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Advice for school leaders on phased returns

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Please note, we also have a more general coronavirus FAQ document. If you can’t find the answer to your question in this guide, you might find it here

  1. Introduction 
  2. NAHT’s response
  3. Principles for moving forward
  4. Making decisions about a phased re-opening
  5. How should I prioritise pupils returning to school?
  6. The use of rotas
  7. Question and answers
  8. Update 24 June 2020


1. Introduction

On Monday 11 May, following an address to the nation by the prime minister, the Department for Education (DfE) released guidance to schools that states:

“We … anticipate, with further progress, that we may be able, from the week commencing 1 June 2020 to welcome back more children to early years, school and further education settings. We will only do this provided that the five key tests set by government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing and the enabling programmes set out in the Roadmap are operating effectively. As a result we are asking schools, colleges and childcare providers to plan on this basis, ahead of confirmation that these tests are met…

From the week commencing 1 June 2020 at the earliest, we will be asking primary schools to welcome back children in Nursery, Reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside priority groups. We will ask secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full time provision they are offering to priority groups.”

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2. NAHT’s response

Despite the conditionality of these proposals, NAHT immediately expressed very significant concerns about the government’s plan, which we outlined in an email to members.

NAHT has told the government clearly and directly that these proposals, as they currently stand, are likely to prove impractical and unworkable in most schools. NAHT members confirmed this was the case in a snap-poll carried out on the evening of 11 May (70% said they did not think it would be feasible to welcome back pupils in years R, 1 and 6 from 1 June and 97% said they did not think it would be feasible to welcome back all primary aged pupils for a month before the end of the academic year).

We have been particularly critical of the suggestion that it might be possible to bring all primary pupils back for a month before the end of term. Unless there is a dramatic change in circumstances in the coming month, we do not believe this will be possible. We believe that the chances of the necessary conditions being met are exceptionally low.

We have also repeatedly questioned the scientific evidence on which these decisions have been made and the lack of specific evidence on the risk to staff, parents and the wider community. We are continuing to ask the government to engage with us on this issue.

We have also questioned the logic and rationale behind the selection of the specific year groups identified by the government.

NAHT believes that the government has so far failed to secure the confidence of either parents or professionals in their proposals. The profession and parents still need the government to be more transparent about the scientific evidence underpinning these decisions in relation to both pupils and staff if they are to feel confident in returning to school. NAHT is seeking urgent talks with Public Health England in order to seek answers to many of the questions on this topic that our members have posed.

NAHT believes that the government’s plan to re-open schools to pupils in nursery, year R, 1 and 6 is likely to be unworkable in many cases. The guidance issued by the DfE suggests that classes should be limited to 15 pupils. Based on the nature of many schools and of current staffing availability, we believe that it is unlikely that many schools will be able to achieve this.

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3. Principles for moving forward

Despite the very significant concerns outlined above and the conditionality of the government’s proposal, we know from communications we have received from members that they are beginning to consider what a phased return might look like in their settings. We also know that many of our members have asked for NAHT’s guidance when doing this.

NAHT believes that it is sensible for our members to be working through plans and considerations for a future phased opening and that doing so does not mean that we accept that it will be possible for all the year groups the government has identified to return to school on 1 June.

There is a difference between planning for a return and implementing a return.

The information contained within this guidance has been written based on the fundamental core principle that NAHT’s first responsibility is to protect and support its members. This means considering the health and safety of members as well as protecting them from an employment perspective. Alongside this, NAHT remains deeply concerned about the welfare and health of the wider communities that our members serve. 

In addition, there are a number of other core principles that underpin this guidance.

These are:

  • Any phased return has to be managed with extreme caution and care so that all necessary protective measures can be put in place. This may mean it becomes necessary to take a more gradual approach than the government has indicated.
  • Schools leaders know the unique circumstances of their schools best eg school layout, staffing availability, class sizes, number of key workers in the community etc. This means that they are best placed to make the detailed decisions required when it comes to the safety of their schools. 
  • NAHT recognises that the response to covid-19 is highly likely to be a long-term one. We understand that any vaccine could take at least 18 months to develop and that there is no absolute guarantee one can be developed. We, therefore, recognise that some form of return to school for pupils and staff cannot realistically be put off indefinitely until a vaccine is discovered.
  • A gradual and phased return to schools would appear to be the most sensible approach to gradually adapt to the new ways of working that will be inevitable if schools are to return before a vaccine or effective treatments have been identified.
  • While the government has said that it believes it may be possible to welcome back more pupils from the 1 June, school leaders, in consultation with their governing bodies, will remain responsible for evaluating whether and how it might be safe to expand the number of pupils attending their schools, subject to a risk assessment based on the specific circumstances of the school. This may mean that it is not possible for schools to bring back all the pupils the government has indicated it would like to see back in school on the 1 June.
  • NAHT does not believe that the suggestion that all primary pupils could be back for a month before the end of the school year is realistic. In the absence of any advice from the government on returning whole cohorts in July and the high conditionality attached to this ‘ambition’, we advise members not to plan for this eventuality at present.

As with previous advice documents, this should be read in conjunction with the official government advice and guidance.

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4. Making decisions about a phased re-opening

School leaders know their schools best. While the government has the authority to set national policy, school leaders and their governing boards have the ultimate responsibility and duty to ensure that individual schools are able to operate in a safe manner. Schools can only expand the number of pupils attending if it is safe to do so based on their individual circumstances and specific issues.

This means that school leaders, in consultation with their governing boards, will need to work within the parameters of government policy, but should take local decisions about when and how more pupils might be able to return to their particular setting.

