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Our response to the government's statement on the full opening of primary schools

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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members

Today the Secretary of State for Education clarified the position regarding the full opening of primary schools for a month before the end of term. He accepted that schools cannot welcome back all students, but went on to say that if schools have capacity the government would like to see schools bring back more children before the end of term. The Secretary of State has undertaken to work with the sector on this.  

As you know, NAHT has consistently argued that it would be impossible to bring all pupils back under the current DfE guidance; it simply is not a practical possibility in most schools. We are pleased that the government has now adjusted their expectations, having been clear with them that the ability to achieve much more is extremely limited in many schools. 

Having left open the potential for more children to return to schools where capacity allows, we will now press the DfE to provide clear guidance to those schools that choose to do so. I hope that this will follow in the next few days. I have made the point that such advice needs to be published in good time, during the working week and at an acceptable time of day - a small but increasingly important point. To do otherwise demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the pressure that the government is placing upon school leaders.  

In the last few months, you have been asked to respond to circumstances we could scarcely have imagined as we entered 2020. In the last few weeks, you have been asked to redesign and reorganise your schools to maintain distancing and the hierarchy of control. Right now, many of you are working through the practical considerations of welcoming back specified year groups. 

And despite the Herculean effort that this has taken, we know that many school leaders are already talking about options for how they might bring the academic year to a close for those pupils that will remain at home. 

Now we know that the previously unworkable expectations have been adjusted we will publish advice to members regarding the final few weeks of this academic year.

My consistent message to the government since lockdown began has been that they need to work with us, trust the profession to do the right thing and provide the flexibilities that enable school leaders to practice the art of the possible, in extraordinary circumstances. 

With the end of term just six weeks away we urgently need the government to provide as much clarity as possible about their plans for September and beyond – including anticipated constraints that schools may face and the likely impact on tests and exams beyond this summer. Schools will need to plan ahead, possibly for several scenarios, so time is of the essence. 

From the very outset of this crisis, schools have stepped forward to do the right thing for the pupils on their role and the communities they serve. No one is more committed to achieving a full return to education for all pupils in a safe way than school leaders.

We cannot enter the summer holiday uncertain of what arrangements will be required at the other end of it. 

I will update members throughout the week. 

First published 10 June 2020