Queensland school students will have a pupil free week from Monday so teachers can prepare to teach remotely. Essential workers will still be able to send their children to school. This is how it will work.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced schools would move to pupil-free days from next week, although anyone with a job would still be able to send their children to school.
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“Next week Queensland schools will move to student free days … schools will remain open to allow children of essential workers and vulnerable children to remain at school,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
The ruling applies to all schools, not just state schools.
It comes as independent schools had already moved online, with some bringing forward the end of term to offer alternative learning from home next week.
“Next week will give independent school staff valuable time to test and refine their alternative learning from home arrangements and undertake important preparations for what shape school education could take from Term 2. Independent School Queensland executive director David Robertson said.
He commended school principals and the dedication of all school staff in “working closely with their communities” and doing everything in their power to safeguard student and staff health and wellbeing and maintain learning.
The pupil-free days will allow teachers to remain at work and prepare future learning materials, Ms Palaszczuk said.
Education Minister Grace Grace said Queensland did have to “prepare for what the potential future may be”.
“So from Monday the 30th of March, we will be moving to student free days, but we do stress that schools will remain open for children of essential workers, that is those who are required in the workplace,” she said.
“It is vital we remain open for these workers because we don’t want to put pressure on the economy.”
“Schools are open for essential workers and workers required in the workplace … and obviously vulnerable children will be catered for as well,” Ms Grace said.
“We are planning for all kind of scenarios… and that’s why next week is important for teachers to be given the time to plan the learning materials for what may be needed.”
Kindies will follow suit with pupil-free days next week so that teachers can prepare remote learning and activities for children as well.
Long daycare centres will be open but Education Minister Grace Grace asked parents to adhere to strict isolation requirements and that only the essential workers and workers required in their workplaces use daycare centres.
“Teachers will move to developing remote learning for students and all those learning materials for what may lie ahead,” Ms Grace said.
The Palaszczuk Government has until now maintained a national line that schools were safe to attend, although had told parents they may choose to keep their children at home this week if they were available to care for them there.
The Premier said the health advice that schools were safe had not changed.
“Let me give this very clear message to parents who will have their children at home next week: They should be learning from home, they should not be out in the shopping centres,” she said.
And she said they should not be visiting any grandparents with risk-factors for coronavirus.
When asked how long the measures would be in place and if they would continue after the term break, the Premier said they were preparing for “every scenario”.
Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said she was happy with the decision.
“By reducing the numbers of children at school, we can make sure our older and vulnerable teachers aren’t in classrooms and increase the amount of social distancing in our schools, so it’s the perfect solution,” she said.
The Queensland Teachers’ Union also welcomed the decision for students to be given pupil-free days and to move Queensland schools from “business as usual”.
“Teachers will be engaged in preparation and planning in their schools around remote and flexible delivery into the future should schools close as a consequence of the national response to the pandemic,” QTU president Kevin Bates said.
“Schools will continue to provide supervision for children of essential services workers and vulnerable children including those in out of home care, students with disabilities who do not have medical complications and children for whom no other appropriate care arrangements are available – for example if both parents are working and their child could be at school and supervised.”
Health Minister Steven Miles said the state could have lost up to 30 per cent of its health staff if schools had completely closed.
“It’s incredibly important that our health staff continue to be able to send their children to school,” he said.
“Modelling by our hospitals suggested if they had been unable to do that it would have potentially impacted on 30 per cent of our health workforce.
“We are already working on the basis that a proportion of our health workforce will get sick and that we will need to cover them.”
“We can also cover those that don’t have alternative arrangements for their children’s learning so it’s incredibly welcomed by our hospitals and our health staff that they will be able to continue to access schools.”
Dr Miles urged parents considering asking grandparents to look after children to consider the health of the elderly and those most vulnerable to the virus.
The pupil-free days ruling comes after the Department of Education issued all Queensland schools with two-weeks worth of school work that can be delivered online and via paper copy.
Two-week units of school work for Prep to Year 10 was made available to all Queensland schools on March 17, with subsequent rollouts of content.
Packs of school work are already available to parents and students with various activities in line with the national curriculum for each year level and answers available for parents to help them with their child’s learning.
“It’s amazing what is being developed by the department of education to assist students and families with their learning,” Ms Grace said.
Ms Grace said during the student-free week and if parents and students want to continue their learning, families can go online and access the resources, but the move would allow teachers time to prepare for the future and the event of prolonged school closures.
“It will be an early break for some students of course but what we would like to see is that some learning continues and parents access those online learning materials.”
TPAQ secretary Jack McGuire said the move to a pupil free week was a sensible measure given the public health risk to schools.
“We are the only union that has been calling for this measure to protect teachers since day one,” he said.
The Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry said Catholic schools had been planning for the possibility of implementing learning from home and were ready to support students in any learning environment for term 2.
“The scale of the pandemic response is new territory for all schools,” Dr Perry said.
“The way Catholic schools are responding is focused on providing students and families with the support they need to keep young people engaged with their learning and maintain their wellbeing.”
Independent Education Union Queensland and Northern Territory branch secretary Terry Burke said today’s announcement was critical in addressing the needs of vulnerable workers as well as providing schools enough time to develop remote learning programs given the new reality communities face.
Mr Burke said vulnerable school employees included those with underlying health conditions, those aged 60-plus, First Nations peoples aged 50-plus, those who are pregnant and those who provide care for elderly relatives within their own household.
“The resources and protocols needed to enable remote teaching and online learning require urgent confirmation,” he said.
Parents can access the Learning At Home resources through the Education Queensland website: https://education.qld.gov.au/curriculum/learning-at-home