QTU President's comment : 15 April 2020

In a remarkable turnaround, the nation’s teachers and principals have gone from being “invisible” to the Prime Minister and his government just a couple of weeks ago to finally being recognised as the essential community lynchpin we know we are. Unfortunately, this recognition comes attached to an ill-conceived appeal to parents to send their children to school, contrary to the clear decisions taken by both the Queensland and Victorian state governments that are constitutionally responsible for running their state’s schools.

In a video appeal published on social media today, the first day of a new school term in Victoria, the PM has in effect told parents to ignore the clear directions of the Victorian State Government and send their children to school. This confused and confusing message to parents will have implications for Queensland when school returns in a strictly limited fashion next week. Parents can and should rely on the advice from the Queensland Government here.

The consequences of this blunder by the PM are significant. Students, parents, teachers and principals are already confused by the rapidly changing suite of rules that are rolled out by state and federal governments on a regular basis across the weeks in response to changing COVID-19 circumstances. To assist government to insert some clarity into this complex situation, education stakeholders from across the spectrum have worked in good faith with our state government to develop a clear regimen for school operations following the Autumn break.

The message from the Queensland Premier is strong:

“We are committed to doing whatever it takes to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

“My message to every Queensland school community is very clear. Stay at home. Learn at home.”

“What this means is that from the start of Term 2, all students who can learn from home are to stay at home,”

The Premier has reiterated those messages in a press conference this morning.

Children of essential workers and vulnerable children can attend school and will be supervised while completing work set by their teachers, the same work being completed by students for whom appropriate care arrangements can be made at home.

Principals and deputy principals already have a difficult job taking the new guidelines published on Monday and making them work in schools. The PM’s message creates confusion and uncertainty for parents and will force school leaders to act as gatekeepers at school to ensure that the requirements for health and safety for all can be met by sticking with the strict limits on who can attend school for now.

Teachers and principals have worked hard to prepare work for all students. Online learning has never been a universal option and the Queensland Department of Education and schools have developed a variety of options to ensure that all students will have access to continued learning in one form or another during the COVID-19 crisis. School support staff will continue to provide support for students and teachers as they engage with the curriculum. Cleaners and school officers (facilities and grounds) will continue to keep our schools safe for all and the administration staff will continue to manage the office.

Vulnerable school workers and those living with vulnerable people will be working from home to ensure their health and safety. Additional arrangements have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of teachers and principals and school support staff who are working at school. This includes the first recognition of the importance of social distancing in schools, with strict limits on the number of students in each classroom (recognising the rule of four square metres per person) and prohibiting physical gatherings of school employees (note that the Federal Parliament has been operating within social distancing rules.)

There is much to be done by all concerned to ensure that the new way for education can be delivered in Queensland schools. The clear messages from the state government to Queensland parents are the only ones that count. Our clear message to the Prime Minister is #ButtoutPM and let us do our job in a way that keeps students, teachers, principals and other education workers safe. Their health and wellbeing is just as important as anyone else’s.

Kevin Bates

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