24/04/2020 - 15:11

Teachers union defiant on social distancing

24/04/2020 - 15:11

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The State School Teachers’ Union of WA is encouraging parents to keep students home where possible, highlighting increasing divisions over the state government’s plans to recommence face-to-face learning next week.

Public schools will resume face-to-face learning in term two

The State School Teachers’ Union of WA is encouraging parents to keep students home where possible, highlighting increasing divisions over the state government’s plans to recommence face-to-face learning next week.

That comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today after a meeting of the national cabinet that, on advice from medical advisors, standard social distancing protocols do not apply to classrooms.

"The advice cannot be more clear than that," Mr Morrison said.

"The four square metre rule, and the 1.5m distancing between students during classroom activities is not appropriate and not required."

The state government's plan to embark on a reopening of schools on Wednesday will see remote learning packages continue for students who opt-in, and face-to-face learning for students who go to school, with a review of that strategy scheduled for the third week of term.

Mr McGowan has repeatedly said he would like to see a return to face-to-face learning and has said he will be sending his children to school in term two.

SSTUWA president Pat Byrne has publicly pushed back on aspects of this plan, and has repeatedly said that social distancing rules will be difficult to maintain, given the size of classrooms.

In a statement released this morning, the SSTUWA said that social distancing could only be maintained if classes had limited student attendance, and encouraged parents to continue to keep their children at home.

“This will help teachers to make schools as safe as possible for students and staff,” the statement read.

“Our state’s school teachers are committed to educating our children.

“Teachers support the managed return of face-to-face teaching, as part of an approach which is consistent with the gradual easing of social distancing requirements by government.

“Support them by keeping your kids home if you can – then we can make schools as safe as possible until we can all be back at school together.”

The SSTUWA’s call for a more measured return to face-to-face learning comes after repeated calls by Ms Byrne for at-risk teachers to be supplied with PPE, an idea that has consistently been rejected by Education Minister Sue Ellery and her federal counterpart, Dan Tehan.

It also follows a survey by SSTUWA which showed more than 70 per cent of 7,451 respondents revealed they were not confident at all with the state government's decision to return to face-to-face learning.

More than 40 per cent of respondents said they feel unsafe under the McGowan government's plan, while around 60 per cent said their workload had increased significantly as a result of trying to balance face-to-face and online learning techniques.

Australian Medical Association of WA president Andrew Miller has told Business News that he supports teachers being able to access PPE if they feel it is necessary to do so.

“Once people feel more secure about the other arrangements at a school, and they see the cleaning and the hygiene, and see the case numbers stay low and the community spread stay low, I think you’d find the consumption of it [won’t be] very high, but of course we should provide it if they want it,” he said.

The conflict also highlights deeper divisions in the education sector over whether students should return to face-to-face learning next Wednesday.

Some independent and private schools for instance have said they will not follow the lead of public schools in resuming face-to-face learning, with Catholic Education Western Australia saying it would only resume face-to-face learning for students in year 11 and 12.

In response to that news yesterday, Mr McGowan was defiant, saying parents were entitled to reduced school fees if private schools did not offer face-to-face learning.

“Parents should be able to call the schools and ask for a discount; I think that’s entirely reasonable,” he said.

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