ACT teachers have told Prime Minister Scott Morrison to butt out after he urged them to return to the classroom and abandon plans for remote learning.
Mr Morrison used a social media video to call on the nation’s schools to reopen fully, saying “the education of our children hangs in the balance”.
“We cannot allow a situation where parents are forced to choose between putting food on the table through their employment, to support their kids and their kids’ education,” Mr Morrison said.
The Prime Minister said he did not want to see COVID-19 take a year of learning away from children.
Mr Morrison repeated health advice that the risk of COVID-19 spreading among school-aged children was very low.
But Australian Education Union ACT secretary Glenn Fowler said the Prime Minister’s remarks were unhelpful and strange for someone who was often at pains to say that it was not the Commonwealth that runs schools but the states and territories.
“So they need to decide when they want to stick their beaks in and when they want to stick their beak out. I think it’s a good time for them to stick their beak out,” he said.
Mr Fowler said Mr Morrison’s comments about ”food on the table” were despicable and amounted to emotional blackmail.
He said the safety of teachers was paramount and the situation in the ACT had been crystal clear for weeks.
It was the ACT Government’s decision to go pupil-free, and the result achieved in the ACT was the best in the country and had been extremely well supported by the community.
”We’re being told by the medical experts and various leaders that there is the need for safe distancing and social isolation,” Mr Fowler said.
”That can be achieved by having the vast bulk of students working from home and a minority of students on-site with volunteers working with them and having the best possible safety conditions and personal protective equipment, and that’s what will be delivered in the ACT.”
If the situation changes, teachers would reassess the situation.
ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry remains adamant that remote learning will begin in Term 2, saying the government’s approach balances a range of factors including the health advice, but also the practicalities of administering school education.
”The most equitable approach for all students is to deliver a consistent online and remote method of learning,” she said. ”This will enable teachers to focus on facilitating high-quality learning for all students regardless of where they are located. It also means that teachers are not required to deliver multiple versions of learning.”
She said investment in technology such as universal free access to Chromebooks for public school students in grades 4 to 12 meant the ACT was in a strong position to deliver online lessons.
The Education Directorate was gauging the demand for in-school care for families who are not able to have their children at home so it could decide which sites would stay open.
”Remote learning is being delivered by a child’s usual school and teachers, who knows their students best,” Ms Berry said.
”Teachers will also stay connected to families to make sure students are receiving the right supports and will adjust the approach as needed.”
ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations President Kirsty McGovern-Hooley said a more united approach and a single, clear message from all levels of government would be appreciated.
She said the Term 2 arrangements for ACT schools were a reasonable response to a range of competing needs.
”Schools are juggling multiple needs: kids staying home to flatten the curve, being there for vulnerable students, accommodating students of essential workers, as well as the health of staff and students. It’s a complex puzzle,” she said.
Some parents agreed with the Prime Minister but many more parents wanted their children to stay home and had taken the ‘stay home’ message very seriously, she said.
“Parents, like Scott Morrison, are concerned about the effects on learning, especially for vulnerable students. It is really worrying because the current situation will exacerbate existing disadvantage and difficulties,” Ms McGovern-Hooley said. ”But we are seeing ACT public schools doing a great job reaching out, connecting, teaching and motivating learning.”
She urged parents who need to send their children to school to complete the government form detailing their needs so they could get the support they need.