Early return disrespects teachers

This morning’s announcement by Premier Dominic Perrottet shows once again this Government’s complete disrespect for the teaching profession and the work that they do.

For the third time, and the second time in the space of a week, the complex and careful planning for the safe return of all teachers and students to the classroom has been thrown into disarray.

For the third time, this change has occurred without any prior consultation with the profession.

Premier Perrottet said this morning that the Government wants to provide “certainty” and “stability” for the community in relation to the roadmap out of lockdown.

Clearly, this does not apply to school operations.

To underscore the disrespect demonstrated to teachers, the Secretary of the Department of Education held an all-staff webinar just yesterday afternoon after school without a word regarding the new timetable for return.

The so-called staggered return is now in tatters.

Last week’s announcement that the staggered return would be brought forward a week from 25 October to 18 October was not without its challenges for school operations.

Today’s change, which will put students onsite on 25 October, magnifies those challenges significantly.

It beggars belief that, having failed to prioritise teachers for vaccination roll out, the Government has announced the return of all students when only 85 per cent of staff are fully vaccinated, a full two weeks ahead of the original deadline of 8 November when the Public Health Order mandate comes into effect.

It beggars belief that, having failed to commence an audit of the ventilation requirements of schools until two weeks ago, this Government will now demand a full return two weeks ahead of schedule when the audit is incomplete and the necessary rectification works may not have yet begun in many instances, if any.

The three-stage staggered return was to provide schools with time to manage cohorts safely and ensure physical distancing while the health and safety settings were being tested and adjusted.

These are work health and safety matters that the Department must address in all school settings noting physical distancing is near impossible and particularly so in primary schools where children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, cannot physically distance and are not required to wear masks.

Most egregiously, the HSC examinations will be placed at risk. Whereas under the original plan year 12 students were going to be onsite for two weeks full time with few other students, now they and their teachers, their families and communities will be put at risk of exposure just weeks before their examination.

While it is the case that the vast majority of year 12 students and their teachers will be vaccinated, vaccination is not the only method of mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Federation is meeting with the Department this afternoon.