Advice for families

From 8 November, all schools will operate on updated Level 3 settings for the remainder of Term 4.

Term 1 2022 settings are under review and will be updated as soon as possible.

Last updated 4:30 pm 26 November 2021

Video – Advice and guidance for parents and carers about the return to classrooms (duration 21:05)

A conversation between Georgina Harrisson, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, and Professor Sharon Goldfeld, Paediatrician and Director of The Centre for Community Child Health.

Georgina Harrisson

Hi there. I'm Georgina Harrisson, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education. Thank you for joining us today.

I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which I join you from. I'm here on the land of the Gadigal people, and I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging and extend those respects to our Aboriginal community members watching this broadcast.

Today, I'm delighted to be joined by Professor Sharon Goldfeld. Sharon is a paediatrician and the Director of the Centre of Community Child Health at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. She has played a key part in understanding the impact of COVID-19 on our children and on our students. And I'd like to thank Sharon for joining us today. Welcome Sharon.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

Thanks so much, George. I'd like to acknowledge that I'm sitting on the land of the Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin nation and to pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and of course extend that to any First Nations people joining us here today.

I'm delighted to be here today. Just to give you a little bit of background to me, I'm a paediatrician and I work at the Centre for Community Child Health where I'm the director. The centre is the centre both of the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, where I also head up population health.

Georgina Harrisson

One of things I thought you might be able to share with us Sharon is why we think it's important for students to be back in the classroom.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

So one of the really interesting things about COVID for kids is that it hasn't had a massive direct effect on children. It has had a direct effect on adults and we've seen the hospitalisations and adults become sick, and that's a great concern, but in reality, it hasn't had a huge direct impact on kids.

It has had a huge indirect impact on kids and that's everything from the stress of seeing their parents stress, the community concern, the lockdowns, the lack of access to their friends, just the general sort of anxiety there was in society. So all of those indirect effects we know are really important. And we can talk about them directly on the child, on the parent and just on their access to services in general.

All of those, the worst of those is the kids not being able to go to school where they see their friends and able to talk through things. So all of the social and emotional benefits of school have been lost as well as the learning benefits.I might be really out there and say that I think what COVID has taught us.

And I know for many principals out there, they're probably going like duh, that schools are really not just about places of learning. They're about places of child development and social, emotional development and wellbeing. And whilst we've kind of always known that kind of explicitly, maybe, but now, or implicitly, sorry. Now we kind of know it explicitly because what we could see for our kids was they need schools for their wellbeing, for their mental health, their wellbeing, their sense of adjustment with other children and yes for learning. So I think that's why it's so important for kids to be back in school.

And I know this term, lots of schools will be thinking about, well, how do we just get our kids being together again? And that's everything from the poor little kids in kinder who have barely been at school, or just trying to learn how to be with other kids right through to the adolescents who are through all those sorts of awkward stages. Again, trying to work out how do they navigate these relationships and that important social and emotional cornerstone of what schools are really about.

Georgina Harrisson

Sharon, as a parent myself, I know something many parents have been concerned about is the impact of the learning from home and the lockdowns on our children and young people. I wonder what insights you might have in how our children have coped with that experience, what parents should be worried about and what they might not need to be worried about.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

It's been such a difficult time during the pandemic, depending a little bit, of course, on where you live and that's made the difference for children, I think, especially in NSW and Victoria. And so we've been following a little bit about what's been happening for some of these kids and in particular, the parents, and I do wanna do a special shout out to parents.I think the work that we've been doing would suggest that children have been doing OK, but parents have been particularly stressed.

And if I can share with you a little bit of data through the Royal Children's Hospital, we have a national poll and we've been looking at parents across the whole country. And what we found is through every single lockdown and the repeat lockdowns, parents' stress levels have been going up and we can understand why. And when parents stress levels go up, then they kind of report their children's stress levels are going up as well. And of course that's been more complicated by remote learning, particularly when there's been remote learning for younger children, parental loss of jobs of course. So parents are really kind of doing it quite tough. And I do think it has been a very challenging time for parents.