School leaders will need to draw on a range of information when making these decisions, including crucial issues such as the number of staff available and what is achievable given the layout of the school building and surrounding areas. These will inevitably be slightly different in each school.

School leaders are understandably concerned about their personal accountability and responsibility if they expand the number of pupils attending school. It is important to point out that while leaders clearly have a responsibility for following local and national health and safety guidance and carrying our relevant risk assessments to ensure they create safe working environments; they are not responsible for government policy. Following the guidance set by the government and working within the parameters the government has set will serve to protect school leaders.

When making decisions about possible re-opening, there is a wide range of factors for school leaders to consider. The DfE has published its own checklist which could be a useful starting point for schools to build on. Local authorities (LAs) and trusts are likely to publish their own versions of these too for schools to draw upon. Schools will want to adapt any such document to meet their own unique needs and circumstances.

When carrying out risk assessments, schools should draw on the templates and advice being issued by their local health and safety teams either through their LA or trust. Queries about individual issues that arise through a risk assessment should be directed to the relevant health and safety team at the LA or trust.

School leaders will want to engage their staff and local union representatives about any plans to expand the number of pupils attending school. We recognise that there are currently significant challenges with that and we have written more about that issue in the Q&A section below.

If, after carrying out a suitable risk assessment, school leaders and governing boards determine that it will not be safe to admit any more pupils to schools at all, NAHT recommends that the local authority is informed of that decision.

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5. How should I prioritise pupils returning to school?

NAHT’s overarching advice is that schools should proceed methodically and with caution. It would be prudent to plan for a high-take up of places, even if parents and carers indicate that initial take-up is likely to be low. This is because, over time, more parents may want to send their children into school as they see others return. NAHT, therefore, recommends that members plan on the basis that virtually all pupils in a class could return. This will help to ensure any plan is sustainable over the summer term.

The government guidance states that:

“If necessary, settings have the flexibility to focus first on continuing to provide places for priority groups and then, to support children’s early learning, settings should prioritise groups of children”

NAHT believes that a degree of prioritisation is likely to be necessary in almost all cases, given the government’s proposal that class numbers should be limited to 15.

This may mean that schools are only able to bring a smaller number of year groups back to start with and look to build gradually and methodically. To reiterate, this means that it may not be possible for all the year groups identified by the government to be back in school on the 1 June. 

Schools will need to be open and honest with parents about the challenges they will face in expanding the number of pupils attending. NAHT recommends that school leaders write to parents and carers as early as possible to explain these challenges and outline the steps the school will take to assess whether it is possible to increase the number of pupils attending, emphasising that the safety of pupils, staff and families will remain paramount throughout.

The government advice recommends that class sizes should not exceed 15 and NAHT recommends that this number is not exceeded. In some cases, it may need to be smaller based on the size and layout of classrooms. This should form part of any risk assessment carried out.

The government has indicated that vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers remain the first priority even after 1 June. Given this, and the government’s recent announcement about getting more people back to work, a sensible first step would be to check with families whether these numbers are likely to increase.

We recommend that this should be done before, or in parallel with, thinking about individual year groups.

Following this, schools may wish to consider thinking about one year group at a time to see whether it is possible to increase the number of pupils attending.

The government has stated that where schools and settings need to prioritise groups, they should do so as follows:

  • early years settings– three and four-year-olds followed by younger age groups
  • infant schools - nursery (where applicable) and reception
  • primary schools – nursery (where applicable), reception and year 1

NAHT understands that the DfE has listed these year groups in order of priority, with the youngest children being the highest priority.

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6. The use of rotas

NAHT’s understanding is that, at this point in time, the DfE would prefer schools to prioritise bringing back individual year groups on a consistent basis rather than alternating year groups on a rota basis. We understand this is because it will reduce the number of contacts and help those parents return to work, whereas alternating days or weeks is less likely to achieve this.

However, if the individual circumstances of a school mean the use of rotas even within a year group is unavoidable, we recommend schools try to avoid split day rotas as this is likely to increase the number of parents, staff and pupils coming into contact with each other on a daily basis and reduced opportunity for cleaning etc. A week on, week off approach is likely to be more manageable.

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7.  Question and answers

Since the government announcement was made, NAHT has received a very large number of questions from members. Some of these questions are directly related to government policy. Where this is the case, we have sent them to the DfE and asked them to provide answers. As and when we receive a response to these, they will be added to the list below. Where we can, we have attempted to ask some of the most frequently asked questions, which you can read below.

Does my school have to be open for pupils in years R,1,6 on the 1 June?

The government has indicated that it would like to see schools expand the number of pupils attending ‘from’ 1 June. Schools will have to make decisions about what they are safely able to do and when based on their own local risk assessments. This may mean that schools are not able to open to all these year groups on the 1 June.

Where schools were not due to be open on that date due to half-term, NAHT recommends that schools stick to their original calendars.

What about infant and small schools?

The government’s ambition may pose an even greater challenge for infant and small schools. In these schools, it may be simply impossible to have the year groups the government has stated back in school and maintain the class sizes and social distancing measures the government has outlined in its advice. In these circumstances, NAHT recommends schools follow the advice on prioritisation above.

What about special schools?

While our survey data showed that some special schools may be in a position to increase the number of pupils attending, we also know that many won’t. The government has stated:

“Special schools, special post-16 institutions and hospital schools should work towards welcoming back as many children and young people as can be safely catered for in their setting.”

In many cases, special schools may already be operating at or close to this level and it may not be possible to expand the number of pupils attending any further from 1 June.

Where special schools are in a position to consider increasing the number attending school the government guidance suggests that: “They may want to prioritise attendance based on key transitions and the impact on life chances and development, and to consider creating part-time attendance rotas so that as many children as possible can benefit from attending their setting. Special settings should work with local authorities and families to ensure that decisions about attendance are informed by existing risk assessments for their children and young people, which should be kept up to date.”

