Parents’ next concern as school’s out, maybe for winter
QUEENSLAND students could miss months inside the classroom as schools scramble to prepare for remote learning, sparking fears from parents of gaps in their children's education.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday announced schools would move to pupil-free days next week ahead of the April break, to allow teachers to prepare for remote learning, but said anyone with a job would still be able to send their children to the classroom.
It comes as the Queensland Government scrambles to prepare schools for any future scenario the global COVID-19 pandemic could create, including months of remote learning.
And yesterday the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority announced one internal assessment would be cancelled out of the four required for Year 12 students, given the challenge coronavirus posed.
The pupil-free week, designed to allow teachers time to prepare for the event of long-term remote learning, sparked fears from parents that they were facing months of trying to homeschool their kids.
Own Wareham, a board member on peak not-for-profit group for parents and carers The Parenthood, said for most parents the State Government's decision provided relief because there was now clear guidance after widespread anxiety around whether schools were closing.
"Now people are turning their minds to how they will manage the fact schools may be closed for months, and there is a real concern from parents about whether the expectation is now that they have to homeschool their children," he said.
"There are new worries about how we manage that anxiety of making sure our kids still learn and still keep up their education."
But he said parents were reminding themselves the most important thing is keeping their kids safe and healthy at home, and in the long run the education system would help them cope.
Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in QLD
Ms Palaszczuk yesterday stressed that an "essential worker" was anyone currently in the workforce.
"It's not just our health workers, it's not just our emergency service workers, it's not just our police workers - it involves anyone in our workforce including people who stack shelves at Coles and Woolies and work in a range of different industries." she said.
Teachers and other school staff who are over 60 or vulnerable to the virus will not be required to have contact in the school environment and can also choose to work from home as part of the new measures.
"I think that is absolutely important," she said.
"This is an unprecedented time in our history."
The move applies to all schools in Queensland, not just state schools, and Ms Palaszczuk 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.
When asked how long the measures would be in place and if they would continue after the term break, Ms Palaszczuk said they were preparing for "every scenario".
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 had to prepare for what the potential future may be.
"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," she said.
Community kindergartens will follow suit with pupil-free days next week so that teachers can prepare remote learning and activities for children as well.
Long-day care centres and family day cares will be open but Ms Grace asked parents to adhere to strict isolation requirements and that only essential workers use the services.
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.
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.
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."
Mr 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 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.
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 hard copy.
"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," Ms Grace said.
TPAQ secretary Jack McGuire said they had been the only union calling for this measure to protect teachers and students since day one.
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.
Independent Education Union Queensland branch secretary Terry Burke said the 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.
"The resources and protocols needed to enable remote teaching and online learning require urgent confirmation," he said.
It comes as many independent schools have 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 Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said.
Brisbane mother Sarah Harpham, who was supportive of schools being open for her son Clancy, 5, said parents will have lots of support online.
"Parents have lots of groups online so there's a lot of communicating and sharing," she said.
"I'm working from home now and my husband is a pilot so he's off work so we'll be able to educate from home...it might be for a few months but we'll see how it goes and be creative."
Originally published as Parents' next concern as school's out, maybe for winter