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NAHT(NI) Coronavirus - Update 27 March 2020

With the strength of over 30,000 school leaders nationwide, NAHT recognises the commitment and compassion of the many education workers who continue to volunteer to support childcare arrangements for the children of essential key workers and to provide vital care to many of our most vulnerable children.

The contribution of our school leaders in managing such arrangements in the face of extreme circumstances is exceptional and a clear demonstration of civic leadership.

First Minister statement, Thursday 26 March 2020

NAHT(NI) would encourage members to be unphased by the mistake of the First Minister in respect of inaccurate figures regarding schools that had turned away key worker children.

The FM announced yesterday that she would ask the Minister of Education why 336 children of key workers were turned away from schools on Wed 25 March. This figure was the number of key worker children that were ACTUALLY ADMITTED to schools. This error by DE officials was spotted by NAHT(NI) early yesterday morning and we advised DE of their mistake prior to the FMs announcement.   However, this was ignored.

A letter was sent on behalf of 4 of the 5 recognised teaching unions, including NAHT(NI), to DENI raising this concern. We have received today an acknowledgement from DE that an error was made and assurances that it would not happen again. We encourage members to not let this detract from the exceptional work and bravery displayed by education workers who continue to staff our schools.

DE school opening data

DE figures for Thursday’s school openings indicated that 39.1% of schools opened to facilitate care for children of key workers.  848 children attended, less than 0.1% of the total school population within the 3-14yr age bracket.

Hub provision

DE are pressing ahead with this idea.  We have relayed the concerns we have received in respect of the practicality of such arrangements directly to DE. Any member considering participating is directed to our updates issued on 24th and 25th March.  We understand that DE and EA are issuing further information to schools today.  We advise members to read this carefully and consider the implications. Members should bear in mind that participation is voluntary, it is not compulsory, and the decision is yours.

EA contact with Principals

Whilst NAHT(NI) fully appreciates that this is an unprecedented time of national crisis and that what DE and EA are asking of members is unusual, the professional integrity of members’ judgement must be respected. NAHT views with concern reports that certain EA officers appear to be questioning Principals’ decisions over participating in hubs and closure decisions.

We would request that any member who comes under any such pressure should, if possible, get the name and contact number of the officer concerned and contact NAHT(NI) This will enable us to monitor the situation and directly address it if needs be.

Hub arrangements / volunteers

We understand that there is a plan to supplement the key workforce in Northern Ireland, including the education workforce, with volunteers.  We commend all those who demonstrate exceptional bravery in putting themselves forward at this time.

Members are advised to consider the implications in their own settings, again the acceptance of this offer is voluntary. All volunteers that would potentially be available for use in schools will need to have AccesNI clearance.  All queries should be directed to EA.  Volunteers may consist of civil service staff, for instance EA staff, ETI staff etc.

Members are reminded that it is the decision of the Principal regarding who comes into their school in whatever capacity. We urge careful thought before accepting management responsibility for workers outwith your own staff team. All decisions should be driven by safety considerations.

NAHT – National communication  

Members in Northern Ireland will also have received communication from NAHT nationally.  Although members in Northern Ireland may find the content useful, NAHT(NI) continue to negotiate with DE as the devolved department separately from the negotiations outlined in this communication.

First published 27 March 2020