NAHT recommends that special schools continue to prioritise the most vulnerable pupils and those of key workers as they have been doing up until now and only then consider whether it might be possible to offer additional pupils places. NAHT notes the use of the language ‘they may want to’ in the DfE guidance. Special school leaders, in consultation with local authorities and parents, will be best placed to decide which pupils it might be possible to offer places to while maintaining a safe environment.

What should I do if a member of staff tells me that they can’t come back into school?

NAHT believes it is vital that all professionals in schools work together and remain supportive of each other during this difficult time. It is important that all staff are mindful that this will be a stressful time for everyone and start any conversations from that basis.

The government’s latest guidance includes information about staff who may be shielding or who are clinically vulnerable.

Where individual members of staff present specific circumstances that appear to place them at a greater than normal risk, it will be prudent to seek additional information, a record of which can be attached to a standard risk assessment which sets out the steps that have been taken or agreed in response to those specific circumstances. This may include a decision for the member of staff to remain at home.

The government regards teaching and support staff as being ‘key workers’ and as such they are expected to report for or be available to work, unless their individual circumstances place them in a higher risk group – it is consequently the responsibility of the employer to ensure that all reasonable steps have been taken to mitigate/reduce or remove the risk altogether by putting in place a set of working arrangements proportionate to the issues being presented and to keep an auditable record of the information presented by individual members of staff and the school’s response in each case.

Where possible, schools should take a flexible approach in scaling up their resources, some cases will fall into categories where they should clearly be at home as their conditions would amount to an unacceptable risk to themselves and the school.

NAHT is aware that members also have questions about any possible impact on pay and conditions and we are seeking clarity from the DfE on this matter. In the meantime, school leaders should consult with their usual HR advisors in the first instance.

Do we need to continue to provide home learning for pupils not attending school?

The government guidance refers to schools using their ‘best endeavours’ to provide home learning. This is an important phrase. There is no obligation or statutory duty on schools to continue to provide home learning in any specific way if and when pupils start to return.

However, schools will want to be mindful of how they intend to address the issue of home learning going forwards when considering whether they can bring some year groups back to school. Any model needs to be sustainable as it could be that significant numbers of pupils remain at home for the foreseeable future. Leaders will need to consider the impact that bringing back additional groups of children might have on the school’s ability to support home learning. We recommend this issue is a key consideration as schools think about any phased return.

There are very clear and obvious challenges in providing school provision and home learning opportunities. These are particularly acute in year groups where some pupils may be returning to school.

Schools will want to be very mindful of the feasibility and workload implications for staff when it comes to balancing school and home provision.

We know that members will be thinking about how to balance these competing demands. Where certain year groups are attending, schools may be able to consider a light-touch approach to providing ideas for activities at home. For example, this might be an overview of the focus for the week with some specific suggestions for activities that can be done.

Where whole year groups remain at home it might be possible to continue the approach already in place, although schools will be mindful that staff may be needed to support colleagues working in different year groups and so any approach to home learning may need to be adjusted in light of this.

Will attendance at school be mandatory for pupils in these year groups?

The government guidance states that pupils are ‘strongly encouraged’ to attend. However, this is not the same as attendance being mandatory and the DfE has been clear that parents will not be fined, and schools will not be held to account for attendance figures during this period.

NAHT does not believe it is reasonable to ask schools to try to ‘persuade’ parents to send children into school if they choose not to. This is a decision for families to take and schools will simply want to note that decision.

What if members of my staff say they have been instructed not to engage with any planning for re-opening?

NAHT is aware that some other unions have instructed their members not to engage in conversations with leaderships teams about increasing the number of pupils attending schools.

NAHT recognises and understands the significant concerns other unions have about the government plans and we share a large number of these concerns with them.

NAHT also recognises the significant challenges this has posed for our members.

We have worked with other unions throughout this crisis and have previously issued joint union advice. Our aim is to continue to work with other unions and we are talking regularly with union leaders at a national level about the current situation. NAHT believes it is important that all education staff work together and understand the very significant pressures that everyone in school is currently facing.

In the meantime, we know that many NAHT members are working on their plans to consider what a future phased re-opening might look like in their context and all the logistics and challenges this will involve. Members should continue to do this as there will be an expectation from parents and governors for forward planning to assess whether it is reasonably practicable to expand provision. If members of staff say that they are not able to enter discussions about a phased re-opening at this stage due to union advice, we advise members to explain that you are aware of the position their union has taken and that you understand talks will continue at a national level. At a school level, any such limitations to effectively assess the risk around expanding such provision should be recorded and taken into account for your individual school risk assessments.

Do the plans need to be mutually agreed?

Employers have a duty to consult with their employees, or their representatives, on health and safety matters. This guidance from The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a useful source of information. Leaders will also want to consult with their staff on any risk assessments being carried out.

As the HSE guidance indicates: “Consultation does not remove your right to manage. You will still make the final decision, but talking to your employees is an important part of successfully managing health and safety.”

School leaders will want to engage their staff and union representatives in wider discussions about any plans to expand the number of pupils attending schools. They will recognise the understandable anxieties many staff members will have.

NAHT recognises that the current position taken by some other unions is making this difficult to achieve currently and this is addressed in the answer to that question above.

What are the expectations in terms of education vs childcare if pupils start to return?

The DfE has said relatively little on this issue, although it does refer to the educational benefits of pupils returning to school.

NAHT believes that schools will know their pupils best and that they should determine the approach that is most appropriate for them.

It is very clear that any return will be a long way away from ‘education as normal’ and schools will be having to manage issues such as split classes and small groups.

