Coronavirus crisis: WA Government tells parents to keep kids at home

Peter de KruijffThe West Australian
VideoWA Education Minister Sue Ellery says all options are on the table in regards to extending school into the summer holidays

ATAR exams could be cancelled as the McGowan Government scrambles to organise a major shift in how public school students are educated following the Easter holidays.

Mark McGowan is also calling on parents to pull their children out of school immediately if they are able to keep them at home.

“The State Government encourages families to keep their children at home if they can access the online or other resources for the education of their children to continue,” he said.

“Children of people who need their children to attend school to enable them to maintain employment and those children in vulnerable families like children living with grandparents are encouraged to attend school.”

Remainder of Term One

The final two weeks of school prior to the holidays will operate differently from each other.

From now until next Friday, April 3, children can still attend public school and go to their regular classes.

Minister for Education Sue Ellery said in the last week of school, which finishes on April 9, there would be no formal teaching.

“Schools will provide supervision only, not teaching for those students who cannot be at home because their parents require them to be there to maintain their jobs or children in vulnerable circumstances,” she said.

“While children are at home, parents and students can access the learning from home website which ... is now live and provides more than 150 eLearning resources as well as links to sites that provide a multitude of curriculum linked learning activities.

“As of yesterday there had been more than 80,000 unique people visited that site and more than 200,000 unique page views.

“To reiterate, children of people who need their children to attend school, to enable them to maintain employment and who’s children are in vulnerable families … are encouraged to attend school next week.”

Preparing for Term Two

Educators will start preparing for how they will teach after Easter during the final week of school starting April 6.

Ms Ellery said there could be a combination of online and physical teaching.

“We did a test webinar delivery… of 10 schools across WA, regional and metro, 450 students to test our capacity,” she said.

“Education in term two is most likely to look different, I think it will be a combination of physical attendance at schools – maybe some schools, maybe all schools – plus a combination of distance education which will be hard copy packs and online.

Education ministers from across Australia will meet tomorrow to develop a longer term educational model during the coronavirus crisis.

State School Teachers’ Union of WA president Pat Byrne said the government’s plan for the last two weeks of school was unworkable.

“It is not possible for schools to make plans to accommodate students when they have no idea how many are actually going to turn up,” she said.

“They will not know how many classrooms they’ll need or what lesson plans will be required until they arrive at school each day.

“In addition, they have no clarification on how social distancing measures can be implemented in classrooms if they don’t know how many students will be there.

Ms Byrne said WA should follow the same example as Victoria and Queensland by implementing pupil free days from March 30 across the school system with the exception of at-risk students and the children of essential workers.

ATAR exams under a cloud

One of the most pressing issues for schools across the country is whether ATAR exams will be conducted towards the end of the year.

Ms Ellery said the matter was a priority and the government wanted to ensure no Year 12 students were disadvantaged.

“(The) School Curriculum and Standards Authority … has already instructed all schools that no student will be disadvantaged, that means so far no decision has been made on cancelling exams but that is under consideration,” she said.

“It is the case schools could do an assessment of work that students complete up until the normal time for exams and grant students an ATAR ranking based on that work.

“All of those variations are being considered and worked on now.”

Vulnerable staff and students

For the moment students with disability and other vulnerable cohorts will still attend school.

“It’s a live issue balancing what those children need, what families can manage, what extra support needs to be provided,” Ms Ellery said.

The education minister said vulnerable staff in older age groups or with underlying medical conditions were being treated on a case-to-case basis.

“There are fit and healthy 70-year-olds who want to teach and are able to teach, there are 30-year-olds who have compromised immune systems who should stay at home so we’re managing it on the individual medical advice to each person,” Ms Ellery said.

Third child tests positive for COVID-19

Ms Ellery said another school aged child had been diagnosed with the virus.

“There is one additional student who has tested positive, that student is a primary school aged student, it is travel related,” she said.

“So that student had been in 14-day isolation in any event, so was not in any contact with anyone else at the school they had attended so health has not instructed the closure of that school.

“Health has not instructed the closure of that school.

“Child care continues, out of school care continues.”

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