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Schools and covid-19 - your questions answered (Updated January 2021)


Key worker and vulnerable child provision during the national lockdown

Updated 12 January 2021.

On 4 January 2021, the government announced that most schools in England would close to the majority of pupils from 5 January.

However, it is also stipulated that schools would remain open for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.

The government’s revised key/critical worker list and the stipulation that any child with one parent who is a key worker is putting some schools under significant pressure. The additional information released by the Department for Education in their guidance for Restricting attendance during the national lockdown (England) did not help relieve this pressure. 

On 8 January 2021, in response to pressure, the DfE stated that: “We are aware of reports of schools and colleges having more pupils in attendance this week than during the last period when schools were only open to vulnerable and key worker pupils. The national restrictions mean all children who can stay at home should stay at home.”  While we do not believe this goes anywhere near far enough, it may be a useful statement for some members to share with parents.

In particular, we are pressing the government to be clear about what proportion of pupils they think can be in school while still achieving the aim of significantly reducing the R rate. 

On 8 January 2020, in response to pressure, the DfE stated that: “We are aware of reports of schools and colleges having more pupils in attendance this week than during the last period when schools were only open to vulnerable and key worker pupils. The national restrictions mean all children who can stay at home should stay at home.” Whilst we do not believe this goes anywhere near far enough, it may be a useful statement for some members to share with parents.

In particular, we are pressing the government to be clear about what proportion of pupils they think can be in school while still achieving the aim of significantly reducing the R rate. 

NAHT is continuing to raise this with the government as a matter of urgency – the following guidance is aimed at giving you tools to operate in the legal context that exists at the moment to try to alleviate pressure where possible and support you as far as we can given this suboptimal approach by the government. We will continue to push for policy change but in the meantime, we know that schools cannot wait and so, we are publishing the following interim guidance for members. Please note the advice below applies mainly to mainstream schools in England; we have set out additional interim advice for special schools and AP settings where all pupils are currently classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the government and this can be found here. 

At the moment, the government guidance states that all relevant schools should offer places to vulnerable and key/critical worker children as they have defined them, which as everyone is aware is a very broad category. However, there may be practical constraints for you in relation to achieving this, as while the goal may be to be open for all the children set out by the government this can only be done if it is safe to do so based on a rigorous risk assessment.   We suggest that the following steps are taken:

1.     It is perfectly reasonable to take a little time to consider who you can open to – if you are actively working on a risk assessment to create safe opening conditions then it would be difficult to criticise this approach, however, we recommend that during this period all vulnerable children can attend wherever possible.

2.     Risk assess how many children you can safely take, this will be based on all usual considerations such as your school’s staffing levels, premises etc. We have provided detailed guidance on risk assessments for members, including template letters to employers requesting their input which can be found here.  

3.     Contact all parents to ascertain the potential demand for key worker places. Ask them to make you aware of their key worker status, if they plan on having their children attend, noting that you hope to open to all key worker children but may need to prioritise.  They should therefore confirm their status to you and, specifically identify themselves if they are frontline NHS staff or education key workers.  Where there are two parents in the household they should both provide this information.

4.     At this point you should be able to establish the number of children you can safely take, and the number of children who may wish to attend based on their key worker status.

5.     Ideally the answer to this is that all the children who wish to attend can.  However, if this isn’t possible due to your risk assessment then you will, unfortunately, have no choice but to prioritise.

6.     In the absence of clear advice from the government, we would recommend considering the following interim approach, until further guidance is available:

  • vulnerable children
  • children where both parents are key workers or children with single parents who are key workers.  NHS and education key workers to take priority if needed
  • Children where only one of two parents is a key worker. NHS and education key workers to take priority if needed.

As mentioned above as there is no clear guidance on this at the moment from the government we would suggest that you confirm the prioritisation list with your local authority or trust and inform the governors to ensure that everyone is in agreement.  This reduces the risk of challenge.  In the meantime, we will press government hard on this to get greater clarification to provide you with more certainty.

If you do have to prioritise attendance, we recommend that you confirm this with your governors and also alert the local authority.  We have drafted a template letter for you which can send to your local authority in relation to the decision you have been forced, by your risk assessment, to take.  You can find this here.  

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Special schools and alternative provision 

Advice regarding the DfE's ‘Guidance for special schools, specialist post-16 providers and alternative provision during the national lockdown’

On 14 January 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) issued updated guidance for special schools, specialist post-16 providers and alternative provision during the national lockdown.

NAHT’s view is that the guidance still does not go far enough in terms of giving school leaders the flexibility and discretion they need. 

NAHT continues to gather the views of members in special schools and sharing the key concerns with the government. We are acutely aware of the challenges being faced by special schools and alternative provision by the current government position. We understand the strength of feeling on this, given the numerous emails and calls we have received on the particular issues faced by school leaders in special schools and AP.  We will continue to push the government for a clearer and more flexible approach within the updated guidance, but in the meantime, we have set out our thoughts below to help manage this based on the continuing clearly sub-optimal position. 

We note that the DfE continues to use the phrase:  “the characteristics of the cohorts in special schools and alternative provision will mean these settings continue to offer face-to-face provision for all pupils, where appropriate.” 

The phrase ‘where appropriate’ suggests an acceptance that in some cases special schools will not be able to offer face-to-face provision for all pupils. 

We also note the point: Special schools should continue to welcome and encourage pupils to attend full-time where the parent or carer wishes for their child to be able to attend”. This suggests that there may be cases where, with the parent's or carer's agreement, pupils do not have to attend school and can be granted a leave of absence. 

The guidance also states: “On occasion special schools may encounter circumstances where they cannot provide their usual interventions and provision at adequate staffing ratios, or with staff with vital specialist training. In these circumstances, they should seek to resume as close as possible to the specified provision for the child or young person as soon as possible. Pupil level risk assessments, which were used last spring, should not be used to filter children and young people in or out of attendance, but could be helpful to prioritise the provision a child or young person can get if full-time provision for all is not possible..” 

This means that where issues such as reduced staffing levels pose particular challenges, schools may need to prioritise places based on updated individual risk assessments. However, it also suggests that a pupil’s special educational need and disability, cannot, by itself, be a reason for not allowing attendance, as this would be deemed discriminatory.

Schools may offer reduced services in specific circumstances, particularly where staff capacity is limited and creates an unsafe situation. Where this action is taken, schools should seek to state their intention to resume full service as soon as possible. Where limiting attendance is unavoidable, it may be helpful to explicitly state that it is a time-limited situation, is to be kept under review and that there are a clear rationale and explanation of the circumstances that have led to the decision on attendance levels. It is notable that the government position on not utilising rotas has been removed from the latest guidance, however, as with all such measures, settings will need to illustrate how adopting any such approach does not compromise the safety measures already in place.

All school leaders will, as always, also need to carry out risk assessments. Where risk assessments raise particular concerns that cannot be resolved, we recommend you contact the Local Authority immediately to raise your concerns with them.

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Maintained nursery schools and nurseries in schools 

NAHT is very concerned about the government’s decision to require all maintained nursery schools to remain open for all pupils.

We are equally extremely concerned about the government’s current approach to funding in the Early Years.

On 18 January 2021, we emailed members directly to provide an update on the current situation. You can read that here.

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Section 44 action during the national lockdown

Following the announcement by some other unions that they would recommend their members invoke section 44, we released advice which you can access here.

It is our understanding that those unions will now be reviewing that advice and that they will advise members to work with school leaders to help ensure provision for vulnerable pupils and key workers can be made during the national lockdown in line with the school’s risk assessment. 

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Is NAHT calling for school staff to be prioritised for vaccination?

Yes, we believe that after the first phase of vaccinations for the most vulnerable in society has been rolled out, education staff should be considered as a priority for vaccination (particularly those working in specialist provision and early years). This reflects not just the crucial role they plan, but also the unique working environment school staff are operating in.

We note recent reports that Professor Adam Finn (a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation), has suggested that teachers could be prioritised in the vaccine roll out. He said the committee has been asked to come up with a plan by the middle of February to determine the priority order of who should be vaccinated out of the under-50s, and admitted the "critical role" teachers play "really will figure in the discussions".

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Safety measures (including face coverings and PPE)

Risk assessments

Please see our detailed guidance on risk assessments and a suggested template letter for members to request further information from their employers to assist in their risk assessment here.  It will be particularly important to update your risk assessments in lights of the new variant of covid-19 in the country and also the change to the definition of key/critical worker. 

How often should children wash their hands?

The DfE and PHE’s guidance states that “schools must ensure that pupils clean their hands regularly, including when they arrive at school, when they return from breaks, when they change rooms, and before and after eating.”

Washing hands with soap and water when changing rooms may pose a logistical challenge, and in this situation, hand sanitiser may be an easier option. 

What should we do about heating and ventilation during the pandemic?

