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NAHT(NI) Coronavirus - Update 30 March 2020

As the current crisis deepens, the education workforce strives to support key workers with childcare.  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.

NAHT is aware of safety concerns in respect of ‘hub’ or ‘cluster’ schools in that concentrating pupil numbers may hinder measures to curb the spread of the virus.[1] Pooled childcare may serve to exacerbate transmission rates to key workers vital to the covid-19 response. We are working with government to highlight these risks and inform discussion on what is the safest way for childcare to be provided to ensure key workers can fulfil their roles.

NAHT position on key workers

When considering childcare, it is essential that parents who are key workers acknowledge the following;

A: The safest option is to keep children at home. The government has made it clear in its guidance regarding key workers: “Many parents working in these critical sectors may be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.

B: If you must send your child to school, the safest school will be a school with a small number of pupils in attendance.

C: If a child must be sent to a school which is part of a ‘cluster’ or ‘hub’ school arrangement, parents should be made aware that these settings may contain higher and more transient numbers of children and therefore may pose an additional risk.  NAHT are concerned that observing PHA guidance on social distancing may be more challenging under such circumstances.

Minister’s letter to schools Monday 30th March 2020

NAHT(NI) members are concerned at the Minister’s decision to publish a list of the schools currently ‘open’ to look after key worker children. Information in relation to availability of school childcare places can already be provided to parents via the helpline as outlined in the Minister’s letter.

NAHT have advised DENI against the publication of a list as it may put leaders who have remained open under even more pressure and may lead to parental misunderstanding in respect of those schools who cannot remain open for very genuine health and safety considerations.

We know that school leaders are striving to maintain learning continuity which requires considerable work and coordination. Many schools that are open are operating at the capacity they have determined in line with safety considerations. We advise members not to expand beyond safe limits.

The safe number of pupils in the school remains the decision of the Principal. Should the EA or DE decide to proceed with expansion against the safety determination of the Principal, then they must assume responsibility and provide appropriate guidance.  Should this occur, members should consult with their staff to ascertain whether they are happy to volunteer under these circumstances.  EA / DE cannot expect teachers and school leaders to be on the ground if safe staffing levels cannot be provided. 

We are receiving reports of Principals being contacted by officers from DE, EA and ETI asking the Principal why their school is closed.  Members should inform any such officer that the school has been closed following a risk assessment including a safety determination in conjunction with PHA guidelines. 

If Principals do not wish to engage with cluster provision, please indicate this on the DE daily survey. DE officials have confirmed that participation with a cluster is voluntary.  Schools who are happy to continue with their current arrangements, provided it is safe, may do so.

Where members cluster or take additional children, they are advised to apply the same criteria that was used for the intake of children in their own school in order to ensure there are no equality issues. 

The Health Trusts indicated on Friday 27th March that no key worker children were without care arrangements.

School based childcare statistics

The Minister’s letter this morning cites an average of 1000 pupils being catered for, however, the figures released by DE (see table below) show that the number of pupils attending school has fallen each day. A number of schools were not open to pupils on Monday 23rd March as they prepared for opening the following day.

 

Monday

23 March

Tuesday

24 March

Wednesday

25 March

Thursday

26 March

Friday

27 March

No of schools open

519

580

488

464

449

No of children

1446

1172

989

848

686

 

On Friday 27th March, 0.28% of the 3-14 year old pupil population required school based care. 

Learning continuity and examinations

DE have set up a ‘learning continuity and exams planning group’ to assist teachers with continued provision and determine ways forward for examinations.  Although at the early stages, it has been indicated that this may take the form of web support including the provision of a directory of web resources and appropriate educational material and sites.

All comments will be directed to DE.

Post Primary - Canvassing views on predicted grades 

We are seeking your thoughts and those of your senior teams on how the GCSE, AS, GCE grading should be awarded.   We will be passing your comments to CCEA. What options do you think are viable?  What obstacles do you foresee?

We would welcome your response by 12pm Tuesday 31st March to inform ongoing discussion.  If you would like to make a comment, please contact patsy.corry@naht.org.uk

Easter and weekend opening

Within the next couple of days, the DE survey will include questions on weekend and Easter opening.  This will be voluntary and remunerated. To inform discussion with the Department, please send us your views tonahtni@naht.org.uk

Parental roles of children attending schools

To inform discussion with the Department in respect of effective childcare options, we are also seeking information from our members regarding;

a) how many children currently attending your school have a key worker parent performing a health role,

b) how many children currently attending are classed as vulnerable, and,

c) how many children currently attending have parents who are ‘other’ key workers.

Please provide these numbers to  nahtni@naht.org.uk

[1] . See TES article here.  

First published 30 March 2020