It is unrealistic to expect schools to immediately return to the national curriculum in its entirety and there is no expectation on schools that they should do so.

Schools and teachers will also be considering what reintegration activities and well-being support pupils might need initially, taking into account the experiences their cohort will have had.

In many cases, schools are likely to consider that a gradual return to ‘the curriculum’ will be appropriate and actually easier to manage given the safety guidelines produced by the DfE.

However, this is an individual choice for schools and there will be no inspection or audit of schools’ approaches at this time.

What about my staff who have childcare responsibilities?

Teaching and support staff have been identified as key workers and, as such, their children should be eligible for childcare at their usual school or early years provider.

However, leaders will want to discuss this with staff on an individual basis. 

What about secondary schools?

The government guidance states that:

“From 1 June 2020, we expect that secondary schools and colleges will be able to offer some face to face contact with year 10 and year 12 pupils. This will not be a return to full timetables or pupils back in school or college full time, rather some support to supplement pupils’ remote education. In line with implementing protective measures and reducing contacts, schools and colleges should limit the attendance of the year 10 and 12 cohort in the setting at any one time and to keep students in small groups as set out in our guidance. Schools and colleges should also ensure that the use of public transport for travel to and from school/college is minimised, especially at peak times. We will be consulting with sector representatives over the coming week in order to develop some suggested models to demonstrate how this could operate, which will be published along with further guidance for secondary schools in the coming weeks.”

NAHT expects the DfE to engage with us about these potential models. In the meantime, NAHT advises that any planning follows the same principles as outlined above for primary schools where local decisions are based on risk assessments and a methodical, incremental plan. As with primary schools, it simply may not be possible in all cases for these to be achieved by 1 June.

Does this apply to independent schools?

Yes, the DfE guidance states: “We expect all mainstream schools and colleges, including independent schools, to follow the same approach.”

What about middle schools?

NAHT notes the government’s statement that:

“We encourage middle schools to do the same and welcome back children in year 6, to ensure national parity for children in this year group.”

NAHT has challenged the government’s logic when it comes to this approach in middle schools as year six does not represent a transition year for middle schools and so the justification provided for year 6 does not seem to be relevant in this case.

Will Ofsted inspections continue to be suspended?

Yes, inspections have been suspended for the summer term at least.

Does this apply to nursery classes in primary schools?

NAHT’s understanding is that nursery classes in primary schools are included in the DfE’s list of priorities.

What protective measures should I be taking in school?

The DfE has outlined the protective measures it believes schools should be taking.

Do I have to work to the order of preference stipulated by the DfE?

The DfE has set out a clear order of preference, starting with the youngest children. However, school leaders will need to take into account the specific circumstances of their schools when making these decisions.

What should I say to parents?

When the prime minister first announced these proposals, NAHT recommended that leaders wrote to parents and carers to say that they were aware of the announcement and that they would now wait for further detail from the DfE. NAHT suggested that school leaders should say that they would not yet be in a position to answer specific questions as they had not yet received the government guidance.

Many schools will now be considering writing to parents again to get a sense of the scale of demand for places should the school be able to expand the number of pupils attending. 

NAHT recommends that care is taken to manage expectations in these letters. Schools will want to reiterate that pupil and staff safety will remain the primary concern in any planning and that it may not be possible to welcome back all pupils in the way the prime minister described. Schools may wish to outline some of the specific challenges that they will face when considering what a safe return for some pupils might look like.

Schools are likely to also want to ask parents about the potential demand for places as outlined above (remembering that it will be necessary to build some flexibility into any plans should parents change their minds over time).

Are we going to be expected to open over the summer holidays?

The secretary of state has stated publicly that he has no plans for schools to stay open over the summer holidays.

NAHT would oppose any plans that require our members to work over the school summer holiday. NAHT members have worked exceptionally long hours for a sustained period of time without any breaks. It is vital for the welfare and well-being of our members that they have a period of leave over the summer. A failure to do this could also have a negative impact on the quality of education provided to pupils in the autumn term.

NAHT believes there could potentially be a role for other childcare providers and summer holiday schemes to support pupils and families, however, this would be heavily dependent on how the virus is being controlled by the end of July.

Has the keyworker list changed?

No, the DfE has confirmed that original keyworker list remains in place even though more people are being encouraged to go back to work.

What specific cleaning is required in-between each day and during the day?

The DfE has referred us to the protective measures guidance already published. The DfE has told us that this has been signed off by scientists within PHE.

Will the DfE provide clear guidance to parents on the expectations around social distancing in schools and why the two-meter rule is not essential?

The DfE has told us that they believe this is covered in the guidance to parents document,

What will happen to people’s pay if they are unable to return on or after the 1 June?

The DfE has told us that this is not a matter for the government and, in line with other sectors, this is a matter for employers. 

 What support will the DfE give schools with risk assessments?

The DfE has directed us to The Health and Safety Executive guidance on this matter. Schools should also consult the Health and Safety teams within their Local Authority or Trust.

Workplaces are being encouraged to keep canteens closed, so why are schools not too?

We are still seeking an answer to this question.

  • If Early Years numbers are low on census day in June due to parents choosing not to send their children to school, what impact will this have on schools’ budgets?

It is our understanding that this year’s census data in June will not be used for that reason. We are seeking confirmation of this. 

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Update 18 May 

What about third-party suppliers working on the school premises?

Members are advised to ensure that third-party suppliers (eg catering, gardening, cleaning) have also undertaken appropriate risk assessments for the times they are working on school premises (eg serving meals) and that schools have appropriate undertakings from service providers.   

What does the health and safety at work act say and how does it apply in this situation?