The Health and Safety Executive has stated that “employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace and this has not changed. Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so focus on improving general ventilation, preferably through fresh air or mechanical systems.

The HSE advice on air conditioning and ventilation during the pandemic can be found here.

Consideration should have been given to the ways you can best ventilate the school in the risk assessments you will have already completed.

Where possible, it is important to consider ways to maintain and increase the supply of fresh air, for example, by opening windows and doors (unless fire doors).  Also, consider if you can improve the circulation of outside air and prevent pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces. You can do this by using ceiling fans or desk fans, for example, provided good ventilation is maintained. The risk of transmission through the use of ceiling and desk fans is extremely low providing there is good ventilation in the area it is being used, preferably provided by fresh air.”

Clearly, as we move towards winter some of the steps you may have taken to increase appropriate ventilation, such as opening windows, becomes more problematic. The regulations that govern temperatures in school, the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012, do not specify minimum temperatures for any parts of a school, however, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which apply to all workplaces, including schools, set out requirements on minimum temperatures in workplaces. Regulation 7 requires that temperatures be “reasonable” and the accompanying Approved Code of Practice defines this as "normally at least 16°C.”  It is worth noting that this temperature recommendation is not an absolute legal requirement; the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in particular circumstances. On that basis, a balance will need to be struck between providing appropriate ventilation and providing a reasonable temperature for pupils and staff to work in.

Again, the key to this will be to build the change in temperature into your risk assessment and determine how this will be approached. While there is no ‘easy answer’, planning in advance and speaking to staff about these plans will be key. There will be a range of questions you will want to work through including, will heating be turned on and windows remain open?  Is your heating system one that recirculates air, if so has this been serviced and are there any additional considerations you need to take into account? (We advise that schools make contact with Health and Safety or property management teams within their LA / MAT to see if they have further advice or information about heating systems and how they operate).

You will also want to consider if pupils and staff can be asked to wear extra layers to allow for temperatures to be slightly lower than normal so windows can be kept open for longer into the winter. There are no ‘right’ answers here and we recommend working with your local authority or trust to come up with an approach. We also recommend informing the governors of the decisions taken in relation to this, so you can agree on communication to parents to ensure a united front. Finally and importantly we recommend making the staff aware of the approach before a communication is sent to the parents.

The DfE has confirmed that it is acceptable to make changes to uniform requirements and this would include allowing pupils and staff to wear additional layers in the classroom during the pandemic if there is a need to keep windows open to provide adequate ventilation in certain spaces.

The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers has produced a more technical guide, which can be accessed here

Furthermore, the following guidance from REHVA sets out a series of steps that schools can take to improve the number of air changes achieved within the school’s day, which includes actions before and after the school's day and during break periods between lessons. While improving ventilation is one control, schools should continue to ensure that the wider controls of social distancing, personal hygiene and enhanced cleaning are implemented and maintained. This guidance offers a series of factors that schools should consider. 

Is there any advice about regular cleaning? 

The government has published specific advice about cleaning in non-healthcare settings, and this covers schools. You can find that guidance here

What is the government's guidance on face coverings in schools?

Update 5 January: NAHT has asked the DfE if it intends to update its guidance in light of the new national lockdown measures. 

Following the end of the national lockdown in November, the government updated its guidance on face coverings in schools.

It said:

'The government is not recommending universal use of face coverings in all schools. Schools that teach children in years 7 and above and which are in local restriction tier 1: medium alert will have the discretion to require face coverings for pupils, staff and visitors in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained, such as corridors and communal areas and it has been deemed appropriate in those circumstances. Primary school children will not need to wear a face covering.

In particular, schools that teach years 7 and above may decide to recommend the wearing of face coverings for pupils, staff or visitors in communal areas outside the classroom where the layout of the schools makes it difficult to maintain social distancing when staff and pupils are moving around the premises, for example, corridors.

In primary schools where social distancing is not possible in indoor areas outside of classrooms between members of staff or visitors, for example in staffrooms, headteachers will have the discretion to decide whether to ask staff or visitors to wear, or agree to them wearing face coverings in these circumstances.

Based on current evidence and the measures that schools are already putting in place, such as the system of controls and consistent bubbles, face coverings will not be necessary in the classroom even where social distancing is not possible. Face coverings could have a negative impact on teaching and their use in the classroom should be avoided.

Local restriction tiers: high alert or very high alert

When an area moves to local restriction tiers: high alert or very high alert, in settings where pupils in year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained. This does not apply to younger children in primary schools and in early years settings.

In the event of an area moving into local restriction tier: high alert or very high alert, schools will need to communicate quickly and clearly to staff, parents and pupils that the new arrangements require the use of face coverings in certain circumstances.'

NAHT’s advice is that if social distancing cannot be maintained in communal areas and corridors, it would be prudent for schools to ask staff and visitors to wear face coverings in these areas unless there is a compelling reason not to. Erring on the side of caution would seem a sensible approach to take given the information coming out of the World Health Organisation. 

From a practical perspective, if you are in a primary school, we recommend informing your chair of governors, local authority and/or trust about the approach you are going to take in relation to face coverings to ensure everyone is aligned as there is potential for some push-back from some parents and pupils.  We also recommend that you develop a plan to communicate this to parents, pupils and staff to ensure the approach is clear.  You may also want to consider putting a policy in place which addresses issues such as the steps that will be taken if pupils don’t bring a face covering to school with them or refuse to wear it.  Consideration should also be given to children who are exempt from wearing face coverings due to unique needs – this will need to handled sensitively and should be considered in advance of the use of face coverings being implemented where possible.  It would also be useful to consider whether any pupils or staff have particular needs that could be impacted by those around them wearing face coverings, for example, deaf pupils and/or staff who may lip-read or partially rely upon lip-reading.  What steps can be taken to minimise the difficulties caused to these individuals by the use of face coverings?

Schools should also continue to be aware of the government’s exemption list when it comes to the use of face coverings. 

As stated previously, NAHT’s position remains that an inflexible blanket ban on staff wearing face coverings is unlikely to be helpful as settings, provision in schools and required tasks vary from setting to setting, even within a single local authority.

Most importantly, all schools have a duty of care to their staff, and this extends to their mental health and well-being.

If any school staff feel personally reassured and more confident in returning to fully reopened school settings by being allowed to wear appropriate face coverings, school leaders still retain the authority and flexibility within existing government guidance to allow this to happen. Schools will also need to take into consideration the ability of the staff member to undertake their work with children and young people effectively, especially pupils with hearing or communication impairments.

It will also be important to remind those members of staff about how face coverings should be used safely.

Face coverings in special schools

It is important to remember that some pupils will be exempted from wearing face coverings and it is likely that a higher number of pupils in some special schools will fit into this category. Schools will want to consider the unique needs of their pupils and liaise with parents about this sensitive issue. School leaders know their individual pupils and are best placed to make individual decisions in consultation with parents in their settings.

Supporting pupils who are unable to wear face coverings

We have been made aware of some useful materials for use with children, young people and their families who, for a variety of reasons are unable to wear face-coverings, this might be particularly useful for journeys to and from school or general travel on public transport.

For some, wearing a face mask is not possible because of their disability or because it causes them severe distress. These are two examples of the reasons the government has set out for exemption, and people should never be abused for not wearing a mask – especially as many people may have a hidden disability.

Mencap has created easy read guidance to explain the rules and Keep Safe has produced an exemption card to help people with a learning disability explain why they are not wearing a mask.

Schools may wish to share these resources with their families.

Can staff wear visors instead of cloth face coverings?

The current government advice is: “If staff wish to wear a face visor, we recommend school leaders discuss the individual’s concerns with them and explain that there is no evidence that face shields/visors prevent transmission and in a school environment are unlikely to provide any protection for the wearer. As set out in our guidance on safe working in education, eye protection, such as a visor or goggles, need only be worn if a distance of two metres cannot be maintained from someone with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID 19) and a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of fluids entering the eye, for example, from coughing, spitting or vomiting.”

This means that in areas where face coverings are required, ie secondary schools where there are local restrictions, visors are not considered a suitable face covering. Where a school is not in an area where local restrictions apply, they could be an option, but it is important for staff to understand that a visor is not believed to offer the same protection as a face covering. 

If secondary students are outside in year group bubbles at break and lunchtime, do they have to wear face coverings? 

The DfE has confirmed that they do not. The DfE has confirmed that the guidance relates only to indoor communal areas. 

What about safety measures in special schools, including the use of PPE?

You can find the government's advice on PPE in schools here.

The government has also published SEND risk assessment guidance.

The government's guidance suggests that: "The majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of two metres from others." 

NAHT is also aware that a number of local authorities have been supplying schools with additional PPE during this period, and we see no reason for this to now stop. 

