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Coronavirus update (17 March 2020)

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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members

I met with the Secretary of State late yesterday. I was very pleased that Geoff Barton for ASCL and Leora Cruddas from the Confederation of School Trusts represented their organisations at the same meeting. It will be important over the coming days and weeks for a common effort to be developed.

We were able to put all the issues concerning you to the Secretary of State. I know there is a great deal of frustration that the answers are not coming quickly enough from the government, but I am reassured that they have teams who have been working around the clock to try and find solutions to many of the points we raised.

I expect we will see further announcements in the coming days. We will certainly be in daily contact with them to ensure schools are supported properly.

I know that many of you are expecting the government to announce a wide closure of schools and you are troubled by the fact that on the one hand, the Prime Minister has announced wide measures to restrict travel and promote social distancing, but on the other, he has kept schools open.

The Prime Minister was clear yesterday that people should work from home if possible, but he was also clear that essential functions need to continue, and schools are considered an essential function at this point.

The government argues that the social impact of total closure outweighs the health risks of keeping the central points of our social fabric open. There is also deep concern about the care of our most vulnerable children. I have stressed the huge impact this is having on schools and school leaders. I know that many of you are dealing with incredibly challenging situations when it comes to ensuring the well-being of staff and pupils alike. 

I made the point yesterday that as teachers and school staff are forced to self-isolate, many schools will have to close in any event through lack of staff. We also know some head teachers are closing in specialist settings for the protection of their most vulnerable children with underlying health conditions.

Today will be difficult. I will be working hard to get some certainty from the government over all the issues members have been raising and outlined in my most recent communications. If you haven't already, please read our guidance on the Coronavirus and find the answers to the frequently asked questions on this subject.

I am pleased that Ofsted has deferred and suspended inspection for now. I am aware that the Secretary of State has signalled that schools will not be criticised for absence rates as a result of these extraordinary circumstances. I will also be pushing for further announcements on the suspension of usual accountability arrangements for this.  You should not be having to worry about such things at this time.

If you judge that due to a lack of staff, you cannot open your school today then don’t. However, we must do all we can to follow the government's advice and offer some support to the families and children in our care until the government can announce its longer-term plans for schools. That may mean a day away from lessons undertaking wider group activity, for example.

School leaders across the country have risen to this challenge in the same way that you do in every crisis. Do all that you can today to maintain order and some sense of normality for the children in your school.

Our advice and support line is open (call 0300 30 30 333 and select option one) to offer you help and assistance. I will be doing all I can today to encourage the government to bring you every assistance.

Please look out for further updates.

First published 17 March 2020