There are a number of statutory powers which impose a duty upon an employer to take reasonable steps to protect the welfare of their staff.

The legislation also provides individual protections for employees should they refuse to work on the grounds of health and safety - Employment Rights Act 1996.

This is a complex area and our legal team have prepared this separate advice document to support members considering this issue.

What is the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) approach in dealing with health and safety compliance in relation to the current situation?

If the HSE believes an employer is following the relevant Public Health guidance (or equivalent guidance from devolved administrations) for their sector (which would include guidance from the DfE) in terms of controlling the public health risks, they will be considered to be taking reasonably practicable precautions to control workplace risks.

Where employers are considered to not be taking steps to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, HSE will consider taking action to ensure that the risks are controlled. This includes the provision of advice through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements.

The HSE is seeking to support a safe return to work across all industries and assist employers to implement effective practical measures to ensure compliance with public health and health and safety at work requirements. As such they have developed information and guidance for workplaces, as well as the opportunity to contact them for further help and advice on how to protect people from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace if required. 

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Update 19 May 

How should I respond if staff tell me that they are not prepared to engage in any planning for a future phased re-opening?

NAHT believes that close co-operation and mutual understanding between all members of staff is essential currently. It is important to recognise that the current situation will be causing stress and anxiety for all members of a school community.

NAHT has been very clear that there is a difference between planning for a future re-opening and implementing one. In addition, working through a plan and considering the challenges likely to be faced does not mean that a school will necessarily be in a position to expand the numbers of pupils attending on or from 1 June.

NAHT members are advised to remain in regular communication with their staff and union representatives to explain any work they are doing to plan for a potential future expansion in pupil numbers. Members should advise staff and union representatives how they can participate in this process, particularly in terms of the risk assessment process.

If staff inform a leader that they have been instructed not to engage with any planning, we suggest that NAHT members can continue to work through risk assessments and the wider planning process as far as is possible (recognising there will be limits to this if staff feel unable to participate).

We recommend that members reiterate in their communications that a discussion about plans does not mean that anyone is committing to a specific date or method of phased return, rather it is an opportunity to share and understand concerns, and for staff to inform the risk assessments that are taking place.

If staff still feel unable to participate in these discussions, leaders will need to factor that into their risk assessment and, ultimately, this may have an impact on the school’s ability to expand the number of pupils attending.

How should I respond to the planning guide for primary schools and checklist guide produced by NEU, GMB, Unison and Unite? Do I have to fill in specific risk assessments provided to me by other organisations?

NAHT is working closely with other unions at a national level but was not involved in the formulation of this document. There is much in the document covering concerns that NAHT members share with members of those unions.

It is not possible for school leaders to complete a multitude of risk assessments or to conduct separate risk assessment procedures in response to various bodies.

Where alternative risk assessments and checklists are provided to leaders, we recommend members review the issues and risks that these identify as part of their consultation with staff. Many of these are likely to have already been factored into existing risk assessments, but where new concerns that have not been considered are identified, it will be helpful to consider these too.

We recommend that school leaders work closely with their existing health and safety teams and advisors when carrying out local risk assessments. Most schools will have existing templates that can be adapted and used. Where specific covid-19 risk assessment templates have been prepared, these should be used. Schools leaders should not be expected to complete multiple separate risk assessments that replicate each other.

Where other organisations have identified checks that need to be met, consultation with staff and local representatives about the measures being put in place should help them to review these. It is for the representatives from those organisations to complete these and to decide whether the requirements have been met.

NAHT is planning to get further advice to members on risk assessments shortly and we will include any updates here.

Are teachers still entitled to PPA time?

PPA time is contained within teachers’ terms and conditions and the DfE have confirmed that they have not removed or suspended that.

The current DfE guidance does not cover the issue of PPA time specifically. However, NAHT notes the DfE’s overall message about the importance of minimising the number of people moving between groups or ‘bubbles’.

NAHT is aware that schools are designing a range of different approaches to PPA and solutions will very much depend on local circumstances, size of the school, staff availability etc. However, NAHT recommends that these decisions are a core part of the risk assessment process and the basic principle of minimising the number of people moving between groups underpins decisions in this area.

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Update on 20 May 2020 

What happens if I cannot expand the number of pupils attending my school on 1 June and what are the implications for me personally?

NAHT has been clear that schools may not be in a position to expand the number of pupils attending school from the 1 June, even if the government suggests that it is safe to do so. Decisions should be informed by detailed risk assessments as outlined above. Where leaders believe that they will not be in a position to expand the number of pupils attending, we recommend that they liaise closely with both the governing board and their employer (usually the local authority or the trust). If members encounter any difficulties after this or want to understand how the union can support them we recommend they contact our advice team directly on: 0300 30 30 333.

What happens if members of staff indicate that they are not going to return but they do not fall into the clinically vulnerable or ‘shielding’ group? What are the implications for them?

Clearly, leaders will want to be understanding of the concerns and anxieties that individual members of staff have about increasing the number of pupils and staff attending school. They will want to have conversations with staff about those concerns and any measures the school can take to support them. In terms of the implications for staff who decide not to return, these are complex matters and schools will require advice from their usual HR advisers on this issue. If there are specific questions you would like to ask us on this, you can contact our advice team on: 0300 30 30 333.

Who would be liable if a parent or member of staff pursued legal action against a school in relation to covid-19?

The duty to provide a safe place of work and safe environment for the children, staff and other visitors rests primarily with the employer and the governing body. Individual employees, including school leaders, also have responsibilities for, in so far as is possible, ensuring that the school is safe for both for children and staff. 

However, claims for injury or illness are almost always brought against employers/occupiers because employers are vicariously liable for any negligence or breach of duty by their employees. 

