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Testing for school staff, vulnerable pupils and PPE

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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members

Testing for school staff

One of the important issues you have asked us to focus on during our conversations with the government has been the role of coronavirus testing.

This evening, I was pleased to see The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announce that the critical worker testing scheme will now include school staff.

Like you, we are keen to see the detail accompanying this announcement, and it is clearly limited in its scope at this stage. However, this does appear to represent a step in the right direction at least.

We have been clear throughout that governments across the UK must honour the Herculean efforts of school staff with the appropriate level of support and safety, and that testing is one important part of this.

I should reiterate that today’s announcement on testing does not change our position on the formal reopening of schools, and the government has assured us its position remains unchanged too.

Vulnerable pupils

I am aware that earlier today the Secretary of State wrote to schools and colleges regarding the issue of supporting vulnerable pupils. In reality, this letter simply reiterates the existing guidance on the Department for Education's (DfE's) website.

I know you will be as worried as anyone else about the well-being and safety of your most vulnerable pupils. I also know of the incredible efforts you have already been going to in order to support these families, whether they are in school or at home.

We are aware that a number of you have come under pressure to offer more places for vulnerable pupils, and in some cases, this has not been handled at all well.

School leaders will want to support the most vulnerable of their pupils, but this has to be a cross-agency effort. The list of vulnerable children offered by the government is broad and cannot cater for the individual circumstances of each child.

The DfE's advice is clear that not all pupils with EHCPs will need to be in schools; in many cases, they will be safer at home.

As the guidance states, schools should work with social services and other agencies to identify those children for whom school is the safest place. However, it is also imperative that the authorities who are working with schools are conscious of the real pressures you and your staff are facing right now. What we need is genuine partnership working, where all agencies are playing their part. We have updated our FAQs to reflect some of these considerations.


Thank you to all of you who have been in contact with us regarding the issue of PPE, particularly in special schools. We have been clear with the DfE that we believe its latest guidance needs to go further and provide far more clarity on this issue. 

We know many of our members are in a difficult position as a result of the current advice, and we are asking for further information to be published, including a clearer explanation of the science underpinning the current guidance.

First published 23 April 2020