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NAHT Northern Ireland

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NAHT Northern Ireland represents principals and vice-principals in around two-thirds of 1,150 schools in Northern Ireland. NAHT Northern Ireland provide advice, training and support for its members on a range of issues faced by senior leaders in schools. Along with our colleagues in England and Wales, we are there to defend and extend the rights of school leaders.  

NAHT NI is democratic and member-led, and supported by its Belfast-based team of staff alongside their colleagues based in both Wales and England.

NAHT Northern Ireland
Carnmoney House
Edgewater Office Park

Belfast
BT3 9JQ

nahtni@naht.org.uk
02890 776633 

NAHT(NI) member update 31 December 2020

Despite the continued availability of the trade unions to consult, the Minister and the Department of Education have published guidance regarding the restart to school without consultation. 

Following a meeting with Minister Weir, the Department of Education, the Education Authority and trade union colleagues this morning, the following clarifications have been provided: 

  • A child of a key worker is a child for whom both parents (or a parent in a single-parent family) is a key worker, with no other safe alternative. The Department predicts numbers should be low
  • The Department has stated children who qualify as children of key workers will be in the school building for 'supervised 'learning'. It should be made clear to parents that this is not 'face-to-face teaching'; this is being supervised in the school building and doing the same activities as the children who are at home. We have asked the Department to provide clear communication to parents
  • An optional day has been given for schools to prepare activities. This day is whatever your school had already planned for the children to return to school, be it Monday or Tuesday. 'Supervised learning' will, therefore, begin on the following day (ie Tuesday or Wednesday). NAHT has expressed concern to the Department that one day will be insufficient for many schools
  • Any school meals/transport organised for the first day should be cancelled
  • Year 7 children should not be brought into school for transfer tuition. This would be against DE's policy
  • A post-primary school has the flexibility to bring in Year 12 and 14 children for face-to-face teaching should they deem it necessary in light of pubic examination schedules
  • Nurseries are instructed to open as planned because the DE considers nursery children to be of the lowest risk and of least risk of virus transmission to adults. NAHT has concerns about this, of course, for the safety and well-being of the workforce, and so we ask you to revisit your mitigations as much as is possible; particularly in relation to adult-to-adult contact
  • Special schools have been instructed to open as planned because the DE considers our children with special needs to be at greatest risk as a result of school closure. However, transmission patterns seem to be greatest within the special sector, so we deem our staff in special schools to be at greatest risk. Please continue to take every precaution. The DE was pressed on early vaccination for staff in special schools. The DE has told us it will make the case to health for this, and we will also continue to lobby on your behalf for this
  • There must not be a gathering of school staff of more than six people, including any form of staff meeting, regardless of the size of the room
  • All previous health guidance remains in place and must be stringently adhered to
  • The DE has told us that it acknowledges the mistake of placing nursery and special school provision in the same paragraph as childcare provision. This will be rectified
  • If the new variant of covid-19 becomes dominant, we should expect this situation to continue.

 

Message from the NAHT(NI) president

The refusal to facilitate contingency planning for school leaders by stubbornly insisting on a singular direction of travel has resulted in yet another last-minute hiatus for principals. Had the Minister advised school leaders that this was a possibility when schools were asking about January arrangements before Christmas, contingency arrangements for this eventuality could have been made. While we can acknowledge that the health advice to the Minister had changed, it is just so sad that you are again left to piece this together. 

This morning, we stressed to the Minister and DE, yet again, that our profession must be given the basic courtesy of dialogue before announcements are made through the media. The current patterns of communication are degrading, demoralising and deeply insulting to the integrity and child-focused ethos under which we all work. The DE acknowledges that this must be improved. Simply, it must be. There is an increasingly concerning gulf between the Minister and his department and the reality that you are facing on the ground every day. 

The next couple of months will be extremely hard.

We will get through it.

But as we do, we write the legacy for the landscape on the other side of this pandemic: 

I believe that our profession is sick and tired of the politicking of education, and I state clearly that there is no room left for ideological or philosophical manoeuvring or manipulation from any side.

I believe that our profession is unacceptably undervalued and deeply misunderstood by many within the Minister's department.

I believe that many aspects of our educational provision are not centred around children but are, rather, created and maintained for systems, policies and account-keeping.

I believe that society should be learning that our schools and the support services that we provide are much more than childcare and are central to the well-being and health of our communities. They should, therefore, be treated as such, in terms of funding, support and consultation. 

When we get through this pandemic, the landscape must be forced to change. That's where our real battle for our children and our profession will be. 

So, colleagues, let's brace ourselves now, for the significant challenge that is on our doorstep. We will get through the next couple of months, doing all that we can for our children and for each other, despite the tone-deaf context that we function within and the significant inequities across our system, and we will get our schools to the springtime, with the hope that covid-19 will be predominately behind us and we can face down the real issues that lie behind our broken and fragmented education system.

First published 31 December 2020

First published 21 December 2020