Headteachers need to be released from the burden of identifying and notifying people who have come into contact with Covid-19 cases to help prevent “an exodus” of school leaders, a union warned today.
Since September, some heads have spent 100 hours or more on identifying positive cases in their schools and informing contacts that they need to self-isolate, according to the NAHT school leaders’ union.
It said that, on average, its members have spent 44 hours – more than a working week – doing this work since the start of the academic year, according to its own snap poll of just over 400 school leaders.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, warned: “We are already anticipating an exodus by headteachers once the crisis has passed.
“One tangible thing the government could do right now to help is to remove the burden of running test and trace in schools and give leaders some free time back.”
Covid and schools: The test and trace workload for school leaders
The union also warned that heads have been given limited training and advice on how to deliver bad news to families about Covid-19 cases.
Tes revealed last year how the NAHT was concerned that headteachers were becoming a relied-upon part of the country's test and trace infrastructure.
Speaking ahead of the union’s “new and aspiring heads” conference today, Mr Whiteman said: “School leaders have spent every weekend and holiday on call for the whole of the last year, expected to receive notifications of positive cases and then identify and notify all close contacts of the need to self-isolate.
“It was just assumed that school leaders would take on this additional duty despite the government spending billions on a national test and trace system. Not a penny of that money was given to schools.
“To begin with, schools accepted that they were the people best placed to track and inform students when there was a Covid case in their school, because they were the ones who had all the contact information.
“But it has been a full year now and absolutely no effort has been made to release school leaders from this burden, or to give them additional staff or resources to do it.”
He added: “School leaders were the ones forced to phone families over the Christmas holidays, for example, to tell them they had to isolate.
“They have been responsible for delivering this bad news with virtually no training or guidance on how to do this.
“School leaders and their teams have been effectively propping up the national test and trace infrastructure since last September.
"This has had a particularly hard impact on schools in areas with high rates of infection – as we see from the hundreds of hours reported by many leaders.”
Last year the Department for Education announced plans for an Inset day on the last Friday of the autumn term in an attempt to ensure that school staff were not carrying out Covid test and trace work beyond Christmas Eve.
However, the move was strongly criticised by some teachers who described it as "pointless" and "tokenistic".
NAHT focus on teacher wellbeing
It has also been announced today that the NAHT's new president, Tim Bowen, has chosen Education Support as its charity partner for the year.
Mr Bowen said: “My main theme for my presidential year will be to focus on and promote the health and wellbeing of teachers and school leaders.
"Teaching is a much tougher job than it used to be and focusing on the health and wellbeing of teachers and school leaders is of real importance.
"That is why I’ve chosen Education Support as my president’s charity this year.
"Every leader needs to make sure every member of their team has the support they need. And when you develop your staff, of course, the pupils benefit. Better mental health leads to better education."