Student return must include safety & workload protections: Critical teaching and learning challenges require an answer
Stringent health and safety precautions will be paramount in the planned return to school by Kindergarten, Prep, Year 1, Year 11 and Year 12 students next week.
Members will not accept a situation where they are again placed on the front line of a public health emergency with inadequate safety protections. Enhanced cleaning measures and best practice safety protocols must underpin all school operations in the new week.
School staff have been placed under enormous workload pressure during the recent transition to remote learning.
The re-opening of schools to a number of year levels requires not only the management of curriculum delivery to those students now on-site but must also take into account any expectation that on-line learning will continue to be provided for vulnerable and at-home students.
Here are six things that employers must confirm ahead of the planned student return:
1. Comprehensive cleaning, hygiene and safety protections
Schools must provide an appropriate level of hand sanitiser, hand washing procedures and coughing/sneezing hygiene education in our schools.
Additional cleaning staff will be required to ensure that all high-touch surfaces and common areas are cleaned after each student cohort or separate class movement within a school.
Schools will need to be thoroughly briefed and prepared to enact health department guidelines and protocols for action should there be any suspected infection in a school community. This will include protocols for when a school site is required to close for thorough decontamination.
Employers must also have in place arrangements for the potential provision of Personal Protective Equipment for employees working in identified high-risk situations.
Read our Health and Safety in Education Workplaces Factsheet for more information.
2. Social distancing in schools
Physical distancing in schools must continue as a critical risk minimisation measure. Our Factsheet explains why.
All social distancing measures remain in place for adults – staff and parents should not congregate in common areas and a distance of 1.5 metres should be maintained. Student drop off and pick up areas should avoid any unnecessary interaction or contact.
While distancing measures are not mandated for students in classrooms – they represent a “reasonably practicable” safety intervention in line with the Workplace Health and Safety Act.
Our union strongly recommends that social distancing measures be maintained for students (some of whom will be 17 or 18 years of age in secondary schools). School arrangements, classrooms and facilities should be amended accordingly.
3. Work from home must continue for vulnerable employees
Work from home and other school-based arrangements that have been put in place to protect medically vulnerable employees must continue.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has provided clear direction as to the need for safety interventions for vulnerable employees in all workplaces – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50 years, people over 65 years with chronic medical conditions, all people over 70 years and all people with compromised immune systems.
Employees who live with, or care for, a medically vulnerable person should also seek to access work from home or other suitable arrangements.
4. Curriculum delivery of workload must be managed
School employees have managed an extraordinary transition to remote learning programs in recent weeks.
In the first instance staff must be allocated time and resources to move away from the on-line model to classroom instruction.
Classroom teachers should not be responsible for providing an alternative home-based learning program for students in Prep, Year 1, Year 11 and Year 12 where parents elect to keep these students at home. However, if a school has to make a decision to support vulnerable at-home students, then teachers should not be expected to deliver duplicate online and face-to-face classroom teaching. If this decision is made then individual staff should be allocated to the on-line mode and other staff allocated to the classroom instruction. This may require the employment of additional (casual) teachers to facilitate the delivery of the two modes.
Teachers in the affected year levels have already completed planning for the next two weeks based on remote learning - additional release time should be provided for this material to be reworked for delivery from next Monday.
5. School employers must address operational realities
This is not the time for more unilateral employer decisions.
Schools must schedule urgent discussions with their employees and IEUA-QNT Chapters to clarify operational questions.
- How will schools resolve conflicts between learn-from-home and school-based timetables, start times, breaktimes etc
- What cleaning protocols will be in place including cleaning associated with multiple class groups use of classrooms?
- How will schools balance workload expectations of staff – particularly those with a mix of senior classes and lower year levels?
- What is the decision of the school regarding school-based teaching/on-line delivery and how will staff be allocated?
- How will VET secondary subjects undertake their practical components and over what timeframes?
6. Boarding schools
Boarding schools remain without clear direction. Boarding staff require clarity on what arrangements can be confirmed for them and the boarding students.
Further advice and information will be made available to members throughout this week. Members can stay up-to date at our COVID-19 resources hub.
Our union continues to advocate strongly for the protection of all members’ health and safety as well as their livelihoods as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
IEUA-QNT Officers are ready to provide support to any member who needs specific advice via firstname.lastname@example.org or FREECALL 1800 177 938 (QLD) and FRECALL 1800 351 996 (NT)