Exclusive: Heads' Covid school safety legal challenge

NAHT wants all schools to go online and has begun legal process, with ASCL, to force DfE to release school Covid safety scientific advice
2nd January 2021, 11:28am
William Stewart


Exclusive: Heads' Covid school safety legal challenge

Heads' Challenge To Dfe Over Covid School Policy Data

Heads are beginning a legal process to try and challenge the Department for Education's position over school closures.

Tes understands the NAHT school leaders' union and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) want to force the DfE to release all the scientific advice it is drawing on over school Covid safety and to demonstrate that it has given full and proper consideration to the health and safety of pupils and staff.

The NAHT also wants all schools to move to online home learning "for a brief and determined period for most children". 

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The move came as the largest classroom teachers union, the NEU, poised to advise members not to return to their classrooms next week amid serious health and safety fears as Covid cases rise.

In an email to members this morning, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman says: "We want to see children in school. It is the best place for their education and their wider well-being. We understand that the government has been seeking to strike a balance between minimising the risk of transfer of Covid-19 and providing face-to-face education for all children. 

"However, latest data shows that in large parts of the country, control of infection has been lost and the lack of understanding regarding the new strain has now created intolerable risk to many school communities.  

"We are calling upon government to remove people in schools from the physical harm caused by the current progress of the disease and to work with the profession and Public Health England to establish new protocols and interventions to make schools covid-secure."

To try and achieve more Covid safety in schools, the union took preliminary steps in legal proceedings against the Department for Education on Thursday afternoon, the email reveals. According to the NAHT, ASCL has joined it in the action. 

"The legal process we have instigated covers a wide range of issues from the scientific advice the government is drawing on, right through to the proposed arrangements for Covid testing in schools," Mr Whiteman says. 

The unions are now waiting for the government's response before deciding their next steps. 

The NAHT is also putting pressure on government to look again at its list of "high risk" areas where schools are staying shut to reduce the spread of Covid.

Many schools leaders have been in touch with the union to point out "stark anomalies and inconsistencies" in the current list. 

In a major U-turn last night the Department for Education added all remaining London boroughs to the areas where both primaries and secondaries will be online only for most pupils next week.

But the NAHT is continuing to press for change in other parts of the country.  

Mr Whiteman said: "The government needs to change its approach if we have any chance of success at keeping schools open to all pupils and not just for the most vulnerable and those of key workers. 

"The government's current approach is too simplistic and is damaging education. It is time to properly respond to what professional educators need rather than how attractive a headline may read. 

"The government is alienating the profession, failing children and being reckless with the safety of the whole school community." 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the government had "made an utter shambles" of the school return plans.

"It has been our clear view throughout this crisis that children are best off in school but that this has to be balanced with public health considerations," he said

"We are not convinced, however, that the government is following the science, and we are concerned about the safety implications for families, staff and the wider community."

The NAHT also wants the government to:

  • Give "proper support" for home learning in terms of technology and giving heads the flexibility "to respond to their circumstances". "A centralised, prescriptive approach is too constrained," it says 
  • Establish a properly organised, resourced and funded mass testing regime for schools "in place of the botched DIY system currently being imposed".
  • Work with heads and Public Heath England on new school Covid safety measures 
  • Urgently review its approach to special schools, APs and maintained nursery schools to protect all staff and pupils.  
  • Immediately prioritise vaccinations in education.

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