For kids, we're just started to get some insights. We certainly know that we've been seeing some more presentations to emergency departments and that's been worrying. But overall, when you talk to parents, if there's been a sense that some kids are a bit more anxious, certainly some kids are bored, but actually kids are being doing OK, and I think we wait to see what happens as we emerged out of the various lockdowns.

Georgina Harrisson

One of the things Sharon, I know that I have a regular conversation with my own six-year-old about, you can tell it's a six-year-old, "When will the virus be gone and when can I have my birthday party mummy?" have been a constant theme through this time.

I think the many parents knowing how to talk about this situation and about COVID with their children is really challenging. And I wonder if you can give parents some advice about how they can approach those conversations about COVID with their children.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

You know, throughout the pandemic, the thing that we've been sort of suggesting for parents is to keep up the conversation with their children. And that's of various age groups. Obviously the way you talk to a four-year-old or a six-year-old or 10-year-old or a 14-year-old would be different, but actually keeping up that conversation is really vital because children have all sorts of questions.

In the beginning, it was just even understanding what the virus was that it was a kind of a cold-like virus. And what would that sort of mean, right through to what does it mean to not be going to school and how do I stay in touch with my friends.

And now the kind of also scary bit, which is, Hey, I'm going back to school. What does that mean? How do I reconnect with my friends again? What does that going to feel like? Wow, I'm feeling a bit anxious about that, or, wow, I just can't wait to get through the door tomorrow. How do I get to leave home?

And to your point, this sort of question is when we're little kind of be over and when will we go back to some like normal remembering for your six-year-old, that's like a third of their lives has been through a pandemic. So that's, you know, it's kind of a lot for them to take in and to try and make sense of that.

So the more that we can talk and be honest but honest at the right kind of developmental level, the better. But the reality is if we keep going the way we're going, next year will look a lot better and will look a lot more, hopefully like it did before we even started the pandemic.

Georgina Harrisson

So Sharon, one of the things that's been fantastic, I know here in NSW and in Victoria too, over recent weeks is having our playgrounds, our classrooms full of students again. A school just isn't a school without those students in them.

I wonder if you can help parents understand a little bit about the levels of protection that are in place for children in relation to returning to school and also the things again, I guess the things they may need to be concerned about or on the watch for, and the things that they can be a little bit more relaxed about as we head back towards a more normal state.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

You know, I think it's a really tricky time for parents. So I just want to kind of put that out there. Parents are holding kind of two bits of information they're trying to make sense of. One is how do I get my kids going back to school and to early childhood education and care, because they'd sort of know that that's really the best place for their kids.

Then you've got the kids who are kind of saying, as I said, you know, some of them will really want to go back to school. Some of them are really a bit worried about that. And then parents are also a bit worried about COVID itself. Like we kind of understand it or kind of a bit worried. And we know with our younger children, they're not yet vaccinated. So what does that mean?

So everybody's holding these kind of different pieces of information and trying to make sense of that.

So for parents, particularly talking to kids, some of the things that you can actually do apart from having those conversations is a bit of practice. So "Let's practise going to school." "Let's practise getting out of our pyjamas." Because a lot of kids have just spent, you know, a lot of time in pyjamas. So let's practise doing that. "Let's practise going for a walk to the school."

And even for kids, you know, some kids have got some really significant neuro-developmental issues. We need to be conscious of that. Those parents are great experts of their children. They know exactly how to manage those children, but for those kids, there might be quite a bit of reluctance.

They've probably liked being at home. And so it's just that sort of practice that firmness. "Let's try just going for a couple of hours if we have to," if that's all we can get to, but really kind of that getting ready for going back to school. But at the same time, acknowledging some kids will be anxious.

So allowing them to talk about that. "Who do you think you'll play with today?" "How do you think they're doing?" "What do you think they've been doing?" Et cetera. So those are the sorts of things that are really helpful.