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Update 22 May 2020

Will we still have to write end of year reports?

The government has now updated its guidance on writing annual reports for parents. You can find the guide for head teachers here, and additional guidance for reporting at the end of KS1 and KS2 here.

The guidance is clear that schools should take a proportionate approach in deciding what information to include within their pupils’ reports. Schools should decide the appropriate level of detail required and take account of the availability of staff to write and prepare reports, as well as the information that they can reasonably access. Schools can also decide the most appropriate method by which to share reports with parents, which may be electronically.

The Department for Education (DfE) intends to remove the requirement to report pupils’ attendance data for the 2019 to 2020 academic year, in recognition of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the possible attendance. This change remains subject to the necessary legislation being made but you should assume that your report does not need to include pupil attendance data.

Reports must contain details of how parents can arrange a discussion about the report with their child’s teacher but the guidance recognises that it may be appropriate to delay these discussions and commit to providing details of how parents can discuss the report at a future date, or offering other options, such as telephone discussions.

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Update 29 May 2020

How am I expected to record pupil attendance from 1 June?

The DfE has released updated guidance on recording pupils attendance, which you can access here

The guidance:

  • Asks schools to resume taking an attendance register
  • Sets out codes that schools should use to record absence and attendance
  • Requires schools to submit daily attendance figures by midday, every day, using this online form

There has also been confirmation that the disapplication of school attendance legislation has been extended to June.

This means a parent of compulsory school age is not guilty of an offence if their child fails to attend school regularly.  Accordingly, parents of pupils in years R, 1 or 6 who choose not to send their child/ren to school cannot be fined.

Will children younger than the age of five be able to be tested for the coronavirus? 

Yes, the government has confirmed that children younger than the age of five displaying symptoms will be able to access a test for the coronavirus. 

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Update 1 June 2020

What is the situation with PPE?

The government has provided some limited guidance on PPE in its latest information to schools. This includes information about where to source PPE.

NAHT is aware that many members have said this guidance is insufficient and we are urging the government to publish more specific information about PPE.

In the meantime, we are linking to a useful document that has been produced by Birmingham City Council which provides some useful information about PPE in schools.

On 1 June, DfE issued a further update, stating:

“If education or childcare settings cannot obtain the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, they should approach their local authority to help. Local authorities should, wherever possible, support them to access local PPE markets and available stock. If the local authority is not able to meet the PPE needs of education and childcare providers, the local authority should approach their nearest local resilience forum which will allocate stock if it is available.

If neither the local authority or local resilience forum is able to respond to an education or childcare setting’s unmet urgent need for PPE, the setting will need to make their own judgement in line with their risk assessment as to whether it is safe to continue to operate. If children’s homes, secure children’s homes, residential special schools, or other children’s social care settings have an unmet urgent need for PPE in order to operate safely, they should continue to approach their local resilience forum.”

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Update 2 June 2020

I have seen reference to ‘the employer’, who is the employer in my case?

We have produced a guide to ‘who is the employer’ which you can read here.

What happens to processes like restructuring, redundancy, disciplinaries hearings etc?

NAHT’s view is that if it is at all possible, all of these protocols and procedures should be paused until schools fully re-open.

Where there are extenuating circumstances that mean it is not possible to pause these, schools should discuss these with their usual HR advisors.

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Update 5 June 2020

What is the DfE’s view on whether children attend more than one childcare setting?

The DfE has told us “To minimise contact between groups of children and staff, children should attend just one setting wherever possible and parents should be encouraged to minimise as far as possible the number of education and childcare settings their child attends. Childminding settings should consider how they can work with parents to agree how best to manage any necessary journeys, for example pick-ups and drop-offs at schools, to reduce the need for a provider to travel with groups of children.”

We have asked that this be added to the information provided to parents.

NAHT note that DfE has not issued guidance relating to pupils who are educated in multiple settings. However, it would be in keeping with the rest of the guidance to try to aim to have pupils only attending one setting at the current time.  

What should I do if I have reason to believe that the transport companies bringing pupils to and from school are not implementing appropriate safety measures, particularly for young people with complex needs and / or increased clinically vulnerability?

If a school is made aware that transport operators are not taking reasonable actions to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus to children, for example, by not following adequate hygiene rules and / or not adhering to reasonable social distancing measures where possible, we suggest the following:

  • Immediately communicate the school’s specific concerns to the person responsible for the transport contract (e.g. LA, MAT, or the Head of the individual setting) in order for them to address concerns directly with the transport operator.

The person responsible should:

  • Contact the operator to share the specific concerns that have been raised and that need to be addressed as soon as possible, at least in time for the next planned journey of pupils.
  • Inform parents of the transport concerns and explain what is being done to address them.
  • Consider whether it might be necessary to seek alternative transport provision, at least during the interim if the operator is subsequently unable to address concerns adequately.
  • Monitor any new arrangements on an ongoing basis.

NAHT recommends that members ensure all of the above actions are logged and a written record is kept in order to provide a clear sequence of events and evidence of actions taken. We recommend that brief records of verbal conversations and any actions agreed are taken too. 

Can children and staff who have contact with a positive case return earlier than the 14 days period if they have a negative swab result? Can schools ask for evidence of a negative test result?

The DfE has told us: “No, as they could still develop Covid-19. It remains 14 days.  PHE advises that it is not appropriate for schools to ask for evidence of a negative test result – we plan to be clearer in guidance about this.”

Are the government recording cases of people who work in school settings who test positive? Is this information going to be published?

The DfE has told us: “Data is being collected on numbers of tests, and information is going to be published. However, it is currently unclear if published data will go down to school level.”

Will DfE consider writing some template letters that schools can adapt and send to parents of there is a positive case in their school?

