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Whiteman: During the pandemic, the government ‘dropped the baton’ and school leaders picked it up

Closing the Annual Conference of school leaders’ union NAHT today (Fri 9 Oct), general secretary Paul Whiteman will praise the efforts of educators during the pandemic and will lament the actions of government.

Speaking without a script, and addressing delegates via webcam, Mr Whiteman is expected to say: “From day one I have seen just how purposefully and willingly you [school leaders] have grasped the baton handed over by the government. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that you have picked up the baton that the government fumbled and dropped.”

Shifting the blame

Mr Whiteman will also talk about the extent to which the government has tried to shift the blame for its own failings onto schools and families. He will say: “The biggest insult is the government’s decision to invoke the temporary continuity order. These are nothing more than tissue thin, meaningless powers, with politicians talking tough in the face of their own failure. It is another attempt to shift the blame.”

In contrast, Mr Whiteman will pay tribute to the “extraordinary professionals successfully responding to unprecedented times.”

Growing membership

NAHT has seen its membership swell to more than 33,000 during the pandemic, and Mr Whiteman will use his speech to urge the government to change its approach and become more willing to collaborate with teachers and leaders.

He will say: “Consulting frontline experts is strength not weakness. But it must be a meaningful consultation and not just a box-ticking exercise where only the views that support the government’s proposals are given the time of day.”

Mr Whiteman will strongly criticise Ofsted for the approach it is taking this term and its plans to restart inspection in the new year, despite almost universal condemnation from the education sector. He describes Ofsted as a ‘One Trick Pony’ and will challenge the schools watchdog to up its game: “There’s value in Insight, not inspection. Support, not sanction. Come on Ofsted, you can be so much better than this.”

Unfunded safety measures

Mr Whiteman’s comments come as NAHT research reveals the devastating effect of the government’s refusal to fund the safety measures it demands of schools – like extra hand sanitiser and additional cleaning.

More than 2,000 school leaders responded to an NAHT poll, which showed that in just the first few weeks since the beginning of term, schools in England have already spent on average £8,017 implementing safety measures required by government guidance.

Almost three quarters of those who responded to the survey said that they had not received any of the exceptional costs funding announced by the DfE.

Mr Whiteman will say: “These costs are not optional for schools, they are required by the government’s own guidance. This means that every pound spent on new safety measures, is a pound that can no longer be spent on pupils’ education.”

Rallying call

Recognising the immense strain school leaders and their teams have been under, and the great lengths they have gone to to support pupils, Mr Whiteman will close by saying: “At the end of the day, you should rest your exhausted selves - confident that your best will have been good enough. The nation respects you and NAHT will not stop until policy makers make the right decisions. No government will ever get it right if it ignores you.”

Press and Media contacts:

Steven George
NAHT Head of Press and Media
01444 472886
07970 907730

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

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