23 August 2022

ACT infections stay low but Education Minister says pandemic impact on schools not over

| Lottie Twyford
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Yvette Berry

Education Minister Yvette Berry has warned the impact of COVID-19 will be felt on the Territory’s schools for years to come. Photo: Region.

As new COVID-19 infections remain stable, Education Minister Yvette Berry has warned of an ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the ACT’s schools.

Overnight, the ACT recorded 258 (127 PCR and 131 RAT) new COVID-19 infections.

Since the pandemic began, ACT Health has reported 200,796 cases and there are currently 1586 active infections.

Hospitalisations have also been declining slowly. There are now 119 patients in hospital with COVID-19; of these, two are in the ICU, but no one requires ventilation.

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Yesterday, the ACT Government released a landmark report into teacher shortages which contained 20 recommendations to address the problem.

The public education system is 1.22 per cent short of teachers required to meet current demand. Student enrolments are expected to grow and that demand will increase.

According to the report, the pandemic had – and would continue – to exacerbate the problem.

“The public health advice shows that COVID-19 will continue to be in our community for several years and that variants and transmissions will have an impact on our teaching workforce,” the report read.

Teacher absences due to illness or caring responsibilities in the last year have been significant, and there have not been adequate casual staff to fill gaps.

Prior to this, many teachers reported attending work when unwell because of concerns they would increase the workload burden on their colleagues.

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Extremely high incidences of remote learning were recorded across ACT public schools earlier this year.

Education directorate officials said there were “challenges” around staffing before the pandemic but these had become “significantly worse”.

On any given day in 2022, around 50 more staff than usual are away from the workplace due to COVID-related issues.

The official noted during that time, many casual staff had been brought into permanent roles and the pandemic had shone a light on issues with the current relief system.

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Ms Berry told budget estimates yesterday that issues of classes needing to be split due to teacher absences that could not be filled had been exacerbated during COVID-19.

“I know [the Canberra Liberals] like to think that COVID-19 isn’t around, but it is,” she said in response to questions from Opposition spokesperson for education Jeremy Hanson.

“We want to make sure we address those issues … so they can’t arise again, but they are there and we acknowledge they exist.”

Australian Education Union ACT branch president Angela Burroughs agreed the past few years of the pandemic had been tough on teachers.

“The situation [where classes go without a dedicated teacher] is not acceptable nor sustainable,” she said.

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Interstate, NSW has reported 32 deaths overnight and 5567 new cases of COVID-19.

There are now 1928 people in hospital with the virus and 49 patients in ICUs around the state.

The state’s health department said COVID-19-related deaths are notified from a range of sources and not all occurred in the week in which they are reported as there is sometimes a delay between a death occurring and it being notified.

Victoria has recorded 25 deaths overnight and 3638 cases of COVID-19.

There are 433 people hospitalised with the virus and 26 patients in the state’s intensive care units.

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The decision for children to no longer wear masks has largely caused this situation. As soon as this decision was made, most children didn’t wear masks on buses which has further spread around Canberra. So many children are asymptomatic. Bad decision and unfair to teachers.

The Government allowed school kids to ditch their masks, in school, but the teachers had to continue wearing them because they knew if the teachers went down, the whole school system collapses.

Needless to say, when you don’t have to wear a mask in school, the kids don’t bring one to wear on the bus, where masks are still mandatory (and for good reasons due to the confined space). Of course, the Government doesn’t enforce that mask mandate!

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