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NAHT(NI) Coronavirus - Update 25 March 2020

NAHT(NI) recognises the vital importance of assisting our essential workers as part of a national response to combatting Coronavirus. We provide the following update to members tonight in recognition of this.

Hub/Cluster schools

DENI believe there are too many schools currently open providing care to small numbers of children.  To improve efficiency, they are keen that school leaders will engage with each other to provide hub school settings in every locality and that members, whose schools are open, may be asked to be part of a hub school.  We understand EA intends to canvas staff willing to be part of a hub school and will be looking for strong leaders to volunteer.  They are hoping to create a model on which schools may wish to base their provision. There was discussion around volunteer staff that would be given 24hrs notice if they were required in their local area.  An EA / DENI working group has been established to take forward the practical planning and guidance around the establishment of hubs.

NAHT(NI) wish to re-iterate to our members that engaging as a hub school is entirely voluntary. The government are asking Schools to help as part of a national response. There is no compulsion to take part.

NAHT(NI) has expressed concern that children from primary schools should not be expected to attend a post primary setting.  It is disconcerting enough for all children at this time without having to be placed in an unfamiliar environment with older children.  We also raised concern that post primary children should not be placed in primary school settings.

(Previous guidance issued 24 March re hub/cluster schools below)

We wish to advise members very clearly, that the decision to get involved in this effort is yours.  

Schools considering engaging in a shared provision need to agree protocols around:

leadership arrangements
how places are allocated (be careful if you admit a child from another school while turning away your own pupils)

information sharing

children from another school should be accompanied by staff from their own school

who plans the programme of activities?

will you have enough soap and hot water available?

how is behaviour to be dealt with?

fairness in commitment from partner schools

already many schools are closed and staff not at school so will these members of staff be directed to help by their Principal?

There will be many other considerations you may have, and you should factor all of these into your decision on whether or not you wish to be part of a hub. 

DENI has stated that at this point they will not be issuing any formal guidance on creating clusters / hubs, believing instead that it would be better if school leaders come up with creative solutions in their own local areas. Whilst we are committed to working with DE to address how our most vulnerable children and the children of key workers can be looked after in this time of national crisis, we are highly concerned by this approach and we have warned DE of putting undue burden on school leaders at this critical time.

As ever, our key priority with DE is to emphasise the need for schools to have clear guidance on how to keep staff and pupils safe. The decision is yours and that of local colleagues on whether you should get involved. Your decision needs to be driven by the overriding concern for safety.

Ministers FAQ’s 24.3.2020

NAHT(NI) received a large number of calls in direct response to the Ministers FAQ’s issued yesterday 24 March.  We took your concerns directly to the Minister and we believe that the next communication from the Minister will take a more targeted approach to address high level key messages with greater clarity.  This may be issued to school leaders shortly.   NAHT(NI) will respond to this document once it has arrived. Our priority will be to ensure that schools concerns in respect of keeping staff and pupil safe are addressed.

Fire safety

Operating schools may only be using certain areas of their school buildings. Consideration must be given to access to fire doors etc.

HR issues

Some members may be seeking retirement / ill health applications or have staff that are in these processes.  Those affected are directed to make themselves known to EA via the EA HR helpline. NAHT(NI) informed members in yesterday’s update that EA HR staff are dealing only with critical matters and that redundancies were on hold. Please direct any queries you may have regarding HR directly to EA HR.

Easter / weekend opening

Easter and weekend openings were also discussed.  Teachers and Principals who voluntarily engage with schools that facilitate care during Easter and weekends will be paid additionally.

PPE

DENI this afternoon made reference to new PHE (Public Health England) guidance that stated PPE is not required in schools as staff should not be in contact with children who are symptomatic.   As a consequence, DENI will be following that line.  NAHT(NI) has challenged this strongly.

Cleaning

We re-iterate our previous guidance, schools must have adequate provisions of soap and access to hot water.  Members should contact EA directly for any necessary supplies.  Cleaning staff are aware that surfaces and door handles in particular require additional attention.

Counselling

The provision of counselling was also discussed for both staff and children that require it.  Teaching staff can avail of Inspire and those children in receipt of counselling will be provided with a telephone counselling service.

Press attention

Journalists covering the Covid-19 outbreak may well seek to contact you. This may be a simple call to ‘check how you are managing’ or it may be something more involved like asking you if you would allow a film crew on site. Clearly, such requests are not essential business and, unless you feel it appropriate, we would recommend that you politely decline, stating that you have other priorities at the moment.

If you are being asked about the government’s strategy, or national policy to do with COVID-19, it is best to refer journalists to the press section of the NAHT website. In the case of any requests that you are not comfortable with or too busy to deal with yourself, please ask the journalist in question to email NAHT’s press team at press.office@naht.org.uk and we will assist them. You can also use this address to report any unwanted or persistent attention.

 

First published 25 March 2020