Headteachers have reacted angrily to being told they must be on call over Christmas for contact tracing in case staff or pupils test positive for Covid after term ends.
One said: “I’m furious that we have to be on call for Test Trace Protect. It means term ends officially on the 18th but heads in my local authority area have to be available for contact by TTP until 21st no thanks no praise just crack on.”
She said many headteachers and school leaders, including herself, missed Easter and Whitsun breaks and all the spring bank holidays because they were so busy responding to changes caused by the pandemic and lockdown school closures.
Another headteacher said: “My husband and children aren’t at all happy. What if we want to go away? Headteachers have families too.”
The Association of School and College Leaders Cymru and the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru said all local authorities must plan for TTP without having their school leaders on call over the Christmas holiday.
ASCL Cymru director Eithne Hughes called for a national policy to avoid any need for school leaders to be on call.
She said some heads would need to go into their schools to check CCTV, timetables and contact groups over the Christmas holidays if contacted by TTP to find out who might be close contacts of any confirmed cases.
In other areas councils have drawn up plans so that the information has been handed to local authority staff who are in work anyway, she said.
“School leaders have already been working at weekends doing this,” Ms Hughes added. “I know of some working from 8am to 11pm at weekends working with TTP if there has been a case in their school.
“There is no consistency over plans for Christmas, it depends on the local education authority.
“Our members have been working flat out since March and taken very little holiday because they have been re-purposing schools.
“They need a break. They need to re-charge their batteries to be ready for whatever is coming down the line in January. More and more work is being piled on.”
“Schools know their pupils and their school communities better than anyone else.”
Wales’ largest education authority, Cardiff, said contact knowledge held by heads was vital to help prevent spread of the virus.
A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “The hard work and commitment undertaken by headteachers and their staff to ensure schools stay open safely has been outstanding and the Council is enormously grateful for their efforts.
“A great deal of consideration has been given to how TTP could trace contacts should a pupil test positive during the school holidays. Schools know their pupils and their school communities better than anyone else, so having somebody other than from the school assisting in identifying contacts, could risk essential information being missed and result in further transmission of the virus.
“Cardiff’s Senior Education officers and those council officers who are coordinating testing and liaison with TTP and Public Health Wales will all be on call over the Christmas period, providing support to schools should they require it.
“Covid-19 is very much still here and during these exceptional circumstances, helping to minimise the transmission of the virus to keep our communities safe is essential.”
Laura Doel, director of NAHT Cymru, said school leaders were committed to supporting TTP for the benefit of their staff and pupils but they now need a break for Christmas and others should do the work.
“What has become deeply unfair is the expectation that headteachers are constantly on call because they are the only people who have the information on contact groups,” she said.
“Let us not forget that this is a role above and beyond what is expected of them, but they have done it to support the national effort.
“We have seen some local authorities work with us to shoulder some of the burden placed on schools. Many local authorities have put in place an alternative process to support contact tracing over the Christmas period. NAHT Cymru calls on the remaining local authorities to follow their lead and not leave school leaders at the mercy of yet another postcode lottery over who gets help and who does not.”
David Evans, Wales Secretary for the National Education Union Cymru, also said it was important everyone in the education sector gets a proper break over the holiday period.
“Education staff, particularly those in leadership roles, have been on-hand since march to support the local and national efforts to help tackle Covid-19.
“We know that 2021 will be another challenging year, so now it is really important they have a break to support their own wellbeing, and are able to recharge.”
But one headteacher, who also did not want to be named, said he was happy to be on call for the first couple of days of the holiday, as requested by his council – Denbighshire.
He said: “We have been asked to be available for TTP for the weekend after we break up. I am fine with this as I would rather the community be safe and the right people get informed to isolate rather than leave it to chance.
“We have set up a system to make sure we have all of the seating plans, class lists and documents ready at the touch of a button – so I and my senior leadership team can do it remotely.
“We will also have contact details at hand for all pupils, students and staff on a secure link.
“I have had to do this several times already at the weekend so I am not too bothered. We are past masters at this now so it shouldn’t be too much work.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Local authorities are working with their local TTP leads to put in place appropriate arrangements for the Christmas period.
“We will continue to hold regular discussions with local authorities and unions on these matters as we have done throughout the pandemic.”