The DfE has told us: “We are reviewing guidance to ensure clear and consistent messages.  A number of these have been updated and published this week. We are not currently planning any template letters, but may consider it as we review guidance.  PHE’s Local Health Protection Teams will be advising schools in the event of outbreaks.”

Do I have to share risk assessments with staff and unions?

There is a legal obligation for employers to consult with their staff and union representatives when it comes to health and safety practices. This includes risk assessments. In the case of most schools, this duty will fall to school leaders.

As part of a consultation, NAHT recommends that school leaders discuss with staff the risks identified, as well as the measures being proposed to reduce those risks. Staff and school union representatives should be encouraged to engage in discussions about both of these. It can be very helpful for staff and school union representatives to identify anything that might have been inadvertently missed, or where a safety measure could be improved or made more workable.

After any consultation, it remains the responsibility of the person carrying out the risk assessment to finalise it. The need for consultation does not remove the school leader’s managerial responsibility in this regard. 

Leaders will often want to give copies of the risk assessment to staff in school so they have reference to the safety measures agreed. 

We recommend that risk assessments are shared with staff and any school-based union representatives. School-based union representatives will know the context of the school well and will be best placed to respond and engage in the detail of the plans in the first instance. Where there are no school-based union representatives, the risk assessment can be shared with the next level of trade union representation, but this is not required in circumstances where there is a school-based trade union representative. 

There is no legal requirement for schools to email or post risk assessments to regional union teams. 

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Update 10 June 2020

What happens if other unions inform me that they are not prepared to ‘agree’ the school’s risk assessment?

Schools have a duty to consult with staff and union representatives when it comes to risk assessments. However, this does not mean that all risk assessments have to be ‘signed-off’ by those being consulted. The duty to consult does not override managerial responsibility. If a union contacts you to say that they are not willing to ‘agree a risk assessment’ (ie because they believe the national tests have not been met) then this is an issue for the union and their members. It will be down to those members of staff to talk with their union about their next steps. It does not prevent leaders from implement plans for a phased re-opening.

What happens if the ‘R number’ in my region is above one?

NAHT is aware that the University of Cambridge has recently published data that suggests the R number is above 1 in some regions in England. The research in question splits England into seven large geographical regions. These regions incorporate multiple local authorities.

NAHT believes that it is important that local authorities (LAs) take decisions based on the range of data available to them, and in consultation with Public Health England. NAHT believes there should be flexibility within government policy so that LAs can make decisions about school opening based on the local data available.  

Members who are concerned about the R number in their region should contact their local authority to discuss this further.

NAHT will continue to work at a local level and liaise with LAs as appropriate.

Does NAHT have specific advice on issues relating to members with protected characteristics and other vulnerabilities who may be at increased risk?

As is the case in ‘normal circumstances’, employers will need to be mindful of the particular needs of different groups of workers or individuals. Any planning for wider re-opening of schools, such as designing staffing structures or development of any risk assessments, should take account of the particular circumstances of those with different protected characteristics or who appear to be in particular at-risk groups.

NAHT’s advice is that schools should continue to assess individual members of staff who may be at increased covid-19 risk and put reasonable adjustments in place, especially for those staff with serious medical conditions and caring responsibilities.

NAHT is aware of, and concerned by the particular impact covid-19 appears to be having on members of the BAME community. NAHT welcomes the scientific review of covid-19 deaths pertaining to BAME frontline staff currently being undertaken by Public Health England and hopes this will help provide greater insight into the issue.

In the meantime, we are working with colleagues in other unions and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to explore this issue and its implications for different sectors. We are also raising this issue as a matter of urgent priority in our conversations with the government.

We believe that the NHS England guidance below, while not directly applicable to schools, is a useful starting point for members:

“Organisations should continue to assess staff who may be at increased risk and take account of reasonable adjustments, individual health concerns and caring responsibilities. In the light of emerging evidence that BAME people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, employers should also risk-assess such staff and make appropriate deployment arrangements on a precautionary basis.”

The organisation BAMEed has also produced Some very useful resources for schools, including guidance on risk assessments. 

We will continue to update our position based on our work with other unions and the government.

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Update 11 June 2020

Our risk assessments show we need PPE, how can I obtain essential PPE if my school’s usual suppliers are unable to assist?

The government advice states,

‘Education and childcare settings and providers should use their local supply chains to obtain PPE.

‘If education or childcare settings cannot obtain the PPE they need they should approach their local authority (LA). Local authorities should support them to access local PPE markets and available stock locally, including through coordinating the redistribution of available supplies between settings according to priority needs.

‘If the local authority is not able to meet the PPE needs of education and childcare providers, the LA should approach their nearest local resilience forum (LRF) which will allocate stock if it is available once the needs of other vital services locally have been met. If neither the LA or LRF is able to respond to an education or childcare setting’s unmet urgent need for PPE, the setting will need to make their own judgement in line with their risk assessment as to whether it is safe to continue to operate.’

If, after exhausting all of the above government advice, your school continues to urgently require essential PPE supplies, NAHT has been made aware of an organisation that may be able to help. SOS Supplies is a team of volunteers who have been supporting the NHS, charities, schools and other key workers in need of urgent PPE

They simply match organisations in need, with UK PPE suppliers who have items currently in stock and ready to ship.

Each of the UK suppliers used on the lists has been checked by SOS Supplies for their reasonable prices (as they are supporting charities, NHS etc), appropriate certification and their links to any relevant government bodies.

Schools simply need to register their specific PPE needs on the website

SOS Supplies then provide regular email updates showing which companies can provide PPE, their minimum order levels and prices – they are currently providing these on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They intend to continue this service throughout the covid-19 crisis.

