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NAHT Northern Ireland

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NAHT Northern Ireland represents principals and vice-principals in around two-thirds of 1,150 schools in Northern Ireland. NAHT Northern Ireland provide advice, training and support for its members on a range of issues faced by senior leaders in schools. Along with our colleagues in England and Wales, we are there to defend and extend the rights of school leaders.  

NAHT NI is democratic and member-led, and supported by its Belfast-based team of staff alongside their colleagues based in both Wales and England.

NAHT Northern Ireland
Carnmoney House
Edgewater Office Park


02890 776633 

One in five schools have had to close a class due to staff illness since half term, new survey reveals

Today (Weds 1st Dec), school leaders’ union NAHT Northern Ireland releases results from a snap poll of its members on staff absence since half term.

The survey received 162 responses from school principals in Northern Ireland and found that one in five (21%) reported they have had to close a class due to staff absence and the inability to secure a substitute teacher since the half term break. 10% have had to close the whole school.

The vast majority said they have had 5 or more Covid cases in one class or year group within one week since the start of the school year. 84% said this has happened 1-5 times, and 16% said it has happened 6-10 or more times.

Since the start of this academic year, 88% of principals said they have had to teach classes to cover for absent staff. 80% said they have had to supervise pupils to cover for absent classroom assistants.

This comes as new figures show more than 1,000 school staff contracted Covid-19 in the last four weeks.

Helena Macormac, director of NAHT NI, said: “This snap poll shows the level of disruption schools in Northern Ireland are still suffering due to Covid. School leaders are struggling to keep classes going – and even schools open – as staff get ill and isolate and they cannot find substitute teachers. We are deeply concerned about the impact this is having on pupils and the wider school community. The inability to find cover is putting enormous strain on teams and is taking leaders away from important duties and responsibilities.

“With current rates of transmission and uncertainty around the new variant, schools cannot continue in this way. Principals need to be able to focus on leading their schools through the current crisis and driving educational recovery for the children in their care. The government needs to address this crisis urgently – DE must clearly inform parents that schools may not be able to sustain normal, full-time in-school teaching and learning, and support must be provided to enable schools to provide remote provision if safe staffing levels cannot be secured. Principals want nothing more than ‘normal school provision’ to be provided but this must be done safely.”

Dr Graham Gault, president of NAHT NI, said: “The number of staff who have contracted Covid-19, startling as that figure is, does not even come close to the numbers of school-based staff who have had to take time away from school as a result of Covid, be it through contracting the illness, isolating because of close contact with a positive case or caring for children who have been affected. The very high level of Covid-related absence, compounded by the stark unavailability of substitute staff, has left school leaders with nowhere to turn in trying to maintain safe staffing levels in schools.

“It is, therefore, inevitable that we will see more and more instances of schools having to make temporary, short-term closures for cohorts of children until safe staffing levels can be regained. Our principals cannot perform miracles. We all need to be understanding, patient and reasonable in what we expect them to be able to achieve in these extreme circumstances.”

Liam McGuckin, principal of Greenisland Primary, said: “Last week was the worst yet for outbreaks in my school. I had to close three classes before Halloween to carry out deep-cleans after pupils tested positive. The worry is that new cases among teaching and support staff could severely impact on classrooms staying open due to a chronic lack of substitute teachers. I phoned 74 subs on Tuesday, but no-one was available.”

First published 01 December 2021

Recent consultations and other documents

NITC joint letter to management side

The five teacher unions in Northern Ireland, including NAHT(NI), wrote to the employers seeking additional payment to school leaders and teaching staff who worked significant additional hours during summer 2021 in order to ensure this work was recognised.


Consultation on deferring school starting age: NAHT(NI) draft response

We are concerned at the advancement of this proposal as the evidential basis for this consultation is highly limited. We contend that the current proposal should be retracted. The proposal fails to reflect the experience of pupils, school leaders, parents and the whole school community. Given the significance of this potential policy change, it is essential that the perspectives of all stakeholders are considered. We know that members are operating in a business-critical environment and will have limited or no time to engage with consultation exercises, however, we encourage members to consider responding to this important consultation and copy our response to complete your individual response.


Previous consultation responses and statements

First published 08 April 2020