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Union head warns of danger of `piling on' extra work

Graham Gault from National Association of Head Teachers

PILING extra work onto the shoulders of already under-pressure principals is dangerous, a union leader has warned.

Graham Gault of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said he was deeply disappointed by the approach of government.

In an `end of term report' sent to members, he reflected on the past year in schools.

Dr Gault said principals and VPs were the glue that kept a broken system functioning.

Principals were dealing with the withdrawal of hundreds of millions of pounds from frontline services, a decade of industrial dispute, crumbling special educational needs provision, relentless and unreasonable expectation and serious workload issues.

Coronavirus arrived at a point in time when leadership was already struggling, he said.

He praised members for their good work in responding to the pandemic.

"Catering for children of key workers and vulnerable children, coordinating remote learning whilst trying to maintain reasonable expectations of staff, many of whom were vulnerable themselves, or at home with their own families, communicating with parents and supporting families directly, was extremely difficult. But you did it," he wrote.

"Preparing the school for restart, which took you throughout the majority of the summer (unable to ask most other staff to come in and help), with guidance that more-or-less said give it your best shot, was extremely challenging. But you did it.

"Restart, and all that came with it, was challenging in the extreme. Aside from the significant additional workload, many of you were (and are) simply spending the entirety of your school hours supervising children to facilitate the staggered starts, breaks, lunches and home times, carrying all of your normal work home. And the burden of contact tracing. But you did it and you are still doing it."

This week, Dr Gault said it was unacceptable that principals were being left unsupported to carry out track and trace through the Christmas break.

A dedicated Covid-19 education team, which operates during term time, is due to close on December 23. The PHA said while schools were closed, the support provided by its education team would continue to be delivered through its Health Protection Duty Room as well as on-call and contact tracing services.

Dr Gault said this would mean principals continuing their 24-hour availability for contact tracing on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day.

In his address, he warned of the risk of asking head teachers to do too much.

"I have been deeply disappointed by the apparent absence of understanding of the reality that you face that seems to exist above us," he said.

"Simply because a principal is 'best-placed' to deliver something does not mean that it is in any way reasonable to continue to pile more and more expectation on to the shoulders of a group of people who are carrying so much. It is a dangerous direction of travel that I believe the Department of Education must urgently review."

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