The DfE has now announced the PPE will be made available to residential special schools, free of charge from the Department of Health and Social Care's PPE portalEligible settings have been sent an email inviting them to register for the PPE portal. If you haven’t received this invitation email, contact this number 0800 876 6802

NAHT is aware of the concerns members have about the DfE's and PHE's guidance on PPE, particularly in special schools. We are also aware of the concerns other unions have expressed. We are actively raising these concerns with the government. 

In the meantime, we are linking to a useful document that has been produced by Birmingham City Council and provides some information about PPE in schools. On this page, you will also find an example of a PPE policy that a special school has put in place.

The TES has also produced this video explaining how to wear PPE properly in an education setting. 

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's 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 nor 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 advice from the government, your school continues to require essential PPE supplies urgently, 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.

It matches 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 need to register their specific PPE needs on the website.

SOS Supplies then provides regular email updates showing which companies can provide PPE, their minimum order levels and prices – it is currently providing these on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It intends 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 can be met) as you would with any purchase order.

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 the wider reopening 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 about BAME frontline staff, which is currently being undertaken by Public Health England, and hopes this will help to 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 it's 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's 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 handy 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. 

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 it is likely that there have been a number of changes to schools' risk assessments in recent months and in light of evidence that suggests certain groups with protected characteristics are at particular risk, NAHT encourages schools in England to consider the use of equality impact assessments or some other similar form of written record when developing their risk assessments; this is to help them demonstrate that there has been active consideration of equality duties and they have considered the appropriate, relevant questions.

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Personal safety and the well-being of NAHT members

I am a school business manager. Do I need to attend school premises?

The aim of the government’s action in moving schools to online provision, other than in respect of vulnerable and key worker children, is to reduce contact in order to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus. The government guidance during this period is for people to work from home unless it is not possible to do so. Having said that, the government's guidance also states that public sector employees working in essential services, including childcare or education, should continue to go into work.

NAHT’s view is that although this means that schools and colleges will need to ensure they have sufficient staff on-site to operate safely and support the on-site provision for the children of critical workers and vulnerable pupils and students, all other staff should work from home wherever possible.

There is no further guidance from the government on how schools should implement this approach, but in the last lockdown the common practice was for schools to either allow staff to work from home where it was possible for them to do so or to operate a rota system where the need to be in school was limited, taking into account the staffing resources available and the number of children being looked after and the school’s obligations with regard to safeguarding and the health and safety of staff and pupils generally.

The rotas may be in respect of specific teams or groups of staff within the school, such as the SLT and office-based support staff and facilities management staff.  Plans would also need to be in place to deal with the contingencies such as an increase in children attending school or staff becoming ill with covid or other health problems or being exposed to others with covid which will then require them to self-isolate.

As before, the government has advised Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) staff who are on the shielding list not to attend the workplace. This means that they will not be able to come into school, although they can still be expected to undertake work which can be done from home. By implementing a rota system, employers will be able to ensure that all roles required on-site are covered and that the number of on-site staff is kept to a safe minimum.

If you are concerned about the suggested arrangement in relation to your being in school then we would recommend speaking to your head teacher as soon as possible to clarify if it is possible to either revert back to the arrangements you were working to in the last lockdown and to work from home if this is what happened previously; if this didn’t happen previously you should make this request. If this is not agreed (and it is important to request a clear explanation why it cannot be accommodated) the next option would be to ask to be part of a rota to minimise the amount of time you are in school as well as any additional measures which can be taken (after a fresh risk assessment regarding your role and working environment has been undertaken) to maximise your safety and minimise the risk of exposure.

If you still feel that there is a serious and imminent danger to your health and safety if you return to school, it may be possible to exercise your rights under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This may give you a degree of protection if the employer were to try to insist that you returned and threaten to discipline you or subject you to some other detriment for not doing so. Obviously however this is very much a last resort and something which it would be important to consider very carefully.  You can find detailed guidance on section 44 of the Employment Rights Act here.  

I’m not happy about the way the school is doing things, even after a risk assessment. What else can I do?

Preparing effective risk assessments which meet the needs of all staff and pupils can prove challenging as senior leaders seek to create positive working environments in which everyone feels confident working and being in school. It is important that school leaders when consulting with staff, consider current guidance from external specialist agencies, trade unions and the DfE to ensure that the risk assessments they put in place are as robust as possible.  

Whether or not there is a duty put in place, all recommendations set out in government guidance will depend upon whether this is a legal requirement to implement something or that the information is being given for ‘advice only’. It is also important to check whether the advice being provided applies only to local authority and voluntary aided schools rather than academies and independent schools.

In circumstances where members feel that their school’s risk assessment provides insufficient reasonable adjustments to ensure their needs are met, they should continue to discuss their concerns with their employer in order to reach an agreement. If there is an issue which affects several schools in one area it may be possible for head teacher representatives to discuss the concern at a meeting such as a school’s forum.

If this is not possible and a member still feels that their issue is not being addressed by the school as the employer, then they should contact NAHT and book a telephone appointment with an adviser to discuss strategies for managing it.

It is important to recognise the challenges which covid-19 brings to all schools and that the strategies employed to manage these will be different across regions depending upon local circumstances and will also be different in different school settings. Members should continue to work with their school to find solutions before considering taking any action against the employer. In cases where discussions are exhausted members should contact NAHT to consider alternative ways of pursuing the issue.

Where can I access support for my well-being?

Education Support Partnership's helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is completely confidential and provides you with support by telephone or online from specialist call handlers and counsellors who understand the demands of working in education. It provides the following:

  • emotional support and counselling
  • specialist information on work-life balance   
  • specialist information on eldercare, childcare and disabled care support
  • financial and legal information
  • management consultation to support those responsible for managing others
  • up to six sessions of telephone counselling
  • access to Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CCBT)information on local services such as eldercare and childcare.

Its experts assess each call individually and decide on the best course of action for each caller, whether counselling, CCBT or signposting the caller to additional services.

Its telephone number is as follows: 0800 917 4055.

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Bubbles and organisation of groups

Should my 'bubbles' be the size of a class or a year group?

Schools have the flexibility to make a decision that works in their context, based on their risk assessments. While the overarching approach is that smaller groups are preferable (particularly where social distancing is impossible), if that means that schools are unable to deliver a full curriculum and operate effectively, they are free to increase the bubble to the size of a whole year group.

Small schools and special schools may decide to have bubbles that have more than one year group in where they already operate on that basis, ie classes with multiple year groups. 

Do children in the early years have to sit in rows facing the front?

No. The Department for Education's (DfE's) guidance suggests that pupil sat facing the front is one measure schools could take; it is not mandatory. 

The idea is that by not having pupils facing each other directly (ie facing the front instead), it reduces the risk of spreading the virus via respiratory droplets.

However, if schools decide that such an approach would prevent them from delivering the EYFS, then this is not a mandatory approach. As always, leaders should carry out risk assessments to determine the measures they will put in place to reduce risks in their schools and settings.

This also applies to pupils in older year groups. 

Do I have to keep the 'bubbles' the same in breakfast/after-school club as during the school day?

The short answer to this question is no. 

The DfE has acknowledged that it may not be logistically possible to keep the groups or bubbles the same in wrap-around care as they are in school.

Obviously, if it is possible, then it would be advisable to keep the groups the same.

Where it is not (as is likely to be the case for most schools), schools are advised to keep groups in breakfast and after-school clubs as small and consistent as possible. 

It would be advisable to write to parents to inform them of the approach the school is taking to wrap-around care.

We are a very small school. Can we have a whole-school bubble?

The DfE has not set a specific upper limit on the number of pupils within a bubble. The general principle is that schools should keep bubbles as small and consistent as they can. If you can split the school into smaller bubble sizes, this is recommended, even if it is only for part of the time.

However, if making bubbles too small has a significantly negative impact on your ability to operate your school or run a full and balanced curriculum, the bubbles can be larger than the size of a class. 

Ultimately, these are decisions that should be reflected in a school’s risk assessment.  

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Staffing issues

What is NAHT’s position on professional matters, such as performance management, capability, restructuring, redundancy etc?

NAHT has worked with colleagues at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Governance Association (NGA) to produce comprehensive advice on a range of professional matters including those listed above. You can access that here. 

Please note this was written prior to the announcement of the January national lockdown so it is likely it will be updated further in due course.

Does NAHT have any advice on cover and supply teaching during covid-19?

During these unprecedented times, where rates of covid-19 are rising and we head towards winter with a governmental undertaking that schools will be the last places to close, it is important to review your policy on cover and pose questions about how you will manage should staff fall ill or have to self-isolate. 

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) states the following about cover: 

"52.7. Teachers should be required to provide cover in accordance with paragraph 50.7 only rarely, and only in circumstances that are not foreseeable (this does not apply to teachers who are employed wholly or mainly for the purpose of providing such cover)." 

Both the NASUWT and the NEU refer to ‘rarely cover’ in their guidance and expect schools to stick rigidly to that principle. This applies to members of the leadership team as much as it does to any other teacher. 

