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An update on testing, the reopening of schools and exceptional costs


A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members

Yesterday in our newsletter, I touched on the issue of testing capacity. Following a high volume of emails and calls from members regarding the failure of the national test, trace and isolate scheme, I wanted to let you know that today I have written to the secretary of state. Within that letter, I raised the following points:

  • It is abundantly clear that school leaders have more than played their part in the successful return to school, but over the last week I have heard from many of our members who feel deeply let down by the government.
  • Earlier in the summer, the government was very clear that everyone who needed a test would be able to access one – it is self-evident that this is not currently the case.
  • The lack of access to tests not only creates enormous problems for schools, but it also means that pupils are potentially missing out on education unnecessarily.  
  • School leaders are finding themselves in a situation where there is a suspected case in their school community, but this cannot be confirmed for a number of days. This puts them in an impossible position.
  • Senior cabinet members taking to the airwaves to try to blame schools for requesting too many tests is both unhelpful and entirely inaccurate – to suggest that schools are somehow encouraging people without symptoms to get a test is illogical and completely without basis. I have made it clear that we will not tolerate any attempts to shift the blame for government failure onto the shoulders of school leaders.
  • Our members have also raised serious concerns about the capacity of some local health protection teams. While in some areas, the support seems to be very good, we have also had reports that some local teams are already struggling to cope and do not have the capacity to meet the demands they face. I have made it clear that school leaders require urgent and categoric reassurance that the government will stick to its own guidance and there will be no attempt to shift decision-making to individual school leaders who should not be expected to make such public health judgement calls.
  • I also took the opportunity to reiterate that the Department for Education (DfE) has no scheme in place to reimburse the exceptional costs of operating during a pandemic, leaving school leaders with no financial support to deliver the necessary measures required to keep pupils, staff and their local communities safe. I have reiterated our view that it is critical that the government acts now to reimburse these unanticipated, but necessary, costs in order to protect school budgets so that pupils’ education is not adversely affected.

I would like to assure you that we have made our feelings on the above issues very clear and have requested an urgent meeting to discuss these issues with a view to finding solutions for the good of everyone in the education system.

For our members working in and leading special schools, you may have already seen that the DfE yesterday issued updated guidance that covers a range of issues, including school transport, managing outbreaks in the school community, additional resources available for delivering remote education and health and safety risk assessments for those pupils with an education, health and care plan.

As always, NAHT is now busy working through these changes and considering the implications for members.
First published 10 September 2020