QTU members' newsflash No.14-20, 17 April 2020 | DOWNLOAD PDF
To QTU Members
TERM TWO – COVID-19 AND SCHOOL OPERATIONS
In this issue : Term 2 2020 Operating Guidelines Queensland Schools | Working from home/vulnerable workers | Curriculum and supervision | On-site health and safety measures | Special schools, SEPs, ECDPs | Students eligible to attend | Returning to rural and remote areas | Supply and temporary teachers |Specialist teachers and specialist services | All staff mandatory training | Thinking about workload | Thinking about life after the pandemic | QTU support and operations | QTU membership
QTU teacher and principal members accomplished an amazing feat in Week 10 of Term 1: the re-engineering of the education process – moving it from the traditional model of schooling to remote learning, supplemented where feasible by on-line learning. Even with student free days, it was an extraordinary accomplishment.
Teachers and principals never seem to lack critics; but I defy any of those critics to achieve what you already have.
It will not be perfect. The timelines precluded perfection. And most teachers and principals do not have the knowledge of the experienced distance educators in our number. But education will continue and evolve while this mode of teaching and learning continues.
No-one values the importance of learning and the value of education more than teachers and principals. Equally, even in this pandemic, we will not let our commitment and professionalism be used against us to demand the unreasonable. It is not “business as usual”.
As we were a month ago, we are balancing three competing objectives:
- the health and safety concerns of teachers and school leaders (including the working from home provisions for vulnerable teachers)
- the continued education of students
- supporting the provision of other essential services and the education of vulnerable students during the pandemic through attendance of some children..Back to top
Most of the Union’s effort during the school holidays has been directed to the negotiation, through a multitude of forums, of the operating guidelines for Term 2 that were announced by the government on 13 April.
A number of QTU suggestions and proposals have been adopted. The principal QTU proposal that has not been adopted is that the physical attendance of staff at school should be minimised. That remains the QTU’s position and the QTU will continue to pursue it with the department and the government.
The guidelines are clearer and more detailed than previous department guidance. They are a credit to their anonymous authors.
The guidelines are the end product of a long period of negotiation and discussion, including the input of expert medical opinion. They are issued by the department on behalf of the employer of all teachers and principals, the State of Queensland. They should not be cast aside, and the QTU will respond forcefully to any attempted dilution of the protections for the health and wellbeing of teachers, and of students..Back to top
The following staff should not be in the workplace and should work from home.
- Staff who are vulnerable or live with a vulnerable person, defined as:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions;
- people with compromised immune systems (see Department of Health website)
- people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions (the most current definition of “chronic medical conditions” can be found on the Department of Health website)
- people 70 years and older
- Other staff who are medically vulnerable, including those with chronic health conditions, who have a medical certificate that states that, due to COVID-19, they should not attend work at their regular workplace (this also applies if the staff member lives with a person who is medically vulnerable and holds a medical certificate that restricts their attendance at their workplace).
There has been some conjecture from members that medical certificates are not sufficient to enable an employee to work from home. That is not consistent with the operating guidelines. Decisions must be made on the basis of the medical advice of the doctor issuing the medical certificate.
The QTU believes that attendance at school should be minimised and school leaders should have the capacity to determine a schedule of attendance for members while others work from home. This is a position that we continue to advocate for with the department..Back to top
Students are expected to undertake learning at home. Students who attend school are to be supervised while they undertake the same learning program as those learning at home.
The guidelines are clear that students will be taught a modified curriculum for Term 2. The focus in P-10 is to be on English, maths, science and HPE, with up to 200 minutes of other curriculum areas to be taught in years 3-10. The department advised that a focus on HPE was introduced due to the impact of social isolation on mental health and wellbeing.
It is not expected, nor is it reasonable, that teachers provide face-to-face instruction to students from their classes who attend school while also providing learning from home instruction. This is clearly stated in the guidelines: “On- site supervision, with access to the school’s home-based learning materials, will be available at all schools for students who attend during this period.”
The guidelines refer to the time estimated for a student to undertake curriculum activity each day. Please note that the lesson duration may be shorter. Advice from schools of distance education who regularly provide learning at home for students is that a teacher is not required to be online for the duration of a school day.
Term 2 is not business as usual and the intent of the guidelines is to identify this. It is not necessary or in line with the guidelines for timetabled classes, as they existed prior to term two, to continue.