The STPCD goes on to state the following about planning and preparation time: 

"52.5. All teachers who participate in the teaching of pupils are entitled to reasonable periods of Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time as part of the 1265 hours referred to in paragraph 51.5 or pro-rata equivalent (as the case may be) to enable the discharge of the professional responsibilities of teaching and assessment. PPA time must be provided in units of not less than half an hour during the school’s timetabled teaching week and must amount to not less than 10% of the teacher’s timetabled teaching time. A teacher must not be required to carry out any other duties during the teacher’s PPA time."

School budgets are being stretched to the limit (and beyond), and the government has said it would not refund additional costs incurred as a result of the coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak in the autumn term. So, what options do you have available to you? 

  1. Discuss the possible approaches for your school to take regarding cover. Acknowledge and discuss the very unusual times schools are working in and how that might mean some changes to usual practice. Reaffirm your commitment to staff continuing to get the release and non-contact time they are entitled to. Look for agreement and consensus from the staff who might be concerned. You will need to continue to aim to get supply staff in when an absence is known about in advance. You might ask for some flexibility from staff regarding PPA, guaranteeing it but asking that, if necessary, it might be moved to another time in the week to ensure the continuation of classes.
  2. Discuss with your leadership team (if you have one) the role they might play in cover arrangements, especially in ‘emergency’ situations. Discuss what management activities might have to be put on hold to ensure this can happen. Consider what risk factors might be associated with certain (perhaps vulnerable) staff covering across bubbles.
  3. Exploit the flexible approach to the deployment of staff outlined in the government’s guidance (section on staff deployment) while being very attentive to workload and considering what activities can be put on hold or jettisoned for the duration of the staffing crisis. Consider monitoring and reviewing the pattern of cover undertaken by individual staff members over time to share the additional cover commitments as fairly as possible across the staff team.
  4. Consider reaching out to your usual supply teachers/agencies to discuss in advance what their availability might be like and their ability to respond to short-notice requests.
  5. Pro-actively plan for what actions schools will take if individual members of staff or groups of staff are forced to self-isolate at short notice.
  6.  Consider using the DfE and Crown Commercial Service's agency supply deal (here) to secure supply staff as per the government’s advice. Consider the long-term placement of a supply teacher to preserve, as much as possible, the integrity of school bubbles. Is there merit in employing on a six-month contract, a cover supervisor, whose primary role is to cover lessons for absent colleagues but whose contract stipulates other (mainly administrative) roles should cover not be necessary? 

Finally, if the possible six options explained above still aren’t enough, you should contact your local authority or MAT.

Can staff still deliver 1:1 interventions with pupils?

Yes, they can. 

Staff who are working with pupils across different bubbles are advised to take additional precautions. For example, remaining 1m+ apart if possible and avoiding close face-to-face contact.

Are we able to run staff meetings/inset days in person?

There is nothing in the current government guidance to say that schools cannot run such meetings.

However, such a decision should always be informed and underpinned by an appropriate risk assessment and steps taken to minimise any risk as far as is possible.

As with any activity, schools should work through the following generic steps when looking at risk management and consider the following:

Elimination: is it possible to stop an activity that is not essential if there are risks attached? For example, are whole staff meetings, in their present format, essential?

Substitution: can you replace the activity with another that reduces the risk? Care is required to avoid introducing new hazards due to the substitution. For example, could staff meet separately in smaller, linked groups across the week? For some meetings, is it feasible to still meet via Microsoft Teams or Skype?

Engineering controls: can you design measures that help to control or mitigate risk? For example, staff meet in a well-ventilated room(s) and chairs set to allow for appropriate social distancing.

Administrative controls: can you identify and implement the procedures to improve safety? For example, clear markings on the floor or signage.

If, after working through such a process, you decide that it is essential for staff to meet in person and you have put in place what mitigation factors you can, you may also want to consider the government's guidance concerning meetings held in an office workplace. This is because it may provide additional things to consider when planning meetings in school.

The government suggests that you consider the following steps when planning meetings:

  1. Using remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings
  2. Only absolutely necessary participants should physically attend meetings and should maintain social distancing (2m, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable)
  3. Avoiding transmission during meetings; for example, avoiding sharing pens, documents and other objects
  4. Providing hand sanitiser in meeting rooms
  5. Holding meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms whenever possible
  6. For areas where regular meetings take place, using floor signage to help people to maintain social distancing.

From a school perspective, this could mean that using a larger space than normal, such as the school hall, or ensuring 2m social distancing between attendees. It also means that you should give particular consideration to activities such as close group work. This is because it is unlikely to be possible to reduce the risks involved sufficiently at present – again, the use of technology could be helpful here.  

Schools may also wish to consider the use of face coverings for staff during such meetings in line with the government's guidance on this issue. 

Can schools still carry out lesson observations?

There is nothing in the government’s guidance that explicitly prohibits lesson observations, or senior leaders visiting classrooms this term. However, NAHT recommends that both of these activities should be included and documented in the school’s risk assessment, with appropriate additional protective measures put in place. For example, anyone visiting a classroom to carry out a lesson observation should adhere more strictly to social distancing rules and should ensure they wash hands both before entering and after leaving the classroom. Consideration should also be given to the amount of time spent in the classroom and limited where possible. 

We would recommend that external consultants are not brought into the school to support with lesson observations during the national lockdown period. If you do decide to, this should be subject to a thorough risk assessment. 

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Test and tracing / staff and pupils self-isolating

What is NAHT’s position on the lateral flow testing in schools?

NAHT is broadly supportive of the concept of schools having access to lateral flow tests for asymptomatic screening and recognises the positive impact such tests could have. However, we have significant concerns about lateral flow tests being used as an alternative to isolation where positive cases are confirmed in bubbles. We are therefore pleased to see that the government has paused these tests. 

We also remain highly concerned that the government is relying on schools to organise testing themselves with very limited support or clinical oversight.

What should an educational or children’s social care setting do in the exceptional circumstance that they have good reason to question a self-isolation notification that will have a major impact on the running of the setting?

In the exceptional circumstance that an educational setting or individual member of staff has received a self-isolation notification from NHS Test & Trace (via phone or text) that will have a major impact on the running of the setting, and they have good reason to believe it does not take account of the full range of protective measures in place within their setting, they may seek further advice from PHE advice service by calling the DfE helpline and pressing 1. Where necessary, the advice service will escalate the issue to the local Health Protection Team.

Please note that the reference to notifications is with regards to Test and Trace notifications to isolate issued through email, text or phone rather than the NHS App.

Can a school refuse to let a pupil attend if they have covid-19 symptoms?

The following advice has been agreed with the Department for Education:

'Where a child has symptoms of coronavirus, they should be sent home and advised to follow ‘stay at home: guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection’, which sets out that they should self-isolate for at least 10 days and should arrange to have a test to see if they have coronavirus (COVID-19).

In the vast majority of cases, schools and parents will be in agreement that a child should not attend school, given the potential risk to others. In the event that a parent or guardian insists on a child attending school, schools can take the decision to refuse the child if, in their reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect their pupils and staff from possible infection with coronavirus (COVID-19). Any decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and the current public health advice.  

In addition, NAHT would suggest that where time allows it is worth informing your chair of governors, local authority or trust of the decision.  We would also recommend keeping a short contemporaneous note of the factors considered when making this decision.  It should be made clear that the child should return to school when the 10 day self-isolation period would end.

If a child develops covid-19 symptoms while in school, do I have to immediately send home anyone who has been in close contact with that child? 

Not necessarily. The DfE's guidance states that: “Any members of staff who have helped someone with symptoms and any pupils who have been in close contact with them do not need to go home to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms themselves (in which case, they should arrange a test) or if the symptomatic person subsequently tests positive or they have been requested to do so by NHS Test and Trace.” 

Should I ask parents for evidence of a negative test before a child returns to school? 

No, the guidance explicitly states the schools should not ask for this.

What should I do when I'm asked to be on-call all weekend to field calls from NHS Track & Trace, Public Health England, etc. regarding positive covid-19 cases? 

We know that school leaders are being asked to be on-call seven days a week to respond to reports of positive covid-19 cases. Given that many of our members work in small schools with equally small leadership teams, this is placing an enormous burden on them. Being on-call seven days a week is not sustainable, and we are deeply concerned about the impact this has on school leaders' well-being. We are making representations to both the DfE and PHE on this issue, particularly in relation to the school holidays.

Equally, school leaders want to do everything in their power to keep their schools and communities as safe as possible, as they have already repeatedly shown throughout the pandemic. They also know that only receiving such vital information first thing on a Monday morning could put them in an impossible situation and actually increase the stress they are under. 

With that in mind, and given the difficult nature of this situation, it is essential that local authorities and local Health Protection teams work with school leaders to identify sustainable solutions.  

