Having worked in lockstep since COVID-19 hit, the ACT has now broken ranks with NSW over school attendance.
ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry confirmed Territory schools will proceed with their online teaching arrangements for term two while NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wants schools to incorporate more face-to-face learning from week three of the school term.
Ms Berejiklian has also floated the idea of a rostering system to stagger a return to schools.
“The ACT Government’s advice to our school communities is to pay attention to what is happening in the ACT,” Ms Berry said.
“We have a plan that we can deliver remote education for the whole of term two.
“If we need to pull that back because the situation changes and we need to have more students attending school then we will do that, but we will do that in a planned way based on the advice we receive.”
ACT public schools will move to virtual classrooms for term two – which starts on 28 April – but children who cannot work from home have been guaranteed face-to-face learning as no student will be turned away from a school, the Education Directorate said.
“For parents and carers who cannot keep their children at home, due to work or additional needs, the ACT Government will provide supervision at a reduced number of public school sites for these students to continue to be provided with support,” a department spokesperson said.
“Students at these sites will be supervised by Out of School Hours Care staff supported by teaching staff, and allied health and support staff. Students at these sites will be undertaking the same remote learning program as their peers at home.”
What will remote learning look like for ACT public school students in term 2? Most students in ACT public schools will undertake their learning from home and we are asking parents and carers to keep their children at home if they can. More information https://t.co/XBZpwfIu30 pic.twitter.com/rgFpNonZS1
— ACT Public Schools (@ACTEducation) April 16, 2020
Ms Berry says the rolling out of Chromebook laptops will help facilitate the move to online learning as the ACT’s plan to move to remote education was already in motion and has put the territory in a more advanced position than its state neighbour.
“We are an island in the middle of a bigger state, but in the ACT we were also much better prepared to deliver [online learning] because of the geographic locations of our schools, the smaller size of our population and because we were digitally ready to deliver remote education before we needed to,” she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged schools to remain open, telling concerned parents that the risk of students acquiring COVID-19 is low, and that teachers are more at risk in the staff room than with their pupils.
Although the advice is that at-risk students or teachers should remain home, he said.
Mr Barr said the ACT’s movements are consistent with these principles.
“The ACT response is entirely consistent with the national principles and we will continue the roll-out our education program for term two exactly as we have announced, and that has the capacity to scale up should there be an increase in students that need to attend ACT public schools,” he said.
“We will also continue our medium-term work to look at what term three and the rest of the year will look like with the ability to respond to a changed public-health environment.
“Were we in a position in four weeks’ time to be loosening public health restrictions, then that may well have a consequential flow-on into the education sector but that is a decision that is some weeks away.”
There will be no immediate change to how schooling will be delivered from the end of April as the current lockdown measures in place in the ACT will be kept in place for at least another month, in line with the National Cabinet recommendations.
However, the ACT will continue to monitor advice and work with the relevant experts to inform its decision-making processes, Ms Berry said.
“I think we have to take each day as it comes, and sometimes each hour. The situation changes so fast and so the ACT Government is making sure that it moves quickly when it needs to,” she said.
“Moving education back into schools will take some time and we will take all the time we need to make sure that this happens in the least disruptive way.
“We will need some time to make sure that all the support is there for families, students, and particularly teachers.”