors ?

2% Site / facilities staff ?

1% Cleaner ?

1% Family support advisors ?

10% Other

Current working pattern
3% in school full time ?

58% on rota ?

21% working solely at home ?

18% at home but can’t perform their role

Views on safety

98% were NOT reassured by the Prime Minister’s speech on 10 May that schools would be safe if pupil numbers increased from 1 June ?

96% do NOT think the government has put safety first in developing its plan – comments mainly about the economy being the priority ?

Less than 1% are not concerned and think pupils and staff will be safe  ?

6% are a little concerned but believe schools will still be ok to increase numbers from 1 June ?

64% are very concerned and don’t believe pupils and staff will be safe ?

30% are losing sleep and/or suffering high anxiety as a result of the planned increase in numbers from 1st June

4% say schools have adequate PPE  ?

23% are confident their school has the staff resources and expertise to ensure all health and safety measures and risk assessments are in place ?

95% of those who were also parents of school aged children would not be confident safe to send their own children back to school on 1 June ?

72% think the government need to do more to protect vulnerable children during lockdown ?

39% of school business professionals/cleaners/caretakers said their school was experiencing a shortage of cleaning products ?

49% of school business professionals/cleaners/caretakers have noticed an increase in price of cleaning products from suppliers ?

75% prepared to take part in action alongside parents to protect the health and safety of pupils and staff if government insist on moving ahead with an unsafe reopening of schools and early years settings

School support staff have played a key role in keeping schools open during this pandemic, with 61% attending the workplace in some capacity (including during school holidays and bank holidays) and 21% working from home. However, support staff surveyed are hugely anxious about the government’s plans to increase pupil numbers from 1 June and we continue to oppose this unsafe proposal.
The Prime Minister stated in his speech on 10 May that the government will “be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity” but by “the science, the data and public health”. At this time, there is no consensus amongst the scientific community about the transmission of the virus between children. No data has yet been published about the risks of the virus to school support staff, whose demographic profile is very different to teachers. For UNISON the health and safety of pupils and school staff is absolutely paramount. Scientific evidence is yet to be released that establishes that the measures contained with the DfE guidance are capable of ensuring the risk to pupils, staff and the wider community is reduced as far as possible.



Friday 15 May, 08:42



Wirral NASUWT NEU UNISON have united to condemn Government plans to bring back nursery, reception, years 1 and 6 from 1 June. It is not yet safe and protective measures are not in place.

We all want schools to re-open, but only when it is safe to do so. The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, from schools to parents, sibling and relatives and to the wider community. In lifting guidance on social distancing within schools the government is experimenting with our members and also our children and communities. This is not acceptable.

We know this move has not been prompted by Wirral Council or local Heads, it is a directive from central government. We call for a step back from the arbitrary date of 1st June and want work to be undertaken with the unions to create the conditions for a safe return based on clear principles and tests.

The Unions will be launching a local petition, and on Monday 18 May at 5pm will host an online rally on Facebook “Wirral Schools – No Return Until Its Safe” open to all staff, parents and members of our communities.

Steve Bennett Schools Officer for Wirral UNISON said “Our members are passionate about their jobs, and committed to the pupils they support. They are rightly concerned that a return on 1 June risks their own health and the health of pupils. There should be no return unless and until it is safe to do so”

  Ian Harris District Secretary for Wirral NEU said “the announcement by the Government that schools may reopen from June 1 with reception and years 1 and 6 is nothing short of reckless. Our members care deeply about the children in their care, they want reassurances that a return to school will be safe for children, staff and the wider community. The Government must meet our tests for the safe reopening of schools.”

Anne Rycroft, Local Negotiating Secretary, NASUWT - The Teachers’ Union “The NASUWT is clear that schools should not relax the restrictions on opening until it is safe to do so. We expect that all schools and colleges will need to be able to demonstrate that their provision is safe for staff and for children at all times. This will require planning, risk assessments and training for all staff in the new systems that will have to be put in place. The NASUWT is clear that no teacher or child should be expected to go into a school that is not safe and until it can be demonstrated that it is safe for them to do so.”



Wednesday 13 May, 21:34

Today’s statement follows a longer statement to the Secretary of State on Friday (8 May), which set out in full detail the principles and tests necessary for the safe reopening of schools. It is signed by AEP, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NSEAD, Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

“We all want schools to re-open, but that should only happen when it is safe to do so. The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community.

Uniquely, it appears, school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules. 15 children in a class, combined with their very young age, means that classrooms of 4 and 5-year olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread. While we know that children generally have mild symptoms, we do not know enough about whether they can transmit the disease to adults. We do not think that the government should be posing this level of risk to our society.

We call on the government to step back from the 1st June and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out.

The principles and tests include (see full statement from Friday 8 May, linked to below):

  • Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
  • No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
  • A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
  • Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new covid-19 cases