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Our response to the summer catch-up scheme

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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members

Like many of you will have done, yesterday I listened to the prime minister's statement about a 'summer catch-up scheme' with a sense of anger and immense frustration.

It represents the latest in a long line of eye-catching announcements that lack real thought or substance.

Time and again, we have seen the government rush to announce headline-grabbing policies, and then failed to deliver on them — from free laptops for home learners, which haven't materialised, to free school meal vouchers, which have been an absolute farce. We now have yet another big idea with absolutely no clarity about how it might work in practice.

Reminiscent of the prime minister's ambition regarding full primary opening before the summer, his words yesterday bear no resemblance to the conversations we have been having. The announcement will create false hope and mislead parents as to what is deliverable.

While we have no idea yet what this plan might entail, I need to be clear that our position on the summer holiday has not and will not change. We will robustly challenge any suggestion that leaders or teachers should continue to work throughout the summer.

Since the start of this crisis, school leaders have worked ceaselessly and tirelessly to support the pupils who attend their schools.

I have spoken to many of our members who have not had a day's break since this crisis began. You have reinvented your schools, established remote learning offers and provided care for the most vulnerable. You have responded to endless guidance and updates from the government while supporting understandably anxious teams. The pressure on school leaders has been immeasurable, and it is vital that the summer brings an opportunity for you to step away and recharge your batteries ahead of the most challenging autumn term and new academic year we shall ever face.

This is not to say that we think there should be no support at all for children over the summer. We know that the current crisis has had an enormous impact on children, and we are all rightly concerned, especially for the most vulnerable in our communities.

The impact of enforced isolation on young people is little understood, yet it is likely to be significant for many. This might range from loss of routine, social interaction and self-regulation through to erosion of mental health and coping with anxiety, grief and trauma. Support for pupils is needed over the summer, and NAHT calls on the government to fund a locally coordinated offer. We could use the summer profitably through youth groups and youth charities to provide the sort of activities to draw young people out of their homes and encourage resocialisation, assuming social distancing rules allow.

Following that, the government should be giving serious consideration to a 'catch-up premium' to provide long-term, sustained investment for real impact. There already exists a wealth of knowledge in the profession about how to narrow achievement gaps. The government should be drawing on this expertise to come up with a sustainable, long-term plan – that is what NAHT will be calling on them to do.

The truth is that despite this announcement, the government is yet to engage the profession properly on a credible plan. I am so sad that the desire for a good headline overrides the need to plan appropriately. The only way to repair the damage done to children's education by the coronavirus is to work with the profession and value education in the long term.

I have written to the secretary of state today in similar terms.

First published 11 June 2020