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Message to members following the Prime Minister's announcement

  The following message was sent to members from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman on 4 January 2021

I have just finished listening to the Prime Minister’s address, as I am sure you will have too.

Tonight we have learnt that most schools will now be moving to remote learning for the majority of pupils until February half-term.

While we have been calling on the government to take decisive action for some time, the handling of this announcement has once again been utterly shambolic. We all appreciate this is a rapidly moving situation and that decisions have to be made quickly in light of the changing data. However, it was clear that action needed taking before the start of term and not one day into it. 

The government’s dithering on schools over the last few days has injected chaos into the system and means that the plans many of you made over the weekend and today will once again now need re-writing. Had the government worked with the profession as we were calling on them to do over the Christmas break, this could have been handled so much better.

Of course, we are now where we are, and I know your focus will now be on what needs to happen from here.

I think the most immediate concern that many of us will have relates to the Prime Minister’s suggestion that schools will be open to key worker and vulnerable pupils from tomorrow.

It may be that as a result of the actions you have taken over the last few days, or because of the circumstances you find yourself in, that might be possible in your school. However,this will clearly not be the case for all schools. The simple and obvious reality is that many schools will not have had the time to liaise with parents and put such arrangements in place. If you have had to contact parents tonight to tell them that school will be closed for all pupils tomorrow so arrangements can be made, that is an entirely reasonable and sensible step to have taken.  

I know people will also be concerned about the potential demand for key worker and vulnerable childcare places. While back in March the demand at a national level was actually quite low overall, we know that there were some schools that had particular issues and we also don't know how the demand may change this time around. I think many of us assume that it will likely be much higher. Where schools are facing an unmanageable demand for key worker and vulnerable child provision, we will work with you and offer advice.

We have already raised with ministers this evening our concerns about the implications of this announcement for our members who work in special schools, APs and Maintained Nursery Schools.We will be seeking urgent talks with the government about the arrangements in such schools as there a clearly a range of questions that need answering. We will of course want to hear from our members in these schools to make sure we are representing your views accurately.  

At this early stage, it is our understanding that where nurseries are attached to primary schools, leaders will have discretion to determine the level of provision they are able to make. We will confirm this as soon as possible.

Of course there are a whole myriad of additional important questions which I'm sure you have, as we do too. Those include questions about free school meal provision, SATs and secondary exams in the summer. We will do everything in our power to seek answers to all such questions as soon as we possibly can.

And, while it is not the most pressing concern tonight, I will also be calling on the government to start acting immediately to properly prepare for the return of the majority of pupils in February. The next few weeks present them with an opportunity to put those plans in place and to avoid the last minute announcements that has characterised their handling of schools to date.  

First published 04 January 2021