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Our response to the DfE's announcement on the ‘staggered return’ for secondary schools and colleges in January

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Dear colleague 

By now, I'm sure you will have seen the latest announcement from the DfE regarding a ‘staggered return’ for secondary schools and colleges in January.

The only way to describe how the government has handled this entire situation is utterly shambolic.

As we made clear in our public statement today, they have handed schools a confused and chaotic mess at the 11th hour. Secondary school leaders are now left with virtually no time at all to put in place all the necessary logistical arrangements and to communicate with pupils, parents and staff.

The announcement demonstrates a contemptible disregard for the well-being of our members in these schools.

I should be clear that a delayed return to school in January, as well as the introduction of lateral flow testing, are both ideas that we know many of our members support – it is the last-minute announcement and chaotic implementation which I know many of you will strongly object to.

Equally, many of our members in primary schools will be left questioning why they and their staff have been treated differently, particularly in light of the relaxation of restrictions over Christmas. I want to reassure you, we have already made that point to ministers very forcefully.

Turning specifically to the issue of covid testing schools, we, along with other unions, are currently considering our response to this. We already have a long list of questions we have submitted to the DfE, including what support and capacity will be offered to schools, as we don’t believe this is a role that should fall to school staff, who are already working flat-out to support their pupils.

Given the timescales we are now facing, and the lack of answers from the DfE, the reality is many secondary schools will not be in a position to offer these tests at the start of next term. We have already made that clear to the government, and I want to reassure you that if you find yourself in that position, we will support you. Furthermore, we do not believe it is acceptable for school leaders to have to work on this during the holiday period.

I know many of you in both primary and secondary schools have broader questions around the administration of lateral flow tests in your schools, including the legal status of such a request, and what the implications are if you decide not to take part in such a scheme as it is being described to you. We are currently looking into all of those sorts of questions.

As I have said before, I know that many of you will actively welcome access to regular testing for your community and NAHT has been calling for it for some time. However, the government cannot continue to hand every public health responsibility and task over to schools.

In the meantime, we have published some further information for members on this topic, which you can read here. We expect to add to this in due course as we learn more about what the government is actually asking of schools.

The incompetence of the government throughout the pandemic has been astounding. I will be addressing this and outlining immediate next steps for NAHT concerning these ongoing issues in my end of year letter to members.

Best wishes 

Paul Whiteman

NAHT general secretary

First published 18 December 2020