All educators across Victoria have been working hard to adapt to sweeping and unprecedented changes in the way we deliver learning, but principals, teachers and support staff working in specialist settings have faced some very particular challenges.
The AEU has been in discussions about the best way to address these issues, with help from our outstanding HSR and sub-branch reps and AEU members in these schools.
One key issue is school transport, as the vast majority of students who attend specialist schools use school bus transport. The AEU worked with our members and with the Department of Education and Training (DET) to ensure that additional cleaning and hygiene protocols were put in place for the duration of the pandemic and to ensure that protective elements such as distancing and cleaning of high-touch surfaces occurred.
Social distancing is another particular challenge for students in specialist settings. Students in these settings sometimes struggle to understand these types of restrictions. In addition, it is often necessary for staff to be in close proximity for educational, wellbeing and medical reasons.
We raised this issue with various areas of DET, with the Minister for Education and with WorkSafe to ensure that any risks were minimised for our members while undertaking their work with students on-site.
Given that the nature of the work our members undertake in specialist settings is different to the work in mainstream settings, the protocols and equipment must reflect these differences. We have ensured that DET provides additional personal protective equipment to specialist schools and that OHS advice and guidance is in place, including a risk assessment of safety protocols when students are intending to attend on-site.
We will continue to hold weekly meetings with DET and WorkSafe to discuss particular matters pertaining to special school staff. We have recently hosted a dedicated webinar for special school members and are continuing to provide advice both for sub-branches and for individual members.
As we discuss potential plans for a return to on-site learning, we will ensure that any proposals consider the needs of our staff in specialist settings and the particular arrangements they require to support their students.
For advice, please contact the Member Support Centre on [email protected] or call 03 9417 2822.