Thursday 2 September 2021

All staff email

September and our new academic year

Dear colleagues,

I want to thank you for all you have done over the summer as we head toward the new academic year. I am very aware of the enormous layers of complexity that the pandemic still continues to throw our way.

We have now reached September and are ensuring our campus provides a welcoming, safe and inspiring place to come together once again.

Last week, we shared a very comprehensive overview of everything we are putting in place with Senior Leaders, Department Managers and covid-leads in Departments. To keep everyone informed, below is also a summary for all staff.

Approaching the start of term

I have heard from many different people and there is a real mixture of emotions, ranging from feeling concerned and daunted, through to being excited and energised by all there is to come.

Two main things stand out to me about how this September will feel different: we now have regular and robust covid testing, and we have easy access and a very good uptake of vaccinations.

We have some really positive news on that front, as our initial data from our enrollment survey (based on just over 11,000 responses; about 60% of the total expected) shows that 88% of students have told us they are either fully or partially vaccinated.

We’ll be continuing this effort throughout the Autumn term, using our on-campus vaccine clinics to complete the student vaccination process as soon as possible and establish a very high overall double vaccination status among all students. We’ll have a large and visible presence during Freshers’ week, and we’ll use the vaccine data we have collected to support targeted communications, especially to students who are partially jabbed so that we can invite them to regular pop-ups throughout the first term to deliver second doses.

All of this indicates a substantially higher take up of vaccinations by our students than comparable groups in the national population. We believe this has been driven by three key factors - our vaccine pop ups, a strong communications drive (especially among offer-holders), and targeted support for students without NHS numbers. A huge thanks to everyone who has supported this drive to help and encourage this uptake in such large numbers.

What you can expect on campus

We are launching our new Protect. Respect. Be Kind. campaign. It’s been co-created with the City of York Council, to draw on the wider behaviours we want to encourage, and what action we all need to take to look after our community.

We also have our own policies and guidance, such as our face coverings policy, which strongly recommends wearing them in areas where there are likely to be high numbers or concentrations of people, including teaching spaces.

We are working hard to set expectations about covid-aware conduct for our staff, students and visitors. This includes explicitly asking our community to take certain action, such as getting tested regularly, respecting our advice and recommendations, and being kind to each other - something that has been at the heart of our response since the pandemic started. We are all having to adapt our own views and opinions to support staff and students, so that we can collectively learn to live with covid and work together in this environment.

We will also have new and replacement signage across campus, we continue our comprehensive health and safety assessments, new covid-aware checklist workbooks, and new occupational health guidance, all of which has been agreed through our Health, Safety and Welfare Committee, including regular discussion with local Trades Union colleagues.

The Government and DfE have been clear on their own expectations: that education should take place in-person, with as little restriction as possible to normal teaching and learning. We are determined to do all that we can to embed proactive and proportionate protective measures, to offer a safe, supportive and welcoming place of work and study.

Test and Trace, and outbreak response

Please do note that national self isolation rules have changed, but we will still track positive cases closely. It's really important that staff and students let us know quickly when they’ve tested positive.

For the new term, instructions to isolate as a result of a potential contact will be issued by NHS Test and Trace. We continue to work very closely with our City partners, so our own team will respond to potential outbreaks in liaison with the City Council’s Public Health team, focusing on monitoring where cases are occurring.

As we approach the start of term, we know there will be lots of questions about new guidance, policies and arrangements. Now we no longer have defined legal restrictions in place to enforce behaviour, I understand that for many this will feel very unsettling. We need to continue to build on our compassion and a strong community approach, and as always, we will keep our position under review, ready to respond to new guidance if national or local requirements change.

In the meantime, I look forward to our return to campus and everything we can achieve together through our new way of working. We will share more reminders and action for how we can support colleagues in reconnecting on campus soon. The situation and ongoing pandemic continues to impact each and every one of us in different ways, but I know so many are looking forward to rejoining colleagues and feeling the vibrancy of campus once again.

Best wishes