The guidelines clearly state that schools will communicate with students and their parents/carers about how and when they will receive learning materials and teacher feedback, including a schedule for students on when they are expected to complete the learning tasks (N.B. the reasonable frequency of contact with students and parents/carers is a matter of on-going discussion).
Health and safety expectations in relation to returned work should also be considered. As the virus remains on surfaces for up to 24 hours, it is reasonable for the collection and subsequent marking of work to occur after this time has passed since it was received at school.
Principals/supervisors will assign responsibilities to all teaching staff and other staff members. Teaching staff are expected to “continue to monitor the learning and wellbeing of their students, whether learning at school or at home.”
The program of learning for senior secondary differs from that prescribed in the guidelines for P-10. The department has committed to continue to work with the QCAA to provide schools with advice regarding years 11 and 12..Back to top
The Term 2 operating guidelines identify the following measures to mitigate the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 in schools:
- putting in place arrangements to allow staff and student to regularly clean their hands
- providing access to procurement services for those schools having difficulty in obtaining hygiene products
- implementing social distancing protocols in classrooms, including limiting numbers of students in accordance with the size of the learning space
- implementing restrictions to ensure that students and families do not congregate in areas around the school
- requiring visitors to the school to maintain a social distance of 1.5 meters from each other
- unwell students and/or staff members must remain or return home
- avoiding the sharing of small office spaces and adhering to social distancing of at least 1.5 metres in staff rooms and other small spaces
- meetings involving school staff should be held via telephone or online (NB: the use of the word “should” establishes an expectation that meetings held by other means can only occur where there are exceptional circumstances, or the use of telephone or online methods are not available)
- school cleaning should prioritise those areas in use by students and staff, with extra attention to high touch point surfaces.
These measures are supported by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice on reducing the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools, which was released on Thursday 16 April.
It is the Union’s view that if adequate supplies are not available or social distancing measures required by the Term 2 School Operating Guidelines are not feasible, school operations should be suspended until they are. An example might be where too many students attend.
Please contact your Regional Organiser should you require assistance in relation to these matters..Back to top
In circumstances where social distancing is not possible due to the needs of the students in attendance, the school should seek other measures to mitigate the risk of the transmission of COVID-19, such as access to personal protective equipment (PPE). Access to PPE should be provided by the department where the risk cannot be mitigated by other measures in the hierarchy of controls, such as elimination, substitution and administrative practices.
The provision of PPE does not include the provision of temperature monitoring. The use of this as a control is not fail- safe. Health advice is that people may be carrying the virus without showing any signs or symptoms, may not have a temperature but still have the virus, or may be in the early stages of the virus without a temperature. Consequently, it is the advice of health practitioners that the establishment of controls such as those outlined in the Term 2 School Operating Guidelines is better at addressing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
The department has worked with the QTU to develop processes to support special schools, including cleaning across the school day with a focus on high contact areas, access to additional hygiene resources and the provision of PPE. Access to this support can be provided by contacting the Regional COVID-19 Coordinator and Regional HR staff or seeking assistance through procurement. .Back to top
The operating guidelines have been the subject of extensive discussion and consideration, taking into account a vast range of information and views. They should not be cast aside.
The students eligible to attend school for the first five weeks of Term Two are:
- children of essential workers, on days when they are not able to be supervised at home and no other arrangements can be made (essential worker means any worker who must continue to attend their workplace for essential business during this time)
- vulnerable children, including children identified by schools or who:
- are currently receiving services from Child Safety, including children who are subject to a child protection order
- are subject to a youth justice order.
- children in designated Indigenous communities.
The Queensland Government’s message in regard to school attendances is clear and consistent:
- Where school aged children can be kept at home with appropriate supervision they should be kept at home and access the school’s home-based learning materials. This is the approach wanted in response to COVID- 19 at this time.
- In circumstances where a child cannot stay at home because there is no appropriate supervision including because a parent/carer employee is performing essential work in their workplace and there are no other appropriate supervision arrangements available, or the child is within a vulnerable class of children, then supervision at the school is available for that child. Parents/carers are strongly encouraged to talk to the school principal if they have any concerns.
