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Coronavirus: school closures and the government's expectations for schools

A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman.

I'm sure you have already seen this evening's announcement from the Secretary of State.
After Friday, schools as providers of education will be closed 'for the foreseeable future'.
All forms of primary assessment have been cancelled for this year, as have all accountability measures and league tables. This is in addition to the earlier announcement that Ofsted inspections have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

The government has also said they will cancel all formal examinations due this summer, but they committed to working with Ofqual to ensure "every pupil gets what they deserve and is not unfairly penalised." We will now be working with the government to understand how this will work in practice.

As you will have also seen, schools have been asked to play a different and vital role in the national effort in tacking the coronavirus. The government shouldn't underestimate the magnitude of this ask.  

From Monday, schools are being asked to open to provide care for vulnerable pupils and those whose parents or carers are key workers. The Secretary of State is clear: this is an entirely different role for schools and school staff. It is primarily about care, not education. 

The Secretary of State has indicated that he would like schools to continue to provide this care during the Easter holidays. This will clearly pose a range of challenges, particularly for special schools. The well-being of our members and the wider profession must remain a high priority throughout this. We will need to reflect on how this could be made to work.  

While many of you have been in touch with me to say that you want to carry out this sort of role for your pupils, I know that there is a range of views about this unprecedented decision. 

The announcement clearly raises more questions than it answers, and there are many areas where we need urgent clarity from the government, including specific definitions around 'key workers' and 'vulnerable pupils'. I am also acutely aware of the impact of this on special schools, where virtually every pupil will have an education, health and care plan. You will be uppermost in my mind during my conversations with the government in the coming days.

I do think that we need to reiterate that school leaders can only open a school if it is safe to do so. If there are not enough staff to open a school, even in this new limited role, you cannot be expected to do so. 

My priority will be to seek answers to the questions that I know you will have. Over the next 48 hours, we will also be updating our guidance based on the information we have.

I know you will now be meeting with your teams and speaking with governors about what this means for you. I will do everything I can to ensure NAHT continues to support you in these exceptionally challenging times.

First published 18 March 2020