Schools North East calls on Education Secretary to ‘protect our schools’

20th November 2020

As staff wellbeing becomes an increasing concern for school leaders, with ‘exhausted’ staff at risk of burnout, we have written to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, asking for a series of measures that will help to protect the physical and mental health of school staff.

Last week we shared the results of a survey on staff wellbeing which had huge engagement from school leaders across the region, with over 200 schools responding. The results highlighted serious concerns from school leaders about the current state of staff wellbeing, including increased workloads, and more pressures on staff due to the challenges of coronavirus. Equally in the news this week it has been highlighted that staff and students alike are struggling with cold temperatures due to ventilated classrooms, while an NAHT poll found almost half of Head Teachers are considering leaving the profession.

Our school staff continue to work tirelessly to ensure that schools are safe for students and to ensure that those who are isolating at home have access not only to learning but also meals on a daily basis. It is becoming increasingly clear that staff are doing so at cost to their own mental and physical health. While we absolutely must continue to work to support all of our students, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, we must not put our staff at risk of burnout in the process and much greater support is needed from Government and the DfE.

As such following last week’s survey, we sent a letter to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education asking him to protect our schools. Our letter highlighted not only the issue of staff wellbeing but also the extent to which it is having an adverse impact on our schools. We asked for a number of measures to be taken which will protect school staff including prioritisation for a vaccine, prioritisation for testing and support with test and trace.  Without this support from the government, staff absence is likely to increase, putting schools at real risk of closure. From NAHT’s poll, we are also starting to see signs of a detrimental effect on staff retention which could have real long term consequences for our schools.

We have previously contacted the Department for Education a number of times to express concern over the return of high stakes accountability measures this year which are putting even more pressure on our schools, having a further knock on effect on wellbeing. We have reiterated that we feel these measures are unnecessary this year, providing little meaningful information as data cannot be used as benchmarks or comparisons due to the level of disruption schools have faced and are continuing to experience. Therefore we have once again asked that:

Primary testing, including SATs is cancelled
GCSE and A Levels are significantly adjusted with a hybrid approach of both examinations and CAGs
School league tables suspended this year and next
Ofsted does not resume full inspections in January 2021
For senior leaders especially ever changing guidance and uncertainty is not only creating more planning but more stress and anxiety. Our schools now need clear direction and leadership from Government during this incredibly challenging time.

Our letter was also sent to all North East MPs, ensuring that the voices of schools are heard on this issue. Going forward, we plan further engagement with MPs through virtual roundtables for our Partner Schools so keep an eye out for further information on how you can engage with this in the next few weeks.