Explainer: Why NSW schools are still open

 

Public school principals from around the state will dial into a teleconference this afternoon with Department of Education chief Mark Scott to learn what schooling will look like in the months ahead.

It is understood Mr Scott will iron out the nuts and bolts of online learning and how teachers may deliver lessons online.

He will walk them through the Department of Education's updated policies around online learning, which bureaucrats have been rushing to create over the last week.

The Department's website has also been overhauled to now include information for principals, teachers and parents to deliver key advice around online learning.

Education chief Mark Scott is readying NSW’s schools for a new era of remote teaching. Picture: AAP
Education chief Mark Scott is readying NSW’s schools for a new era of remote teaching. Picture: AAP

It tells parents that schools will use a combination of email, Office 365, G Suite for Education and Adobe Connect while others will use more old school ways of learning.

"Where digital or online options are not available schools may use non-digital, offline strategies. These methods of teaching could include sending worksheets, textbooks or USB drives containing digital worksheets and videos to your home via the mail."

The move comes as Australia's top public health and infectious disease specialists "strongly support" keeping schools open at this time because there is no evidence of significant illness or outbreaks of coronavirus among children and shutting down threatens their wellbeing.

The consensus view of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which includes every state and territory chief medical officer, a panel of disease and modelling specialists and is headed by Chief Medical Officer Prof Brendan Murphy, is that Australia's schools should not close down now.

 

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy heads the AHPPC. Picture: AAP
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy heads the AHPPC. Picture: AAP

The committee published its recommendations after meeting on Sunday before the National Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, considered the advice in a tense late night meeting and opted to keep schools open but allow parents to withdraw students if they wanted.

In its reasoning the AHPPC stated it does not support the closure of schools "given the lack of evidence of significant disease in children and the lack of reported major disease spreading in schools".

In a statement the AHPPC said school closures were likely to be "more effective" when approaching the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic and enforced for a shorter period.

The committee also argued closing schools long term posed a "major risk" to children's education, mental health and wellbeing.

"Particularly those from low socio-economic regions, where schools provide an important environment for nutrition and learning," the statement said.

Home schooling is becoming a reality for many children. Picture: Craig Mitchelldyer
Home schooling is becoming a reality for many children. Picture: Craig Mitchelldyer

"The impact on the critical workforce and potential exposure of elderly relatives caring for children is also of significance."

The AHPPC said school closures would achieve "some degree" of additional social distancing, but the evidence of its benefit at this stage "is minimal".

"AHPPC views schools as an essential service and strongly supports keeping schools open," the statement said.

The committee recognised there were "significant opportunities" to improve social distancing within schools, and committed to working with the sector to provide more advice.

"AHPPC will continue to review developing evidence regarding the effect of the disease in children and the role of children in the transmission of the virus."

The committee's recommendations were made despite the NSW Government urging people to keep their children home.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian stopped short of closing schools across the state but advised parents to look at alternatives to sending their children to school for the remainder of term one.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has refused to close schools at this time. Picture: AAP
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has refused to close schools at this time. Picture: AAP

"Because nearly 30 per cent of children are already being kept out of school, for practical reasons NSW is encouraging parents to keep their children at home," Ms Berejiklian said on Monday morning.

"This will ensure there is only one unit of work, whether the student is at home or at school.

"No child will be turned away from school."

Ms Berejiklian has been criticised for creating confusion among parents, with three separate pieces of advice being issued within a 24-hour period and people questioning why schools are being kept open if the advice now is to keep children home.

Meanwhile, the total number of coronavirus cases in NSW rose to 669 overnight, with another record increase in daily infections.

Since yesterday, 136 people were diagnosed with the disease, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.

She said 65 of those new cases were contracted in NSW.

Originally published as Explainer: Why NSW schools are still open



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