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An update for members in SEND and AP schools

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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members.

I wanted to write specifically to our members in special schools and APs in light of the developments over the last 24 hours. 

Once again, the current situation has put special schools leaders and those in AP in a particularly difficult, if not impossible position. 

Over the last day or so we have been speaking with many members in special schools and APs to give them specific advice and I wanted to share that advice with you. 

The Impact of Section 44

Clearly one of the biggest problems is the fact that in most cases all pupils in your settings will qualify as being vulnerable. Our understanding is that the advice other unions have given to their members is that they should make themselves available to work with vulnerable pupils and children of key workers. However, it is not clear what this means for special schools.

We have asked other unions to clarify urgently whether or not this means that staff in special schools will be advised to attend as normal. 

In the meantime, school leaders can only operate and open their schools as far as it is safe to do so. If there is not enough staff available to open schools fully, leaders may have no alternative but to implement partial or full closures if this is unavoidable in the short-term. As always this would be subject to a full risk assessment. 

Our advice is that leaders in special schools contact their staff and ask them to clarify whether or not they intend to attend school based on the advice they have been given by their union. 

To reiterate, a shortage of staff may necessitate a short-term closure of some description. NAHT will of course support members who have to take this action in line with their risk assessment. 

Where schools are working with a reduced staff, and are looking to offer some form of priority care for some vulnerable pupils, we recommending contacting your LA to ask for advice about how to prioritise places. Schools may also have protocols from the spring term closures that can be applied here. 

The Use of Lateral Flow Testing in Special Schools 

We have also been speaking with many members in special schools about the use of lateral flow testing. It is clear that the government’s guidance on this shows a complete lack of understanding of many special schools and the pupils they work with. 

While we do not want to imply that special schools and their communities are a homogenous group, it is our view that for many pupils in special schools, regular lateral flow testing overseen by staff would be entirely inappropriate. We have spoken with many members who have highlighted the significant issues this would have in their settings and for their pupils. 

It is our view that if your professional expertise suggests it would not be safe or appropriate for a pupil to have the lateral flow test as explained in the guidance, you should not do it. 

While schools are being asked to set testing stations up, you can only carry out tests with the consent of parents. We recommend that if you feel it would not be safe or appropriate to carry out such tests, you contact parents to explain this. Assuming the parent agrees with this, you would therefore not have their consent to do the tests and would not need to proceed. 

We have already contacted the Department for Education to inform them that we are providing this advice to our members, and we would expect government and Local Authorities not to be supportive of schools taking this approach. We have also communicated our members’ views that the current guidance is not adequate for the vast majority of special schools. 

Leaders will also want to work closely with their LAs themselves on this matter.

First published 03 January 2021