Headteacher leaders have slammed Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi for his ‘continued failure’ to respond to them on the ‘acute’ Covid situation in schools as they call for a reintroduction of lateral flow testing free.
Free lateral flow testing for students and staff was discontinued on April 1.
In the open letter from the Association of School and College Heads and head teachers’ union NAHT, head teachers said they were “deeply concerned” about the “apparent lack of interest and of support” from the government for pupils and staff as they faced the next phase of Covid.
They said their members have reported greater Covid-related disruption to their schools and colleges in recent weeks “than at any previous time during the pandemic” and that for many members this may prove the ” water drop “.
A chef said the coronavirus had created the longest list of staff absences he could remember in more than 25 years of teaching.
Another reported that 342 of their 800 pupils had been absent after testing positive for Covid – including 64 of 150 Year 11 pupils, while 25 of 51 teachers had also been absent with Covid.
“My senior team and I together cover 3/4 classes in the gym every day and we have also had to ask the year groups to learn from home in rotation over the last week so that we can manage. While some staff have had mild symptoms, some are getting very sick and I find that so concerning,” said another.
General secretaries Geoff Barton and Paul Whiteman highlighted how the government’s latest school attendance figures showed Covid-related student absence on March 17 was 2.5%, down from 0.7% the previous fortnight, while staff absence was 9.1%, down from 5.8% on March 3.
“Anecdotally, our members tell us that the situation has gotten even worse in the meantime,” they said.
They added that “in the face of this significant and continuing disruption” the decision to scrap free Covid lateral flow testing for almost all pupils and staff “seems reckless in the extreme”.
They added that there was no evidence the government was advising pupils who tested positive to self-isolate for three days instead of the recommended five days for adults.
The unions said they had written to Mr Zahawi on March 9 asking that free tests remain available for school staff with possible symptoms of coronavirus to minimize disruption to education, but that they did not had no response.
They said the government’s decision to publish GCSE and A-level rankings this year was “inappropriate” given the levels of disruption, while sharing SAT test results with Ofsted was “even more inappropriate”.
“This plan seemed misguided when it was first announced; given the current situation in our schools and colleges, this now seems frankly absurd,” they said.
They said releasing ‘inaccurate and meaningless’ data would add to ‘extreme stress’ on school leaders, deepening the recruitment and retention crisis.
“These decisions have consequences. Failure to control the transmission of Covid in schools and colleges makes it increasingly difficult for leaders to keep their establishments open and to ensure that students receive a high quality education while there,” said they added.
They said it ‘aggravated’ the disruption young people had already experienced in their education, while allowing staff and pupils to potentially contract Covid multiple times was harmful to their long-term health.
Leaders of the chiefs have called on Mr Zahawi to reconsider the decision to abandon the free tests and to commit to ‘not publishing performance charts, nor using the results of Key Stage 2, GCSE, A-level exams or professional of this year for any form of liability this year”. .
The letter said they had frequently spoken to Mr Zahawi and the DfE about these issues, adding: ‘You will have noticed that these representations have become stronger and more frequent due to your continued failure to respond to authentic experience and more and more acute. of our members.
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said he had written to Mr Zahawi because “school and college leaders increasingly feel let down by a government that does not seem to care about the fact that Covid is causing chaos in educational institutions and the first public exams in three years are only weeks away. a way.”
NAHT General Secretary Paul Whiteman said: “We have repeatedly warned the government that education is at breaking point. We hear sympathetic words and recognition of the great work done by our members, but see little real action to bring relief from the chaos.