Government advice on whether students should attend schools amid the ongoing coronavirus situation varies widely across Australia, and has sometimes led to confusion and controversy.
- States and territories are using a variety of school attendance policies to keep people safe and maintain education during the coronavirus pandemic
- Victoria continues to discourage parents from sending kids back to school, but New South Wales and Queensland are conducting staged returns
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants all public schools to return to in-person education by next month
Both New South Wales and Queensland today announced staged approaches to reopening their schools, but Victoria is standing firm about recommending against students returning to classrooms.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants all public schools to return to face-to-face learning by June.
Yesterday, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan accused Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of taking a “sledgehammer” to the state’s education sector by refusing to reopen schools — comments he rescinded hours later.
Meanwhile, some states have never had restrictions on school attendance.
Here’s the latest on when schools will reopen in your state or territory, if they haven’t already.
New South Wales
The New South Wales Government wants students to attend one day a week from May 11 — the third week of term two.
For now, schools are open for students who need to attend but, where practical, parents are encouraged to keep their children at home.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said year 12 students would be the priority when public schools resume face-to-face teaching next week.
They will attend full-time, while for other students there will be a staggered reopening.
“We anticipate next week that whilst most years will have a day or two of tuition, the vast majority of high schools have catered for extra classes for year 12, which is a very positive sign,” Ms Berejiklian said today.
The NSW Government said the phased approach would mean “there are a smaller number of students at school each day, providing more space to spread out”.
Health authorities closed Warragamba Public School, west of Sydney, for cleaning today after a seven-year-old boy tested positive for coronavirus.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced a partial resumption of schools from next week, with kindergarten, prep, year 1 and years 11 and 12 to return to school on May 11.
The State Government said it would reassess the situation on May 15 and that, if everything had gone to plan, all students would return to classrooms later in the month.
“If low transmission rates continue, students from years 2 to 10 will be able return from May 25,” Education Minister Grace Grace said.
The Premier said the plan was subject to change if there was an increase in coronavirus cases, or any new cases of community transmission or localised outbreaks.
“We know how important the early years are, and especially the senior school years,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“This has been an issue for a lot of people and I know it’s been really tough on parents at home.”
Ms Grace said it was essential for anyone who was unwell to stay away from schools.
About 97 per cent of Victorian state school students are studying from home.
The State Government’s advice is that “all students who can learn from home must learn from home” — however, students who cannot learn at home can attend their regular schools.
While state schools are prepared to deliver classes online for all of term two, Premier Daniel Andrews said he was “open” to allowing students to return to classrooms before term three if medical evidence supported the move.
Meadowglen Primary School, in Melbourne’s north, is closed today after a teacher tested positive to coronavirus.
The teacher at the Epping school returned a positive test to COVID-19 on Saturday and parents, carers and staff were notified yesterday morning.
The school will be closed for three days so it can be thoroughly cleaned and contact tracing can occur.
About 60 per cent of West Australian public school students returned to the classroom for the first day of term two last week, in what Premier Mark McGowan acknowledged was a “traumatic” time for parents, children and school staff.
Mr McGowan and Education Minister Sue Ellery said children should be encouraged to attend, but that parents had the option to keep them home if they wished.
Year 11 and 12 students were strongly advised to attend.
The Association of Independent Schools (WA) executive director Valerie Gould said independent schools that had encouraged full attendance had reported a strong turnout of students but some were only opening for certain groups of students, such as years 11 and 12.
Catholic schools are encouraging year 11 and 12 students to attend school.
However, students from kindergarten to year 10 will continue with remote or online learning for at least the first four weeks of term, regardless of whether they attend class or not.
Term two started last week, with health authorities assuring parents it was safe for students to return, after earlier facing accusations of mixed messaging.
South Australia’s Education Minister, John Gardner, expected the majority of students would return to face-to-face learning this term.
More than two-thirds of South Australian public school students attended classes in person last week, according to the State Government.
It is a big increase on the attendance rate at the end of term one, when barely a third of enrolled students were at school for face-to-face classes.
“A face-to-face learning environment gives them the opportunity to talk to their friends, to be able to access their teachers directly and utilise the learning environment that a school provides,” Mr Gardner said.
He said 23 per cent of students were learning from home in week one, but most of them are expected to return to face-to-face learning this week.
Schools in the Barossa Valley were closed for over a month due to two clusters of positive cases linked to tour groups.
“It’s been lonely here, working away and walking around the yard during the day, even our resident magpies were like ‘where is everyone?’ It’s just great to see everyone back,” St Jakobi Lutheran School principal Julian Helbig said.
Physical attendance rates at schools around the state have hovered around 20 per cent since the start of term two.
Premier Peter Gutwein today reiterated that parents should keep their children at home if they could.
“We will keep this under review as we work through the second term, but [those] remain the rules today,” he said.
Schools in Tasmania’s north-west reopened today, after a three-week coronavirus lockdown in response to a COVID-19 outbreak in the North West Regional Hospital.
Tasmania’s Education Department is prioritising a return to classrooms for early years and senior secondary students.
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said school sites were safe but schools remain mostly closed to limit the movement of people in the community.
He told ABC Radio Hobart today the department had a recovery team working on plans to return students to classrooms when possible.
“They’re actually focusing on the areas of early years education and [years] 11 and 12 because we recognise that [for] 11-12 students, particularly our year 12 students, it’s tough enough anyway,” he said.
In the national capital, a handful of private schools will begin face-to-face classes next week.
But no return date has been set for public schools, which had planned to teach remotely for all of term 2.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has since indicated a softening of that approach, saying he would have more to say on Friday.
One approach under consideration is introducing classes for younger children first — starting with kindergarten, or year 7 in high schools — and gradually opening schools to older students.
But Mr Barr has ruled out the New South Wales model of one-day-a-week lessons, saying the hybrid system would not work.
“We need simple and clear arrangements in place,” he said.
Public school students returned to remote learning last week, with nine “hub” schools providing supervision to children of essential workers.
Just over 2,000 students — fewer than 5 per cent of public school enrolments — were registered to attend one of these hub schools, which are located across Canberra in Amaroo, Mawson and Majura, among other suburbs.
Mr Barr previously said the ACT had the nation’s best remote-learning system “by a country mile”, including free computers and internet access for students who need it.
All schools are open and Chief Minister Michael Gunner has said students are expected to attend.
Schools have been asked to take extra hygiene measures, including increased handwashing, avoiding handshakes, and for school principals to “reconsider” all excursions during term two.
There have been no COVID–19 cases in Northern Territory schools.