Content: Systemic school closures | This in not 'business as usual" | Vulnerable teachers | Lack of access to cleaning and health products | Year 11 and 12 students | Provision of school work to absent students | Teachers in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities | Special schools | Other issues | The pandemic | NAPLAN | QTU membership – 31 March 2020
The issue of systemic school closure is on the agenda of the National Cabinet meeting today (20 March).
The Presidents of the QTU, the AEU nationally, and the Presidents of state and territory public sector teacher unions have written to all the members of the National Cabinet outlining the range of issues that need to be addressed in considering the operation or closure of schools, both in the short term and the longer term. A copy of the letter, including the identified concerns of members of the Union, is available here.
The QTU is actively pursuing the issues raised with us by members, measures to ensure the workplace health and safety of teachers and principals, and whether schools should be open or closed.
We anticipate that the National Cabinet will make decisions about whether to close schools or keep schools open on the basis of what they believe will produce the best outcome, based on expert advice. We will continue to demand explanation and justification of their decisions on behalf of members. [back to top]
We all appreciate the soothing nature of routine in times of stress and crisis. The re-opening of schools is an important aspect of the return to normality for students after, for example, natural disasters.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is unprecedented in its current and likely effect on Australia and on schools.
If schools are closed, it is more likely to be for a period of months than weeks. This has a number of implications for schools, teachers and principals.
All goals for school improvement, new programs, student results etc. will have to be recalibrated once the extent and impact of the COVID-19 national emergency is fully understood.
The high rates of student absenteeism that are being reported and the growing numbers of teachers on leave and unreplaceable simply emphasise the point. The operations of schools, while they remain open, should reflect a variation to their operation that prioritises health and safety.
A number of practical examples of this are addressed below.[back to top]
Many teachers will be more vulnerable to infection by the coronavirus by reason of chronic illness or suppressed immune systems as a result of medical treatment. These teachers should consult their doctors. Where the doctor issues a certificate confirming that the teacher should not risk infection, sick leave will be approved.
In instances where a teacher cares for a vulnerable child or vulnerable parents, doctor certification would result in carers’ leave being available.[back to top]
The department says that it has stockpiles of cleaning products, including tissues, hand sanitisers etc. Schools, including special schools, have been reporting shortages or having run out of necessities. Over the past week, the QTU has repeatedly pursued these cases with the department. The department has acknowledged transport difficulties that are now, it says, resolved, with special schools and special education programs receiving priority.
Leaving aside the issue of social distancing that has been repeatedly raised, the QTU’s view is that any school that does not have the supplies necessary to practice simple hygienic practices to ensure the health and safety of workers and students should be closed.
Should schools not have adequate supplies of cleaning and hygiene products, they should advise their regional office and request supplies. If these are not prioritised, they should report it on MyHR and inform the QTU. The QTU is willing to issue a directive to members in any school where adequate supplies of cleaning and hygienic products are not available.
Through QTU advocacy, the Minister announced last night additional hours of cleaning to be provided to all schools. These hours will enable cleaners to work progressively across the day. The department is also working to secure additional suppliers to ensure schools have access to hygiene and cleaning products.[back to top]
School closure for an extended period of time will have consequences for the completion of studies, assessment and certification of year 11 and particularly year 12 students.
The QTU has raised this with the QCAA through QTU Vice-President Cresta Richardson, who is a member of the QCAA board. The QCAA is undertaking scenario planning around a range of possibilities that will be reported to a board meeting in the next week. Advice to schools from the QCAA will follow.[back to top]
The Director-General has now made it clear that there is NO expectation for teachers to provide school work to students who have been withdrawn by parents as a precaution. In this matter the department responded quickly to the concerns raised by teachers, principals and the QTU.
The question of the provision of school work to students in the event of systemic school closure is one that has not yet been determined. Distance education materials and a range of other possibilities including apps (which may or may not be legal given government procurement processes) and prioritisation of subjects have all been suggested.
The QTU’s position is that whatever is to be done must be determined and resourced centrally, after full consultation with the Union and practising teachers and principals, and not simply pushed onto principals to resolve in 1,200+ locations across the state.
Under the terms of the employment directive concerning the pandemic, teachers and principals will continue to be paid but may be directed to work, including at other locations. A meeting concerning this is being held today.
The QTU is very conscious of the exacerbation of existing educational disadvantage as a result. This is explicitly stated in the correspondence of public sector teacher unions to the National Cabinet.[back to top]
Because of the heightened vulnerability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders due to the higher incidence of chronic medical conditions (the health side of Close the Gap), bans are being considered on travel to and from some communities. This potentially affects the movement of teachers during the autumn school vacation at Easter.
It is intolerable that teachers should be prevented from leaving communities during the school vacation period. If the community places restrictions on or refuses the re-entry of teachers after the vacation, that is a matter for the community.
There is discussion of an exemption from travel bans for essential services and the inclusion of teachers within that definition.
Whatever the case, the QTU is insisting that teachers and principals be free to leave at the school vacation.[back to top]
The QTU has been working with the department to address the health and safety concerns expressed by teachers and school leaders in special schools.
The department is working toward delivering:
- additional cleaning staff to special schools, which will include cleaning staff working throughout the day
- hygienists working with cleaners in special schools to identify high contact surfaces and the processes to ensure these are cleaned regularly
- prioritising supplies of hygiene and cleaning products to special schools
- personal protective equipment including face masks for special schools
- procedures to address special school students who present as unwell.
Some special schools have already accessed these additional measures. Advice regarding the finalisation of these processes will be sent to members in special schools as they occur.[back to top]
The answers to a number of questions are pending:
- sending children home when they are sick with COVID-19-like symptoms
- students with parents in self-isolation who are suspected of not observing the protocols
- relaxation of student absence follow ups given the level of absenteeism.[back to top]
Since the pandemic began, the QTU has been advocating for members nationally with the federal government and special National Cabinet, directly with the Queensland Government and the Department of Education, and locally with regional offices, at the school and individual level. We will continue to work with and for members to ensure that your workplace health and safety and industrial conditions are protected in these trying times.[back to top]
The QTU campaign to stop NAPLAN in 2020 has achieved its goal without the need to direct members to stop working on NAPLAN.
On Thursday 19 March, QTU President Kevin Bates called for NAPLAN to be abandoned in 2020 in light of the national emergency.
The Education Council met on 20 March and considered recommendations from Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace for NAPLAN to be suspended in 2020. Education Council has approved to proposal. NAPLAN will not occur in 2020. [back to top]
To maintain your financial status as a QTU member, dues are payable by 31 March, if you are paying by lump sum.
The QTU has been the industrial and professional voice of Queensland teachers for 131 years.
Any members who is having financial difficulties paying should contact the Union so that financial arrangements can be made, and you can maintain full rights and benefits of QTU membership. [back to top]
Authorised by Kate Ruttiman, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union
21 Graham Street, Milton, QLD, Australia, 4064
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