24 hours: Federation in action

Edit: Conditions have changed since this chronicle of rapidly moving events was written

At the height of government-fuelled confusion over the operation of schools as COVID-19 spiked in NSW, Federation was able achieve some clarity in the interest of all our members’ health and safety.

By Monday, 23 March, Federation had been demanding for a week that schools be given clear advice on what action to take as Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared schools were to remain open but parents were advised to keep their children at home.

The previous Tuesday, President Angelo Gavrielatos held a media conference where he described the government advice had become “conflicting, contradictory and impossible” for members to navigate, especially instructions relating to social distancing in classrooms and over-crowded school settings.

As a result of daily representations (made remotely) over that week — culminating in the 24 hours, Monday and Tuesday 23 to 24 March — Executive was able to announce today (25 March) a number of areas where progress has made with the Department to protect our members.

The Department addressed nine areas of concern raised by Federation and agreed to institute allowances on those demands. A summary of those gains follows:

1. Protection for teachers who identify as “high risk” of infection from the virus to work from home, including teachers who are pregnant

Department Secretary Mark Scott stated that any staff member who identifies as at additional risk from COVID-19 by NSW Health, or who are pregnant, are not required to attend work on site from 24 March. “These staff must be supported to work from home,” Mr Scott said.

2. Leave arrangements to care for those at home while working

Department of Premier and Cabinet announced that employees who are unable to work due to reasons related to isolation/quarantine will be able to access up to 20 days paid special leave, when:

  • caring for sick family members
  • caring for family members due to closure of schools and caring facilities, or
  • unable to attend work due to transport disruptions.

3. Pursuit of enhanced employment opportunities for casual teachers in their day-to-day teaching, as well as arrangements for their longer term employment

Mr Scott said the Department will encourage schools to engage casual teachers where colleagues are absent from school and not working from home, and there had not been a “system-wide reduction in casual engagements”.

4. Greater protections for teachers who work with vulnerable students, particularly our SSPs

“It is the position of the Department to continue providing access to education for these students while at school,” Mr Scott affirmed.

“We are taking into consideration the implication for social distancing for our staff who work closely with these students to reduce exposure and ensure their health and safety [including providing personal protective equipment].”

5. The burden of an enhanced workload during this difficult time, while students were being taught at school and others at home

“Schools are providing a single unit of work for all students whether they are on or off site,” Mr Scott said.

6. The need for support for teachers to have professional learning and time to transition to digital modes of education

Deputy Secretary Murat Dizdar informed Federation members the Department was offering professional learning to use a number of technology platforms available to teachers to support online learning.

7. Minimisation of attendance by students at school sites to ensure greater capacity to implement social distancing and compliance with work health and safety legislation while catering to the children of essential services workers and vulnerable children

Mr Dizdar advised that the Government and the Department would be encouraging parents to keep their children from 24 March, and that “the school’s doors will remain open for those students whose parents are in the essential services or who are vulnerable”. The recommendation to keep children at home was made by Ms Berejiklian at a media conference that morning.

With attendance figures falling to between 25 per cent and 30 per cent at the time, Mr Scott said: “the change in pattern of school attendance will increase the social distancing that is possible while maintaining school operations.”

8. The implementation of a model of minimal supervision with rosters to ensure education continues at schools for those who need to attend, while teachers are supported to work from home

With the number of students not at school expected to increase, Mr Scott told Federation it would enable teachers to provide appropriate supervision for those students at school, to prepare student work and engage with students working from home, and “under a rostering arrangement, work flexibly themselves”.

9. Enhancing cleaning of schools and greater hygiene

Mr Scott affirmed the Department was implementing additional procedures to care for the health and safety of staff across all sites, which included enhanced daily cleaning procedures and “additional deliveries of essential supplies to support vigilance in personal hygiene practices”.