At the beginning of the second term, QTU members should only be required to provide supervision to those students eligible to attend school in accordance with the operating guidelines. Those guidelines are issued by the Department of Education on behalf of members’ employer, the State of Queensland. .Back to top
The government has advised that it is developing a protocol that will require all government employees returning to an identified local government area to undertake a health screening. This will cover areas in addition to Indigenous communities already covered by more stringent requirements. It is the desire of the government that the health screening occur prior to a member returning to the local government area, however if members have already returned, they will also need undertake a health screening. The outcomes of this screening may have to be produced on re- entering a local government area and a copy of the health screening form must be provided to the relevant school principal. .Back to top
To ensure continuity of learning if teachers become unwell, the operating guidelines advise principals to develop a plan to have an additional 10-20 per cent of relief staff available and trained in their school’s homebased learning approach. Temporary employees employed using school funds should have their temporary employment continued if their employment would have continued but for the COVID-19 pandemic. The QTU continues to negotiate with the department to provide support for those supply and temporary teachers whose employment are affected by the pandemic. The processes for Term 2 are yet to be finalised. .Back to top
Specialist teachers in primary and special schools are those that deliver HPE, music and languages. The department has advised that, if possible, these teachers can continue to contribute to the teaching and learning programs in their areas of discipline and also support other teachers where that is not possible.
The guidelines provide advice on how specialist support services, such as STLaNs, guidance officers, AVTs etc, may be utilised while students are learning at home.
Itinerant teachers, including those that work on a circuit, should work with their base school principal to negotiate and coordinate their program of work. In the case of a specialist teacher, this should be aligned to the ways of working of the particular specialist. Advice continues to reflect the need to minimise the movement of staff between schools, however if this occurs, the social distancing protocols and WHS measures in place at each school need to be followed. .Back to top
The department has advised that, due to the pandemic and the inability to deliver training face-to-face, the mandatory training modules continue to be available online. Additionally, the date by which the training must be completed has been extended to 30 June. .Back to top
The sustainable reduction of workload remains the Union’s main priority for the next year at least. Though there has been little opportunity recently to focus on workload reduction, the changes forced on schools by COVID-19 present a curious opportunity.
In redesigning delivery of education for remote learning, teachers and principals have made a lot of choices about what is essential and what is not, and what is important and what is not.
Some of the things discarded should return as part of the new normal after the pandemic. Others should remain discarded, having outlived the time of their importance or relevance.
As the QTU quoted in a previous Newsflash: “There is no business as usual, everything is COVID-19”. And the Union has been focused on the minute detail of what school operations will look like in 1,250 locations across the state in Term 2.
The pandemic will be with us for some time yet. Is it too early to think about a new normal after the pandemic is over? For it will be a new normal, not a return to the past. Have we seen, for example, the end of party canvassers outside polling booths on election day? One hopes we have not seen the last of the “democracy sausage”, but who knows?
At a national level, we have seen discussion of the need to rebuild manufacturing capacity in order to be able to produce things like medical personal protective equipment and respirators. And in spite of the Job Keeper stimulus package, there are hundreds of thousands of casual employees without any assistance because of the extreme levels of casualisation in the Australian workforce – even after the successful ACTU campaign and negotiation for wage subsidies.
Government debt will be high after the pandemic, as it should be, given the role of government in providing social security and stimulus in this combined health and economic crisis. Will the repayment of debt be left to wage earners or will corporations and investors pay a fairer share than they have in the past?
It might be too early to reach conclusions. It is not too early to observe and think about the Australia we want at the end of the pandemic. You can be sure that others are. .Back to top
The QTU has transitioned to working remotely, and all our physical offices are now closed to members and visitors. QTU employees are working remotely to provide all the information and support that they can during this time, through the Queensland Teachers Assist Desk (QTAD), through the QTU website and by other means. The level of calls has been extraordinary recently (as one would expect), and we apologise for any delays in responding to calls and emails. We trust you appreciate the great work of QTU employees who are operating in similarly demanding and uncertain situations as you. .Back to top
Earlier this year, the QTU reached 48,000 members for the first time in its proud history. Thank you for all your conversations with potential members this year.
The Term 2 School Operating Guidelines are an example of what the QTU, with its history, knowledge and organisation, can achieve for Queensland teachers and principals. The guidelines are not perfect, but the capacity to negotiate changes to the conditions for vulnerable employees, for social distancing arrangements for schools and for arrangements for supply and temporary teachers shows the value of belonging to an organisation that can make that difference.
Please consider asking your colleagues who may not be members of the QTU to join you and 48,000 others. Membership and unity is strength. ...Back to top
Authorised by Kate Ruttiman, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union
21 Graham Street, Milton, QLD, Australia, 4064