As we have all been expecting, this afternoon the Prime Minister outlined the government’s ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ in parliament.
We now have it confirmed that all pupils will be expected to return to school from 8 March.
Since the beginning of the year, we have consistently called on the government to explain and justify its decisions for schools fully. We know that simply asserting that schools are ‘safe’ is not enough to reassure the sector. Pupils, staff and parents alike deserve an explanation as to why the government believes it is right to return to full attendance at the beginning of next month and what additional measures it will put in place to protect all members of our school communities.
As such, our attention will now immediately turn to the detail behind this announcement. We will be looking carefully to see what scientific evidence the government uses as the basis for this decision. We also need to see what changes the government has made to its ‘system of controls’. As you will be aware, we have been calling on the government to revisit these for some time.
I think many of us will remain concerned about the plan to bring back all pupils in both primary and secondary at the same time and the potential impact this could have on transmission rates. We will be particularity keen to see what scientific modelling has been carried out and what it suggests about taking such an approach.
We understand that there could be some degree of flexibility for secondary schools around the return on 8 March to take account of the significant additional challenge of organising tests for pupils as part of the return. We will be seeking clarity on this and looking very closely at what this means for members as they begin to put arrangements in place.
We will also want to look at whether there are any implications for specific sectors, including SEND and early years.
Alongside the central scientific and health case, the government must also trust school leaders to place local arrangements to facilitate a smooth and sustainable return for their pupils. School leaders and their governing bodies know their communities best, and they should be trusted to arrange the full return to school in a way that works for all concerned.
NAHT will continue to call on the government to keep school communities safe and ensure that this return is sustainable.
We will make the case that one of the best and quickest ways to do this is to prioritise all school staff for vaccination. Not only would vaccination help protect staff but also reduce the need for further disruption to pupils’ education. Equally, the government should give schools the necessary resources to implement additional safety measures.
The Prime Minister has said that he wants the current lockdown to be the last. Therefore, it is incumbent on the government to do everything in its power to ensure that schools are both protected and supported.
Over the next few days, we will learn more about the government’s plans, and as always, we will do everything in our power to answer any questions you might have.
First published 22 February 2021