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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members

Today the Department for Education (DfE) has issued new guidance outlining the flexibility primary schools now have to bring more pupils back beyond current levels.

Contrary to some of the press coverage you may have seen over the weekend, there is no expectation that all schools will be able to do this.

The guidance is very clear: "There is no expectation on primary schools to welcome back additional children where they do not have the capacity to do so."

Schools can only consider bringing more pupils back if they can adhere to current safety measures and stick to the group size limit of 15 pupils.

We know that a large number of you are already working at full capacity, both in terms of space and staff available to you.

There is no one more concerned about the well-being and achievement of pupils than school leaders. It goes without saying that you would love to be able to welcome more pupils back into your school, but you have to be confident that it is both safe and logistically possible to do so.

Over recent days, NAHT has engaged on this issue with the DfE, and as a result, we think this guidance is now in a far more pragmatic place than it otherwise might have been. The government has listened to us and explicitly recognised that it would not be logistically possible for all schools to take more children back.

We also know that many of you have been considering how best to bring a sense of 'closure' to this year and facilitate transition conversations ahead of September. In some cases, this might involve inviting pupils back for a face-to-face meeting with their teachers before the end of the term. In its latest guidance, the DfE has said schools should only do this if contact can be in line with current protective measures.

You may have seen that the speculation around the topic of 'catch-up' has continued since the prime minister's announcement last week. I made NAHT's position on this matter clear in a previous email, and I'm reassured to hear that members are largely supportive of this approach. I am pleased to say we have now had some engagement with the DfE on this issue. We have reiterated our call for locally coordinated programmes focused mainly on socialisation over the summer and a fully-funded commitment to evidence-based strategies to support learning in the longer-term.

Over the last few months, we have seen education regularly dominating the headlines in a way that none of us has been used to seeing in recent years. What I don't think we have seen enough of is a celebration of the incredible work school leaders and their teams have been engaged in. There have been too many commentators who have been quick to criticise schools without understanding what's really been going on over the last three months. Between now and the end of term, we will be redoubling our efforts to challenge that inaccurate narrative proactively. We hope to be able to tell you more about that shortly.

First published 15 June 2020