One approach to consider is as follows: 

Schools and school leaders set up an auto-reply on their emails over the weekend. This auto-reply should state that school email addresses are not routinely checked throughout a Saturday and Sunday and that if the person is contacting them to report a confirmed case of covid-19, then they should phone the school on a dedicated out-of-hours phone number. In reality, this is likely to be a school mobile (we recommend that school leaders should not provide their personal mobile number). This would mean that school leaders do not have to keep checking their emails throughout the weekend and would know that a phone call to that number means there is a confirmed case that they need to be made aware of. If that situation does occur, and school leaders are told that pupils and staff need to self-isolate, they could simply send a pre-prepared text or email template through their usual communication system. This would simply inform parents or staff that they need to remain at home next week due to a reported case and that more information will follow on Monday morning.  

Can I discuss the possibility of payment for duties I’m undertaking on a temporary basis with my governors?

If you are a head teacher working under the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document 2020 (STPCD) you could explore the option of a ‘temporary payment’.  This appears to be the only option available to provide any additional payment for members who work under the STPCD provisions.

The STPCD outlines that the only additional payment that can be paid to a head teacher is a ‘temporary payment’. A temporary payment can be awarded for clearly temporary responsibilities or duties that are in addition to the post for which the head’s salary (pay range) has been determined. This means it’s awarded for clearly time-bound responsibilities or duties only.

This is contained in section two, part two, paragraph 10 of the STPCD 2020, which states the following:

“10.1. Subject to paragraphs 10.2 to 10.4, the relevant body may determine that payments be made to a headteacher for clearly temporary responsibilities or duties that are in addition to the post for which their salary has been determined. In each case the relevant body must not have previously taken such reason or circumstance into account when determining the headteacher’s pay range.” 

It’s unlikely that a ‘relevant body’ (i.e. governors) would have considered  COVID 2019, and also unlikely that the “clearly temporary responsibilities” of for example, ‘NHS Track and Trace’ would have been legislated for in determining the head teacher’s salary.  On that basis, we recommend that head teacher members raise with their governors' consideration of a temporary payment.  This request may not be agreed to by the ‘relevant body’ but it should be considered in good faith.

The STPCD does not provide for other members such as deputy heads or assistant heads to receive temporary payments.  Furthermore, the provisions of the STPCD (paragraph 26) on ‘additional payments’ for all teachers is very prescriptive and unlikely to apply in this scenario. School business leaders impacted by this situation (particularly those who are term-time only) may wish to explore what arrangements are proposed by the school if they are requested to work beyond their contractual hours. 

What happens if I do not have enough staff to keep my school open?

Ultimately, it will always remain the case that schools can only open as far as it is safe to do so. If schools find that they reach a point where a reduction in staffing numbers means they do not have the capacity to keep all classes open safely (ie if there is no staff available) school leaders may have no alternative but to review whether they need to implement a short-term partial closure. If you feel you might be approaching this position, we strongly advise that you discuss this with your governing body and also your Local Authority / MAT before taking any action. It is important to demonstrate that these conversations have taken place. 

In the meantime, NAHT will continue to challenge the government on its current position and keep members up to date with any new developments.

Should you require specific advice and support, you can contact our advice team on 0300 30 30 333.

I am either clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable myself, and I am concerned about attending school. What should I do?

It is very hard for us to give blanket advice on this topic, given that every person will have a unique situation. If you find yourself in that position, we recommend you contact our advice team on 0300 30 30 333 (and select option one).

If we are under restrictions that means clinically extremely vulnerable staff are advised not to attend but a member of staff who is clinically extremely vulnerable tells me that they still want to come into school, can they?

The short answer to this question is that they potentially can, and the DfE has confirmed that to us, stating that the guidance for CEV people is only ‘advisory’. However, this is a very complex and sensitive area where you will need to take great care. Schools have a legal obligation to protect their employees and others, including children, from harm, and they should continue to assess health and safety risks and consider how to meet equalities duties in the usual way.

The law firm Winckworth Sherwood has produced what we think is very sensible and useful guidance on this issue, which you can access here.

I have a member of staff who was previously told to shield but is unsure if they should be shielding now. What should I do?

We recommend that the member of staff speaks with their GP or medical specialist urgently to clarify this.  

What does this mean for staff who are pregnant?

The DfE has told us the following: 

“Pregnant women are in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ category. Clinically vulnerable staff can continue to attend school. While in school, they should follow the sector-specific measures in guidance to minimise the risks of transmission. This includes taking particular care to observe good hand and respiratory hygiene, minimising contact and maintaining social distancing in line with the provisions set out in section six of the ‘prevention’ section of the guidance. This provides that ideally, adults should maintain a two-metre distance from others, and where this is not possible, avoid close face-to-face contact and minimise time spent within one metre of others. While the risk of transmission between young children and adults is likely to be low, adults should continue to take care to socially distance from other adults including older children and adolescents.”

I have been asked to review a risk assessment for a member of staff who is deemed clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable in light of the changing circumstance. What should I do? 

The first thing to point out is that all risk assessments should ideally be dynamic documents that you review as the context or situation changes. Given the current situation, it would be good practice for all covid-19 related risk assessments to be kept under regular review. 

If a member of staff who is at particular risk feels that their personal circumstances or the wider context require a risk assessment to be reviewed, we would recommend that such a request is accommodated.

It is not possible to give very specific guidance on this because each school and individual will have a different set of circumstances that they will need to take into account. However,  we recommend that schools reach out to their local health and safety teams within local authorities who should be able to provide templates and advice on how best to complete and review such risk assessments. Furthermore, it is important to remember that risk assessments are not designed to completely eradicate all risk but to help reduce and control these risks. 

Do I need to make a report to my local authority when a child has been sent to school but should be self-isolating, for example, if their parent has tested positive or they’ve returned from a holiday where self-isolation on arrival applies?

There is no express or specific duty to report in this situation, and generally, there is no legal obligation to report crimes. However, a duty to report could arguably arise under your health and safety duties or your duty of care to staff and pupils. On that basis, reporting what has happened to the local authority would be a reasonable step to take, and you should discharge that duty.  We recommend making your governors aware that this is the approach you will take were this situation to arise. You might also want to consider communicating this to parents in an appropriate way, perhaps as a general reminder in one of your usual communication exercises, rather than a standalone item; this is because it’s hoped these situations are rare and most parents will follow the government's guidance and the law. 

If you become aware that a child should be self-isolating in accordance with the government's advice, then the child must be sent home and the parent made aware that the child cannot return until the end of the self-isolation period.  You should also review your risk assessment and consider the steps you’ll take if this situation arises, such as taking additional steps to clean the areas the child has been in and airing the rooms as a matter of priority – if the situation does arise in practice, don’t forget to reconsider the risk assessment at that point because this should be a dynamic document and additional steps may need to be taken depending on how long the child has been in school and the activities they’ve been involved with. 

What are my responsibilities when it comes to staff members needing to self-isolate? 

The government has recently introduced the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, and there is now a legal requirement for an adult to self-isolate when notified by NHS staff, local authority staff or the Secretary of State that they have: 

  • tested positive for coronavirus (after 28 September 2020), or
  • had close contact (after 28 September 2020) with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. 

Employers also have duties under these regulations, which are triggered when a person is required to self-isolate as noted above but also if a person is required to self-isolate under regulation 4 of the International Travel Regulations, which impose quarantine restrictions for people arriving into England. As these regulations change on a frequent basis, we recommend keeping up to date with the restrictions at all times. 

Regulation 7 makes it an offence for an employer to knowingly permit a member of staff (or agency worker) who is required to self-isolate, to attend the workplace; however, they may work from "the designated place of isolation", usually the home, if they are able to do so. If an employer fails to do this, the penalty is £1,000 for a first offence, £2,000 for a second, £4,000 for a third and £10,000 for each subsequent offence. 

It is worth noting that the employer offence of knowingly allowing a worker in the workplace who is, or should be, isolating (in accordance with Regulation 7) can be committed by an officer of a body corporate. The governing body of a maintained school and an academy trust are both bodies corporate and a head teacher, principal, CEO would come within the definition of  ‘officer’, which is “a director, manager, secretary or other similar officers of the body corporate”. 

Under Regulation 8, there is an obligation on the individual who is aware of their requirement to self-isolate, to notify their employer of this requirement and the start and end date of the isolation period. Any individual who breaches self-isolation will, normally, commit a criminal offence. On that basis, we want to stress to members that they mustn’t attend the workplace if required to self-isolate and must inform their employer (the designated person responsible for this) of their need to self-isolate and the end of the isolation period.

We recommend refreshing messaging and policies in light of these new regulations. It should be made clear to staff that they must notify the school if they are required to self-isolate and that failure to do so may be a disciplinary matter. Staff should also be given a named individual (or individuals) to notify and these designated individuals must be fully briefed. If a head teacher is required to self-isolate, thought should be given in advance as to who they should notify; we would recommend considering individuals such as the chair, CEO (if applicable) or HR lead at the local authority.  Given the importance of this issue, we would also recommend making the governing body aware of these requirements particularly as they are caught under the terms of the regulations as a ‘body corporate’, so they can be satisfied with the steps being taken and also their role in this.