Schools place their orders directly with the suppliers.

NAHT recommends that schools make direct contact with the chosen supplier and undertake due diligence (eg - to ensure the specific PPE needs are able to be met) as you would with any purchase order.

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Update 17 June 2020

Am I required to undertake an equality impact assessment alongside any risk assessments? 

An Equality Impact Assessment (“EIA”) is an analysis of a proposed organisational policy, or a change to an existing one, which assesses whether the policy has a disparate impact on persons with protected characteristics. 

While equality impact assessments are not legally required for schools in England, they are considered an established and credible tool for demonstrating due regard to the public sector equality duty (PSED), which schools are required to adhere to by law. Essentially, this means that schools are required to assess the impact their proposed policies have on equality, but there is not a specified way in which to do so.  

Given that there are likely to have been a number of changes to schools’ risk assessments in recent months, and in light of the evidence that suggested certain groups with protected characteristics are at particular risk, NAHT would encourage schools in England to consider the use of equality impact assessments or some other similar form of written record when developing your risk assessments. This is to help demonstrate that there has been active consideration of equality duties and appropriate relevant questions have been considered. 

Wales and Northern Ireland

For schools in Wales and Northern Ireland, there is a statutory duty to complete equality impact assessments; therefore, schools must have due regard to this when making any changes to policies, including risk assessments. 

Further advice and guidance on applicability and requirements of the Equality Act 2010 for schools can be found in guidance from the Department for Education, and in NAHT’s advice and guidance here. Schools may also find the following guidance a useful template

For NI schools, there is specific guidance from the NI Equality Commission here

Can schools delay the start date for all reception pupils in the next academic year?

At this stage, we do not yet know what the government’s plans are for pupils returning to school in September. As such, we recommend that schools do not make such decisions at this point in time. In addition, it is our understanding that such an approach is likely to be seen as a breach of the admissions code, and therefore is likely to be subject to challenge.

Do staff need to have agreement from their union to return to school?

NAHT recommends that all teachers are members of a union. We also recommend that teachers engage with their union and with the advice they are being given. 

Ultimately, individuals will be responsible for their own decisions. NAHT, like all other unions, provides advice but it is down to individual members to decide how they will use that advice when making their own decisions.  

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Update 22 June 2020

What happens if a member of staff goes on holiday late in the summer holiday and has to quarantine when they return?

Based on current government guidelines, there could be a scenario where a member of staff goes on holiday late in the summer holidays and is then unable to return to school as they are expected to self-isolate for two weeks. 

It is important to point out that government guidelines on this could change, and school leaders will want to review the latest government guidelines when making decisions on this issue.

It is also important to acknowledge that, given the current situation, it is unlikely that large numbers of people will be going on foreign summer holidays as planned.

However, NAHT has produced a technical document in partnership with LGA and ASCL that outlines the legal position and the options available to schools.

NAHT believes that it would not be appropriate to penalise school staff or school leaders who have pre-booked summer holidays (booked prior to the outbreak of covi-19) that cannot be re-arranged without incurring significant expense. 

While clearly not ideal, NAHT believes it would be better to ask any member of staff in this position to support the learning taking place in the school by working from home wherever possible. 

School leaders will want to start by highlighting the current guidelines and establishing whether there are any staff who think they may be affected. This will enable leaders to have conversations with those people about the likely implications. 

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Update 23 June 2020

What is happening about September? When will we know? 

NAHT has repeatedly emphasised to the government the need for school leaders to have clarity about September as soon as possible. We have been clear that school leaders need advance warning about the government’s plans and certainly need to know before the end of the summer term. 

While we appreciate that the government cannot predict how the virus will develop over the summer or how the data may change, we do think it needs to share the scenarios it's planning for so that schools can prepare themselves in good time. 

We note that on 19 June, the secretary of state for education indicated that it is the government’s intention to bring all pupils back into school in September. We do not have any further details at this stage about how the government intends to achieve that ambition; however, we are seeking urgent talks with the government to understand its plans. At the press conference on 19 June, the secretary of state indicated that one of the models the government is considering is increasing permitted group size (bubbles) so that entire classes can return. 

We have a number of questions about how this would work in practice, which we have put to the government, including what the expectations around social distancing might be in that scenario. We are also seeking to understand what this might mean from a secondary school perspective. As soon as we have further information about this, we will update members.

Update 24 June 2020

What do you know about the government’s one billion pound ‘catch-up scheme’?

How will funds be allocated? When will we actually see the money? Will we be expected to report how the funds have been spent? Will Ofsted be reviewing how the fund is spent?

Currently, we still only have headline information about this announcement. We are expecting more details to follow in due course.

What we know so far is that the government has allocated £1billion pounds for a ‘catch-up’ plan.

This will be split into two parts. £650m will be allocated directly to schools for the 2020/21 academic year so that they can plan provision for pupils who may need additional ‘catch-up’ support as the result of the current crisis.

The DfE has been clear that it will be down to schools to determine how to spend their allocation of this fund.

On the 19 June, the secretary of state for education said: “This crisis will have affected children in many different ways – and for this reason, I am giving schools the discretion to tailor this funding towards their particular needs and the needs of the children they teach.”

However, the DfE has also stipulated that they expect schools to be implementing evidence-based approaches. The EEF has published a short guide giving an overview of some of the relevant evidence.

The remaining £350m will be used to pay for the establishment of a national tutoring programme (NTP). You can find out more about this programme here.

While the secretary of state has indicated that Ofsted may play some role in looking at how schools have spent this catch-up fund, we do not yet know what that might look like in practice.

Similarly, we have yet to receive any further information about how the funds will be allocated or on the audit or reporting expectations.

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Last updated 07 July 2020