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A message of support ahead of the wider opening of schools tomorrow

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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members


Despite the narrative from the government, the level of confidence for a return to schools remains low. The issue has been fiercely debated in the press headlines this weekend once again.

The claims and counterclaims, coupled with the deliberate misrepresentation of data (in support of all arguments both for and against) to score political points, have been at best unhelpful, perhaps even dangerous.

The position of NAHT has been consistent throughout this crisis: schools should not open more widely until, guided by science, a decision can be made that it is safe to do so. For good or bad, the government has chosen its science and made its public health judgement.

I have been in contact with the government over the weekend, and at the time of writing, its plans remain as previously announced.

Important flexibilities have been obtained that now have the weight of No10's support. Without them, you were clear that widening access was not possible. Last week, in our poll of members, 90% of you said that you'd be using these flexibilities to widen access in some way over the next two weeks. Despite the uncertainty, media insults and threats from colleague trade unions, you have made good decisions for your schools and local communities. You have been unbowed by the media noise and remain determined to support children in the best way you can.

If you have decided that it is not safe to widen access from tomorrow and that your school will remain as it is, that is the right decision. If you have decided that you will widen access from a later date, that is the right decision. A decision to use rotas to support your circumstances is the right decision. A decision to admit fewer pupils than announced will be right too.

Equally, if you have been able to meet the original ambition of the government, based on an analysis of your circumstances, that should also be seen as the right decision.

In short, whatever path you have chosen will carry the support of NAHT, and the government should not criticise it.

The next few days will reveal whether the government has passed the confidence test. We will discover how many families feel confident to come to school. And we will get a sense of the reaction from staff too. You may be faced with having to adjust your plans at short notice. If necessary, you should do so with confidence.

If families decide to stay away, the government has been clear that they will not be fined, and it is not your role to enforce the government's plans. It is essential to maintain the bonds of trust between the school and home. If staff feel unable to attend, we should all aim to respond with compassion and understanding. We need strong relationships beyond this crisis. You can call NAHT's adviceline (call 0300 30 30 333 and select option one) should you need support in this area.

If you haven't already done so, you may wish to watch our recent Crowdcast, which featured Dr Matt Butler (you will need to register for the event to watch the replay). The feedback we have had suggested members found his comments informative and reassuring.

Beyond tomorrow, we will be arguing that a full return before the summer break is not possible based on the advice we have from the Department for Education. We will be clear that a detailed, coherent plan from September that's properly supported and rooted in independent advice will be needed. Notions of "catching up over the summer" hide the complexity of what is necessary to support children and school as we enter a very different world post-crisis, whenever that may be.

You remain assured of the advice, support and protection of your union throughout.

First published 31 May 2020