The key point here is that you should ensure staff are aware of the need to notify and the process for doing this and that if you are notified, that member of staff must not be allowed to attend the school or work from anywhere other than “the designated place of isolation”.  In addition, if you need to self-isolate, do not take this lightly; make the relevant notification and do not leave your “designated place of isolation”.  It is a very real possibility that police may take action in relation to breaches of these requirements, and so ensuring you have a robust process in place is key.

If this becomes an issue for you, it’s really important that you contact us a matter of urgency as offences can be committed by ‘officers’, which could include some school leaders, and the consequences of this can be very serious. Members should contact NAHT immediately if they are accused of offences under these regulations, receive a Fixed Penalty Notice or any contact from the police in relation to a possible breach of the regulations.  You can call us on 0300 30 30 333 (select option 1) or email us via the following link.

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Ofsted, performance data, exams and assessments

What is NAHT’s position on Ofsted inspections?

NAHT believes that there should be no return to routine Ofsted inspections this academic year (2020/21). We are lobbying DfE and Ofsted on that basis.

Has NAHT developed advice on Ofsted visits in 2020/21?

Yes, a separate advice document is available here.

What is NAHT’s position on SATs?

NAHT believes all primary statutory assessments should be cancelled for 2020/21 and has been lobbying the government on that basis.

On 3 December 2020, the government announced that:

  • The multiplication tables check will be non-statutory, so it does not have to be administered by schools in 2021.
  • The grammar, punctuation and spelling test at key stage two will also be non-statutory, so it does not have to be administered in 2021.
  • Key stage one assessment in reading, writing and maths will be by teacher assessment only. The tests used to inform teacher assessment at key stage one will be non-statutory, and no new key stage one tests will be made available in 2021.
  • There will be no teacher assessment of science in 2021 at either key stage one or key stage two.
  • Key stage one phonics and the autumn term year two additional phonics check will go ahead. However, we have continued to press the government regarding the year two check. As a result, the guidance has been updated to give more clarity on the use of the data. It now states: “Data from the autumn check will not be used in Analyse School Performance, performance tables or the Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR). LAs will not use this data for accountability purposes.”
  • Key stage two SATs in reading and maths and teacher assessment of writing will go ahead in 2021. The administration of these will be made more flexible with an extended timetable variation window.

The statutory guidance for key stage 1 and key stage 2 has been updated to reflect these announcements.

While these measures do not go as far as we would like, they represent significant progress from where we were in September when the government’s message was all statutory assessment, along with the publication of performance data, would go ahead as usual.

NAHT will continue to represent members’ views to the government on the issue of primary statutory assessment and seek further talks. We have already raised concerns about the potential use of SATs data in the IDSR and ASP, and are seeking urgent talks on this issue. It is NAHT’s view that school to school comparisons and a simplistic use of national averages in 2020/21 could be highly misleading. As such, we are seeking reassurances from both the DfE and Ofsted on how this data will be presented and used.

What is NAHT’s view on secondary exams and assessments in 2021?

NAHT has been fully engaged in the discussions with the government and Ofqual over recent months, constantly pressing the views of our secondary members with officials and ministers. On 3 December, the government announced a range of measures regarding exams and assessments in 2021:

  • The grading of qualifications in 2021 will match the generosity of the grading in 2020, although some of the inconsistency between subjects will be evened out.
  • The DfE will set up an expert group to advise the government on the issue of differential learning and make proposals to mitigate its impact.
  • Contingency arrangements will be put in place for potential disruption to students’ exams and assessments:
o The current process of special considerations will be scaled up to allow students to be awarded a grade as long as they have completed at least 25% of their assessments in a subject

o There will be contingency papers (one paper per subject) for students who miss all of their exams in a subject in the main series. This contingency series is likely to start in the week commencing 28 June 2021

o The DfE will provide support to enable shielding and extremely clinically vulnerable students to take their exams. This may be by using an alternative venue or, in a very small number of cases, using home invigilation 

o For the predicted small number of students who miss all opportunities to complete their assessments in a subject, their grade will be awarded through a process of validated teacher assessment. More details of this will be provided in the new year, but this is the last resort contingency.

  • Adaptations will be made to assessments, and the awarding organisations are currently determining the details. There may be limitations of what is possible or appropriate for each subject, but the aim is that at least one of the below adaptations will apply in each subject. These adaptations are expected to be published by the end of January 2021, and there are two elements:        

o Provision of support materials (for example, formula sheets) to give students more confidence and reduce the amount of information they need to memorise

o Advance notice of exam content.

  • We also expect the Exam Support Service set up this year to be scaled up and run through next summer providing advice, guidance and support.

NAHT has welcomed the fact that the government has finally made and announced their decisions in terms of the overall approach but has been clear that they haven’t gone as far as we have recommended. NAHT will continue pushing on elements which we feel need further development and draw the government’s attention to any new issues as they arise. In particular, we will continue our engagement on the need to recognise the differential learning experience of students. Although some of the measures announced will help students, more is needed. 

What will happen about performance data for 2020/21?

On 3 December 2020, the government announced the following:

  • There will be no school-level data from tests, exams and assessments published on performance tables for key stage two, key stage four or key stage five
  • Instead, school-level information will be published on destinations data for key stage four and key stage five, curriculum choices at key stage four and key stage five, and attendance for primary and secondary schools. The attendance data will be supported with contextual information and caveats, and the Department for Education (DfE) has committed to working with us on the details of this
  • The DfE will publish some national and regional statistics for key stages two, four and five
  • School-level data will be provided in ASP and IDSR. Following representations from NAHT, the DfE has committed to working with us on the caveats, training and presentation of this data, recognising that it will not be comparable to previous or future years and that school-to-school comparison would be highly problematic.

The DfE has published an accountability update to clarify the way school and college accountability will operate for the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

What will happen about performance data for 2019/20?

On 23 March, the DfE announced that it would not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

Schools and colleges will not be held to account based on exams and assessment data from summer 2020. That data will not be used by others, such as Ofsted and local authorities, to hold schools and colleges to account.

The DfE has published more detail about what this means for how school and college accountability will operate for 2019 to 2020. You can read its update here. 

Can I be held to account using 2020 teacher assessed data?

The government was clear in its guidance on covid-19 and accountability that: “We will not hold schools and colleges to account on the basis of exams and assessment data from summer 2020 and that data will not be used by others, such as Ofsted and local authorities, to hold schools and colleges to account.”

Government policy is also clear that if data on a school’s educational performance is needed, everyone, including LAs and Ofsted, should use data from previous years.

On that basis, if an LA or MAT is attempting to use 2020 data in this way, as a first step we would recommend reminding your MAT or LA about this clear policy from the government. If you do not make headway by way of this reminder of the government’s position please contact us via

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Covid costs 

Reimbursement scheme and exceptions cost funding

What will the government's reimbursement scheme for schools cover?

The government has published updated guidance (24 June 2020) on the scheme here.

On 27.11.20 the government announced a new scheme to support schools with the costs of supply. At the time of writing, we do not have many details, but we do know:

  • This fund is in addition to the funding already allocated for schools next year.
  • It will be backdated to 1 November.
  • Schools will first need to use any existing financial reserves. They will be eligible for this additional funding once they have used these down to a level at 4% of the annual income.
  • Mainstream schools and colleges must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 20%, and/or a lower long-term teacher absence rate at or above 10% - costs can only be claimed when incurred above this rate.
  • Special schools and alternative provision schools must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 15%, and/or a lower long-term teacher absence rate at or above 10%, to be eligible - costs can only be claimed when incurred above this rate. 

Can schools claim for exceptional costs associated with extending the opening of schools?

No. Both the previous scheme and the new scheme announced in November do not cover these costs. NAHT continues to press the DfE to recognise and reimburse these costs. Notwithstanding this, on 24 June, the DfE amended the existing guidance on exceptional costs funding, stating:

"Schools are not eligible to make claims for any additional costs associated with more pupils returning to school that are not covered by these categories. We have published guidance on the actions schools can take to open for more pupils in a way that minimises the risks of transmission. We anticipate that schools will typically be able to implement the measures set out in our guidance (including increases to routine cleaning) within their existing resources."

Will the government clawback money from schools’ budgets to pay for the Edenred voucher scheme?

No. The DfE has told us: The costs of the National Voucher Scheme were met centrally by the government.  As such, the government will not be attempting to recoup the costs of providing these vouchers to schools.

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Working with other unions / organisations

What is NAHT’s advice on the recently published supplementary checklist produced by a range of unions?

