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NAHT(NI) Coronavirus - Update 31 March 2020


NAHT(NI) knows that the collegiality shared by school leaders will ensure that the profession provides collective, fraternal support to all through these unprecedented circumstances. Together, we will prevail in prioritising shared efforts, be it through distance learning or school based care to tackle the pandemic whilst ensuring the safety of all staff and pupils. 

With the situation changing rapidly in reaction to the Covid 19 coronavirus pandemic, NAHT(NI) continues to advocate in the strongest terms for school leaders and education workers generally. 

Minister’s letter

You will today have received another letter from the Minister for Education. In today’s letter, the Minister has said that schools should be open, on the 23rd March he said they should be closed. The Minister has previously stated that schools should only be open if there is demand and if it is safe to do so. We are concerned that this letter may lead to confusion and we are seeking clarity.  Your decision needs to be driven by the overriding concern for safety. 

Easter and weekend opening

There is no obligation on schools to open at weekends or during the Easter period.  This is voluntary.  Please bear in mind that your staff will need respite, as will you.  These past few weeks have been immensely challenging for all of society, including our school leaders.  

New ‘clustering’ guidance published for schools

You will be aware new guidance on clustering was published today. We would like to reiterate that you do not have to be part of a cluster, participation is voluntary. DE has stated this is voluntary and if schools prefer to continue as they are then they can, if they do decide to cluster, DE has stated that this should never be at the expense of safety. 

Your decision needs to be driven by the overriding concern for safety. 

To reiterate yesterday’s advice, it is important to remember that the vast majority of pupils should be at home, including children of key workers where this is possible. Where there is no alternative, schools, as a last resort, have been asked to provide childcare for a small number of pupils. 

NAHT believes that, where school based childcare is necessary, children will be better off being cared for by professionals that are familiar to them, in familiar surroundings, in small numbers. 

Where schools have set up arrangements that are working well for them and their communities, they should not be forced to abandon these for a ‘cluster’ model. 

We have a number of concerns about the use of centralised clusters to provide the ‘reduced provision offer’ in which large numbers of pupils and staff may be gathered in one space. The Minister stated this afternoon that ‘this approach is not about creating large hub schools or settings with large numbers of children or staff.’   However, by its very nature, a cluster will include greater numbers of people than individualised settings. 

Our primary concern is that such an approach appears not to be in line with Government advice on social distancing.. Concentrating a higher number of pupils and staff in a single space and creating a need for greater travelling does not appear consistent with the government’s overarching approach, nor scientific research emerging following the experience in China.[1] 

Providers should be considering how best to balance the need to facilitate childcare for children of key workers and vulnerable children with the need to limit social contact. 

In supporting critical workers to continue to perform essential services and to provide care for vulnerable pupils, NAHT suggests there should be an order of preference: 

1) childcare at home,

2) reduced provision at their local school; and, where that cannot be arranged,

3) reduced provision at a local cluster.  

Option three should be a last resort if options one and two are not possible. 

See yesterday’s update for further detail.  


If ETI enquire about the learning provision in place we would advise members to inform them that, due to legitimate industrial action short of strike action, you have been instructed by your trade union not to engage with ETI. We would request that any such enquiries from ETI are brought to the attention of NAHT(NI). 

Staff wellbeing

We would remind members that during this difficult and fast moving situation, the health and well-being of teachers and school leaders, whether they are working at home and /or at school must also be given consideration.  We are compelling the Minister and DE officials to have cognisance of the demands of distance learning as well as school based provision of care. 

As school leaders, we understand that you will want to ensure that all your staff are fulfilling their obligations with regard to distance learning and resource preparation for home schooling. We advise that, while it is prudent that you keep oversight that this is happening, it is also a time for sensitivity with regard to other demands your staff may be experiencing in their own circumstances at present, for instance, childcare, elderly relative support etc.  School leaders may develop a checks and balance system that is reflective of this. All staff should be keeping in touch with you on a weekly basis at least. 

Staff unwilling to participate in rotation

We understand EA are unable to provide assistance on this issue currently.  We would encourage members where possible not to get into dispute with your staff.  

School attendance data


Schools open

Children attending


23 March




24 March




25 March




26 March




27 March




30 March



Schools DE request for attendance data

Attendance data is not a priority.  On 23 March, all schools in Northern Ireland were closed by the Government.   DENI has since advised schools to use ‘other authorised absence!’ code. 

Easter and weekend opening

This week, the DE survey includes questions on weekend and Easter opening.  This will be voluntary and remunerated. To inform discussion with the Department, please send us your views to

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 

[1] Please see TES article here and LSHTM articles here and here which refer to physical distancing and social interaction.

First published 31 March 2020