School leaders are calling to be released from the burden of running the test and trace system in schools, as new poll data shows that they have spent on average 44 additional hours on it since the start of the school year – the equivalent of 7 extra school days.
The call comes as school leaders’ union NAHT holds a ‘New and Aspiring Heads’ Conference, at which delegates highlighted the extreme pressure Covid had put on all school leaders, especially those new to the job.
A quick poll in NAHT’s newsletter last week asked how many extra hours members had spent running test and trace in their schools since September. The average answer was 44 hours, from 401 respondents, though many reported having spent more than 100 hours.
Speaking at the conference today, NAHT general secretary Paul 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.
“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.
“The extra burden this has put on school leaders cannot be underestimated. As we try to bring forward the next generation of school leaders at our conference today, the biggest barrier and concern we hear from aspiring head teachers is the level of pressure and the workload they see in the role. It’s a hard enough job to take one, being a head teacher, but to step into it over the last year must truly have seemed impossible. I am in awe of the incredible job our members have done.
“The difference between teacher and leader pay in education has been narrowed in the last decade but the responsibility has rocketed during Covid. We are already anticipating an exodus by head teachers 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.”