A number of teaching and support staff unions published a supplementary checklist for their members on 19 January 2021 which was designed to complement a similar checklist published last year.

We were disappointed that our trade union colleagues chose not to engage with us because we share many of the concerns outlined. The approach has unfairly transferred the government’s failure onto the shoulders of school leaders and fellow trade unionists who are trying to do their best in the most extreme circumstances.

As with previous versions, there are a number of helpful points raised that schools will consider as part of their ongoing, dynamic risk assessments. Furthermore, there is much in the checklist that we would agree with.

However, there are some specific points that we know are already causing significant challenges for our members. Most notably is the suggestion that “schools should limit the number of staff and pupils on-site, with a maximum of 15% of normal whole school student capacity in attendance on any given day.”

As you know, we very much share concerns about the high number of pupils on-site in some schools. Since the beginning of the term, we have been demanding that the government and its scientific advisors clarify what they believe is a safe upper limit.

In the meantime, NAHT does not support establishing an arbitrary figure like that adopted by other unions. This is not only because we feel such decisions must be made by those with expertise in public health but also because NAHT is concerned the figure will remove your ability to make the judgements that support your circumstances. This could place individual leaders in an invidious position with the government and communities they serve.

We need to point out that the checklist items, including the 15% figure quoted, are not binding on schools or school leaders. The checklist represents advice to members of the unions listed. It is not guidance that schools are obliged to follow.

While schools should continue to engage with all their staff fully, and union representatives when it comes to risk assessments, they are not under any obligation to demonstrate they have met all the items outlined in the checklist. Your responsibilities are to discharge your duties appropriately, and you can find NAHT’s advice to leaders here

Ultimately, the checklist is for the members of those unions to use, and individual members of staff will make their decisions about what they choose to do as a result of that. We will continue to support and advise our members based on the individual circumstances they face in their school.

We are disappointed to hear that, in some cases, people are using the checklist to exert pressure on individual school leaders who are trying to identify solutions to the problems in the face of the government’s failure. This situation is not the making of a local leadership decision or policy. School leaders are under enormous pressure, and they only have access to the same guidance and information from the government that everyone else in schools has.

NAHT will continue to pursue the government’s failures, but we will do so in a way that seeks to reduce your individual risk as a school leader to criticism from the public or legal action by the government. And we will do this while helping you to discharge your responsibilities to the whole school community successfully.  

NAHT have also contacted  trade union colleagues to reinvigorate our joint efforts, and we will provide any updates in relation to this as soon as we have them. 

What should I do about risk assessment ‘checklists’ or letters being provided by other unions?

A number of unions have worked together and published a joint checklist for their union reps ahead of a full reopening in September.

In many cases, schools will have already consulted with staff and unions and written risk assessments ahead of September. Where this is the case, there is no requirement to revisit these. However, risk assessments remain dynamic and should be updated if and when changes in the situation require them to do so. Furthermore, school leaders will want to remain engaged with staff and union representatives and should be open to a process of continual improvement based on ongoing feedback and discussion. 

School leaders may find many of the questions posed in this checklist useful when reviewing their risk assessments.  

The document is not intended to replace a school’s risk assessment, and there is no expectation that school leaders should ‘complete’ the checklist themselves.  

Schools leaders have a legal duty to consult with staff and union representatives when carrying out risk assessments. However, this does not remove a leader’s managerial responsibility, and risk assessments do not need to be formally ‘signed-off’ by other unions/staff.

If members have any specific questions about letters received from other unions we recommend you contact our specialist advice team to discuss this.

Can union-appointed health and safety representatives inspect the school and if so what notice should they give?

Union-appointed health and safety representatives can inspect the workplace. Normally, they have to give reasonable notice in writing when they intend to carry out a formal inspection of the workplace and have not inspected it in the previous three months. If there is a substantial change in conditions of work or HSE publishes new information on hazards, the representatives are entitled to carry out inspections before three months have elapsed, or if it is by agreement.

However, the requirement for reasonable notice doesn’t apply where there has been an incidence of a notifiable disease such as covid.  In this situation, health and safety representatives also have the right to carry out inspections and only need to give notice where it is reasonably practicable to do so.  This means that the usual notice requirements don’t apply.  Given this, we would expect that any refusal to allow an inspection should only be done for good reason as it’s likely that the person refusing to allow the inspection would need to be able to justify this.  For example, it may not be appropriate for the representative to carry out an inspection when pupils are on-site and covid control systems are in operation or, for example, after the premises have been thoroughly cleaned ready for the next day. 

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Varying timetables and term times

Am I able to close early on a Friday afternoon from September for deep cleaning/whole-school PPA? 

NAHT has developed an advice document on 'reducing the school week', which you can read here.

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HSE spot checks

Update 13 October 2020: NAHT’s understanding is that the HSE calls have now been completed and they are now in the process of conducting and organising visits to follow-up in some cases. 

What will the HSE 'spot checks' with schools involve?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed that they will be carrying out ‘spot checks’ in schools in England, Wales and Scotland in the autumn term. 

For many schools, the ‘spot check’ will have started with an initial phone call intended to review the measures being taken for reopening and to minimise the spread of the virus causing covid-19. Following a review of the information from the call, if it raises concerns about a school’s approach, it may be referred for a further intervention, which could include a visit to the school.

Please note that while the initial calls were undertaken by a third-party organisation, the HSE has confirmed that all school visits will be conducted by an HSE inspector.

The information provided from the calls will be triaged and reviewed by HSE inspectors. Where there may be concerns about the assurance provided, it will be referred for a further intervention, which may include a visit to the schoolAll visits will be made by appointment with the school ahead of time and will endeavour to avoid attending when other reviews, such as from Ofsted, are occurring.

If a school visit is set to occur, then this should be preceded by a call from the inspector to arrange a suitable time. There should be no instances of unaccounted visits from HSE inspectors. If this occurs, please contact NAHT or HSE directly.

All inspectors should have an HSE ID; if they do not present it to the school, then a school should refuse entry.  

Inspectors will be checking that the school has carried out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and put in place measures to make the school covid-secure in line with the latest government guidance. HSE has confirmed that all inspectors will be expected to follow any control measures set out by the school.

Inspectors are likely to want to talk to a union representative on their visit, ideally on a one-to-one basis. 

In the majority of cases, the most that a visit will result in is additional advice for the school on areas of improvement. However, in exceptional circumstances, it is possible that inspectors may identify more significant issues that could lead to a ‘notification of contravention.’ These notifications do invoke a charging regime, in which the school will be expected to pay a fee to cover the costs of the inspection. These notifications and charges are part of HSE’s regulatory enforcement role and apply to all sectors.  

It’s important to note that NAHT expects that this will only apply to a very small number of schools where HSE find a material breach of the law. 

How are schools selected for visit from the HSE for ‘covid spot checks’?

The HSE has confirmed that there are three circumstances in which a visit might take place: 

  1. A concern has been raised by someone (eg a member of staff, parent, etc) to the HSE about the school or its processes in relation to health and safety. This is something that is possible at any time under health and safety law, and which could occur in relation to any health and safety concerns. Although given the current situation, it may be more likely to be in relation to covid-19 health and safety concerns
  2. Concerns were raised following the ‘spot check’ phone call or the HSE (via its third-party contractor) was unable to speak to someone from the school, following three contact attempts. Note that NAHT has raised concerns from members about the timing and approach of these calls, which have, in certain cases, made it more difficult for schools to be able to respond in the required timeframe
  3. To support the ‘spot check ’process, the HSE has scheduled a number of visits to schools, not on the list for an initial call, to consider the school’s covid control measures. This is intended to check and ‘validate’ the overall process. 

HSE has confirmed that there is not a link between a school having to close and selection for a call. The HSE may well be involved if a school is required to close due to covid-19, but this is a separate process from the ‘spot checks.

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Remote learning

What does the Temporary Continuity Direction regarding the provision of remote education in schools mean for me?

The government has used its temporary continuity direction powers to place an obligation on schools In England to provide immediate access to remote education for pupils if they are absent because of covid-19 with effect on and from 22 October.  Schools in this context are as follows:

a) community schools, community special schools, foundation schools, foundation special schools, voluntary schools, pupil referral units, non-maintained special schools, academy schools and alternative provision academies

(b) independent schools, other than schools referred to in sub-paragraph (a), where those schools have registered pupils whose education at the school is wholly paid for out of public funds received by the school from the secretary of state, a local authority in England or a school in England.

NAHT sees this as a wholly unnecessary and hostile action for the government. We know that many of you face enormous logistical challenges to put remote learning in place, and this is not helped by the government failing to provide the right advice and support. The delays in getting laptops to disadvantaged pupils are an obvious example of this. 

We have already made our opposition clear and will continue to do so. However, given the government has now taken this legal power, it is worth taking steps to ensure that your school is as prepared as it can be and so you can demonstrate the steps you have taken to comply.    

