Towards the end of April, the Deputy Premier James Merlino reiterated Victoria’s approach to schooling for Term 2, reminding school communities that students must learn from home if they can. Schools reported that, on average, less than five per cent of students are attending school on-site.
The position of the Andrews government, which the AEU supports, stands in stark contrast to the belligerent attitude of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. He and his federal education minister Dan Tehan blithely declared that on-site provision should be open to all students without adequately explaining how that could be done safely and in the context of social distancing requirements.
We know that, at some point, it will be safe for schools to resume on-site learning for the majority of students, possibly implemented via a staggered approach. The union is in ongoing discussions with the Department of Education and Training (DET) and the Deputy Premier about what a return to ‘normal’ classroom arrangements will involve.
It is more likely than not that resumption will occur with some, albeit lesser, social distancing requirements. Whatever that learning looks like, it is clear there will be many challenges ahead.
Ahead of any return to classroom-based teaching and learning, the AEU has been clear on the principles that must be met, including ensuring the health and safety of
staff, students and the broader school community; ensuring the work required of school leaders, teachers and ES is manageable and sustainable and does not result in the continuation of the significant workloads currently being experienced by many members.
Central to the union’s advocacy for members is ensuring that any timetabling and program arrangements properly manage the associated workload.
That also includes continuing to provide a high-quality teaching and learning program, either remotely or on-site. Enabling schools to be able to apply social distancing requirements, in accordance with health advice. Enabling schools to adhere to hygiene protocols, including adequate amounts of hygiene products, and regular and enhanced cleaning.
Additional services and personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided to staff in special schools, consistent with health advice and to mainstream schools where applicable. In the event of a staggered return, vulnerable and high-risk staff, as defined by the health advice, must be able to continue to work remotely.
Continuing educational provision for vulnerable children and children of essential frontline workers on-site. Clear guidelines stating that if students or staff are unwell they should not attend school, including appropriate isolation guidelines and provision of PPE consistent with health advice if a student becomes unwell at school.
Large gatherings of staff, students and parents, including staff meetings, should only occur where they are consistent with current health advice/guidelines on groups of people meeting or gathering. If not consistent, they must occur remotely via digital platforms. All staff must have access to COVID-19 testing consistent with the current health advice if they are to return to work in schools.
There should be a notice period to allow schools and staff to prepare and communicate with families about the return. To meet these principles, a phased return might be required, meaning shortened school days, shortened school weeks, revised and reduced teaching and learning programs, perhaps beginning with only selected cohorts attending.
For example, Year 12 students and prep students (of course, depending on the school setting other selected cohorts would need to be considered). It may mean limiting the number of students who attend each class, revised student supervision, staff meeting, and professional learning arrangements.
Members will immediately recognise the logistical challenges schools are likely to face. Central to the union’s advocacy for members is ensuring that any timetabling and program arrangements properly manage the associated workload. This is especially the case if there is a mix of remote and flexible provision with face to face teaching.
Members cannot be expected to deliver both modes of instruction without careful consideration about how to manage the resultant workload. This must be properly accounted for or else we will struggle to deliver high-quality learning and could see diabolical consequences for the health and wellbeing of members and students alike.