Consult profession over back-to-school roadmap, President tells COVID inquiry

Federation has condemned the Department of Education’s decision to hire a consultant from KPMG without any experience in school operations or public health to design a back-to-school plan for NSW in the place of consulting with teachers.

President Angelo Gavrielatos told the state parliamentary inquiry into the Government’s handling of the COVID pandemic that teachers had only learned about the plan through the media.

“It beggars belief that we’re seeing this approach taken in relation to the road map,” Mr Gavrielatos told the inquiry by video link.

“The experience and expertise lie within; it’s with our teachers and principals, all of whom know a thing or two, or three, about how to run a school, and the intricate operations, the complexities of running a school.

“The road map can only be developed in consultation with the profession and the other important part of that is, it is so necessary with regard to trust and confidence in moving forward in what is a very difficult set of circumstances with the pandemic.”

Mr Gavrielatos put on record how shocked teachers were to hear through the media on 27 July the Government’s “premature, ill-conceived” decision to return all HSC students on 16 August.

Through persistent representations by Federation, the Government has since backed down on its decision and has opted for HSC trials, where they are administered, to be conducted remotely, with limited access to schools by students outside the 11 locked down local government areas.

“It defied logic, it defied the health advice, it defied science and … that decision was taken without any prior consultation with the profession,” he said.

“We were shocked and appalled because only a few days earlier the Premier had announced a national emergency against the backdrop of ever-increasing cases … and very disturbingly these cases are impacting our young people; 27 per cent of all infections are amongst people under the age of 19.

“We want our students back, no one wants them back more than teachers, after their parents of course, but we want them back when it’s safe.”

Mr Gavrielatos told the Public Accountability Committee that teachers were “further appalled” by comments by Education Minister Sarah Mitchell on the same day there were 239 recorded COVID cases.

Ms Mitchell was quoted as saying: “I find it disappointing that organisations who should put the interests of students first are effectively lobbying for the HSC cohort in Greater Sydney to stay at home and missing out on the opportunity of face-to-face teaching.”

Mr Gavrielatos told the hearing: “I put it on record that offends us to the core.

“We became teachers because of our belief in the transformative power of education and what it means to each child, family and their communities.

“We remain ready to work constructively [with the Government], noting this is a pandemic. There is no rule book, there is no blueprint … on that necessary road map to see the return in one form or another of our students when it is safe to do so.”