The DfE has published an explanatory note that provides more details regarding what the Direction means for schools. The note states that schools should have regard to guidance issued by the secretary of state for education about the delivery of remote education, for example, as set out in the guidance for full opening

NAHT notes that some aspects of this guidance is highly ambiguous and open to interpretation. For example, there is no agreed understanding of what is meant by words such as ‘ambitious’ and ‘meaningful’. 

To help manage this unhelpful ambiguity, we recommend that schools have a clear, written remote/blended learning plan in place that works in their context - having evidence of a clear and coordinated approach will be helpful. We recommend sharing this in advance with pupils and families so they know what to expect. 

When making this plan, we note that there is nothing in the legislation or associated guidance that requires schools to do live lesson streaming. While it talks about the use of videos, these are not required to be live, and schools may choose to make use of existing available resources including non-online materials where appropriate. The government's advice points to materials from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) as well as to Oak Academy, and we know schools have also used materials from the BBC and subject associations and societies. Materials that are already used in lessons such as worksheets can also be considered. 

Don’t forget to explain the provision you are putting in place to your Governing Body or Trust Board and have them agree that the provision is adequate. This is because we believe it is the employer who is the “responsible body” and not the head teacher. 

How should I manage complaints about remote learning? 

In the DFE’s guidance for schools on restricting attendance during the national lockdown, it was stated that if parents feel that their children’s school is not providing remote education of a suitable quantity and quality they should raise their concerns with the teacher or head teacher and, if the concerns are not resolved, report the matter to Ofsted. We have developed separate guidance looking at the role Ofsted might play in this matter here, which includes steps to take if you are notified that your remote learning provision is to be inspected. 

This aspect of the guidance has gained quite a lot of attention in the media and many schools have already had to deal with parents directly or indirectly (usually through social media) making their discontent known. Schools in very different circumstances are being directly compared with one another and expectations from some parents are sky high. If you are one of the schools that are being compared unfavourably, what do you do?

1)    Emphasise the positive

In most cases, the complainants will be very much in the minority. Use any opportunity available to publicise the fact that you have received much in the way of thanks and support for the efforts staff are making to produce effective work for children learning at home.

Make a point of highlighting the excellent work your staff are doing in these challenging circumstances.

2)    Proactively explain how your work fits with government guidelines

The DFE’s guidance states remote education should be ‘equivalent to the core teaching pupils would receive in school and will include both recorded or live directed teaching time’. And, as a minimum, the amount of remote education provided should be for key stage 1: three hours a day on average across the cohort (less for younger children), key stage 2: four hours a day; and key stages 3 and 4: five hours a day.

Schools are required to ‘have regard’ to this guidance. This means that schools must take into account the guidance and the ‘expectations’ it sets in deciding what remote education to provide.

However, there is no strict legal obligation as to the quantity or quality of remote education to be provided.

.. There is no expectation that you must provide live lessons and if you are challenged on this you may wish to highlight this recent article from Ofsted which states ‘live lessons aren’t always best’.

A statement on your website should set out your remote provision offer, and you can use this to outline how you are meeting government guidelines.

Each school is different and you will need to develop an offer that works for your context and unique set of circumstances.

Where short-term disruptions such as staff illness make it harder to deliver remote learning as normal, it is important to explain this situation to parents so they understand the reason for any reduction in provision.

3)   Dealing with complaint campaigns

The DFE’s guidance on complaints procedures makes mention of dealing with complaint campaigns:

Occasionally, you may become the focus of a campaign and receive large volumes of complaints:

  • all based on the same subject
  • from complainants unconnected with the school

We recommend you include a separate procedure in your complaints policy to handle complaints of this nature. This could include:

  • sending a template response to all complainants (referring to the school’s remote learning policy)
  • publishing a single response on the school’s website.

In accordance with the duty on schools to publish their complaints procedures online under the School Information (England) Regulations 2008, any alternative process must be included in the complaints procedure published on the school’s website.

You can continue to signpost complainants to us if they’re dissatisfied with your response.

If your complaints policy makes reference to this, it might be appropriate to place something positive on your website as an answer to the campaigners, suggesting that any individuals who are still not satisfied and wish to raise their own concerns should do so via a specific email address.

4)    Dealing with social media postings

There is evidence of vituperative and false comments being made on social media, often personal and upsetting in nature around this issue. You can gain very good advice about the possibility of managing these posts from Professionals Online Safety Helpline, the contact details for which are here.

5)    Use your complaints procedure

In many instances, complaints about remote learning will be resolved through an initial conversation with the class teacher. As with any complaint, it is important to try and keep an open mind about the issue being raised and look for straightforward ways to resolve the matter wherever possible. Where this is not the case, it may be necessary to escalate the complaint through your usual procedure. It is extremely important that you are able to demonstrate that you have followed the school’s existing procedure.

You have followed the DFE guidance and developed a policy to explain your school’s approach to remote learning. Your staff are working very hard to ensure an appropriate offer of work, whilst attending to the needs of those children still in school. The governors have been briefed on your approach and have been supportive. If a few people are still discontent with the work being sent home then let them use the formal stages of the complaints procedure; it is their right to do so but you should feel confident that your decisions and actions will, ultimately, be vindicated.

Which pupils are eligible for free mobile data increases or 4G wireless routers?

The DfE's mobile data uplifts service is for disadvantaged children who rely on mobile data to get online. It’s not intended to “top up” where broadband is insufficient to meet a family’s needs, although they do understand that this is a common problem.

Schools, trusts and local authorities can request this support for children and young people in years 3 to 11 who meet all 3 of these criteria:

  • do not have fixed broadband at home
  • cannot afford additional data for their devices
  • are experiencing disruption to their face-to-face education

The DfE’s position is that schools are best placed to identify children who need this support. You can read the guidance and find out how to order here.

Where broadband is not meeting a family’s needs, DCMS has recommended the Ofcom advice below as there are protections in place and often an internet service provider can help address issues of poor performance. The relevant webpages with advice are on improving broadband speed and customer rights and switching.

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Free school meals (FSMs)

What should I do if we can’t get FSMs to pupils and families who are self-isolating? 

The DfE’s advice is that school catering suppliers may want to consider preparing a weekly hamper to make it easier to get these to families who need them. An example of such an approach can be seen here. 

The DfE has said that if families are unable to collect food parcels and unable to send a friend or neighbour, it would be a simpler process for them to call on volunteers directly.  The local authority Family Information Service should be able to help with this, and some also publish lists of local voluntary organisations. As an example, see here for information from the Tower Hamlets Council.

What will happen for FSMs during the national lockdown announced on 4 January 2021?

Yesterday (11 January 2021) the Department for Education released updated guidance on providing FSM during the national lockdown period announced on 4 January 2021. 

While the department encourages schools to provide food parcels to eligible free school meal pupils who are at home, it confirms that the offer schools make “will depend on local circumstances.” As such, this could also include the following: 

  • providing vouchers for a local shop or supermarket
  • using the Department for Education’s national voucher scheme, which will reopen shortly. 

Schools may also mix and match their offer depending on need (but will need to avoid duplication when claiming). 

Schools who choose to offer local vouchers are able to do so immediately, and they will be able to claim back the FULL costs of these through a specific FSM claim fund. Schools can claim to be reimbursed up to £15 per eligible FSM pupil per week. 

For those schools where food parcels are being provided, they will be able to claim up to £3.50 per eligible pupil, per week; this is in addition to the standard FSM funding. 

The cost of vouchers provided through the national voucher scheme will be met centrally by the DfE. 

Further details on how and when additional costs can be reclaimed is expected to be released shortly.

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Catch-up funding

Is there any more information on the catch-up premium?

On 25.9.20,  the DfE published the following information regarding the catch-up premium:

“In July, the government announced a one-off universal £650 million catch-up premium for the 2020 to 2021 academic year to ensure that schools have the support they need to help all pupils make up for lost teaching time. The coronavirus (COVID-19) catch-up premium funding is available for all state-funded mainstream and special schools, and alternative provision.

The Education and Skills Funding Authority has published details of the provisional allocation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) catch-up premium and the conditions of the grant for the academic year 2020 to 2021. The first payment is worth 25% of the provisional allocation, rounded to the nearest £10, and will be paid to:

  • Local authorities on 30 September 2020
  • Academies on 8 October 2020
  • Non-maintained special schools in November 2020

Further details on how the coronavirus (COVID-19) catch-up premium is allocated and how it can be used can be found in the coronavirus (COVID-19) catch-up premium guidance.”

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Visitors and events

Given the announcement on 4 January, NAHT recommends that all in-school ‘events’ are cancelled and visitors are kept to an absolute minimum and only where there is no other option.  

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Any views, opinions and guidance provided represent the views of the NAHT and are for information purposes only. The information provided does not purport to be legal and/or professional advice or a definitive interpretation of any law for the purposes of specific individual circumstances. 
First published 21 January 2021