Return to school begins mid-month

Parents and students on the Central Coast have welcomed the announcement of an earlier return to face-to-face teaching in the region, with a staggered return for the region’s schoolchildren to begin on October 18, a week earlier than first announced.

From October 18, students in Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 12 will go back to school, with Years 2, 6 and 11 to follow from October 25 and November 1 to see the return of Years 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

The earlier return was announced by former Premier Gladys Berejiklian just days before her resignation, with faster vaccination rates than expected leading to the change.

“We have been clear that a return to school should begin once the state passed 70 per cent fully vaccinated, and thanks to the incredible efforts from the people of NSW, we will reach that milestone sooner than expected,” Berejiklian said.

While some regional schools returned on October 5, the Central Coast, along with other regions still under lockdown, will stick to the staggered return from October 18.

“Managing a return in a school system the size of NSW’s is not a small task,” Berejiklian said.

“Keeping the staged approach, but moving it all one week earlier, allows schools to shift their plans forward and still provides time for staff and eligible students to get vaccinated.”

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, Sarah Mitchell, said an additional week of quality face-to-face learning for students is worth having and can be achieved in a safe and sensible way.

“Bringing the return forward allows schools to keep their plans for a staggered return, and provides time for staff to get their second dose,” Mitchell said.

“From October 18, all staff that need to be on site must be fully vaccinated.

“I know there remain some concerns in the community around a return to school, but students, staff and parents should feel confident that this approach allows enough time to make schools as COVID safe as possible.”

The final date for staff to receive two doses of the COVID vaccine remains November 8, unless staff have a medical exemption.

The public health advice for parents to keep their children home from early childhood education and care services where possible will also be lifted from October 18.

Central Coast Council of P&Cs (CCCP&C) spokesperson, Sharryn Brownlee, said lockdown has been a very stressful time for students, as they missed their classmates and shared learning as well as the important socialisation that happens daily in schools.

“They have also missed having their teacher to support them with school work,” Brownlee said.

“It has also been very stressful for parents as they juggled competing demands of family, work and schooling.

“Try as parents might, most are not teachers and they cannot replace the interaction and collegiality, as well as the stability and structure of school and the classroom.

“The days have been topsy turvy and uncertain, especially this time through the recent COVID lockdown.

“Some students have been keeping up with online and paper based lessons provided by the school but, many have struggled.

“Some struggled from the lack of technology, others from poor, or no internet, some unable to find a quiet place to work around younger and older siblings, as well as parents not being able to help them as they were also trying to work from home.

“A week does matter, and being back at school sooner will allow extra time to assess where children are in their learning and what measures are needed to help them.

“Parents are very pleased to see the high rate of teacher vaccination and pleased it is mandatory.

“With the end of the year approaching, students and parents are worried that children may be left behind but much has been done to ensure there are extra staff and extra resources available in every school for every child to help them settle in and catch up.

“Across the country and across the world, we have seen that most children are very resilient, and with parent and teacher support, students of all ages can look to their future with confidence.”

Not everyone is happy with the decision, with the Independent Education Union, which represents 32,000 teachers and support staff in the non-government sector frustrated by the lack of consultation with principals, teachers and school support staff through their union.

NSW/ACT Branch Acting Secretary, Carol Matthews, said there are no government guidelines in place about ventilation and air filtration in schools and the NSW Government, unlike the Victorian Government, is not funding non-government schools to achieve improvements.

“NSW non-government schools are only just starting to take steps in this area,” she said.

She said the union is also concerned about the potential for outbreaks in schools and what this will mean.

“Will impacted schools need to close again, leading to more disruption?” she said.

Terry Collins

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