Georgina Harrisson

As we look at schools, Professor Goldfeld and we see they're not quite as school is normally with extra protections in place. Kids are starting at different times, they're playing in the playground with a smaller group of other children. Can you talk to us a bit about how important those layers of protection are that we have in schools for where we are now in the management of the pandemic?

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

Yes. So I think one of the real challenges has been for all of us through Delta is the kids are now getting COVID. I think that's been of concern to parents and we completely understand that. One of the amazing things about COVID is that actually kids have been pretty much OK. This is extraordinary, really for a respiratory virus, the kids are actually OK. Yes, they might get a bit sick, but really we haven't seen lots of kids getting really sick. We haven't seen lots of kids in hospital, that is amazing. And I guess now that we've had it out there for a while, parents can feel a bit reassured by that.

Nevertheless, we don't wanna see COVID being transmitted between kids and we don't wanna see it going home and we don't wanna see it going from home into school. So what are the sorts of things that we can do that can keep everybody safe?

So the number one, two and three thing is vaccination. That's the most important thing. So teachers being vaccinated, staff being vaccinated, parents being vaccinated, grandparents be vaccinated and where possible children being vaccinated, those 12 and over. That is absolutely the number one thing to do to prevent transmission.

And once you come to school, there's all these layers in place, which is fantastic because there's no one single thing doesn't really do it. So there's layers, including things like wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing where you can, although we know everyone's coming together now. So there's some extra challenges there.

And ventilation where we can. So opening windows, opening doors, and especially in NSW with the great weather, going outside and doing much more outside. So classes outside, play outside as much as possible outside.

And when all of those layers are in place, then we know that schools are much safer places.

The other thing which I should also mention of course, is if your child is unwell, don't send them. I know this is a pain because often they've just got a bit of a sniffle, but really during COVID really had to say, if your kid is unwell at all, please keep them home and obviously go and get a test. 'Cause that's the other way we can keep our kids well.

Georgina Harrisson

To our parents, Professor Goldfeld, we have students getting used to coming back to school. And as we do that, we're having inevitable disruptions where we see a positive case impacting a school community. And so for some students that are having to get used to going back to school, not go to school for a day or two and then return.

What practical advice can you give our parents and teachers about how we manage students and children through that period of uncertainty and disruption while getting as many days in the classroom between now and the end of the year as we can?

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

So let's start by saying the main goal here is to keep kids in school as many days as possible. So that's the goal. To that in though we are in this, what I would call the bumpy road out of the pandemic and it will be a bumpy road.

I just think we all need to just acknowledge that while we're trying to sort out the right way of doing this. So there's maximum number of school days and minimum amount of disruption.

It's just going to take a little time to work it out. And we just have to sort of, I guess, manage expectations for everybody. So that means talking to your kid to say, Hey, it might be that the school gets shut down. That's OK. It won't be for long, we'll work it out together. We just kind of have to just know that that might happen.

And I think as long as kids and I mean children right up until our older adolescents know that that might be the case. We all kind of have to take a big sigh and go, "OK, we just have to accept that might be the case."

And I know there's been schools every day. We sort of talk about it kind of being like whack-a-mole or just when you think one's up, then another one's down and that pops up and another one's down and it feels a little bit like that.

So for parents and for kids, it does feel a little bit, you know, we've gone, particularly in NSW, we've gone in and out of lockdown. That's been really difficult and now schools are up and down. That's been difficult.

So I do think we have to be kind to each other and just keep talking, but particularly to our kids and schools talking to the parents going, no one's gonna mean to do anything here. It just might happen.

I will say George, there's been some evidence from down in Victoria that kids feel a sense of stigma and so did parents, if they happen to be a family that gets COVID, I think it's really important for us to be sensitive to that both as other parents, as children and adolescents, and also for staff, that they will be that sense of both stigma and shame. "Gosh, I got this." "Gosh, I might've given it to my parents." "Gosh, I might've given it to other kids," or the teachers might've given it. So there's still quite a bit of that around.

And I think we kind of need to out that and just recognise it as just really bad luck often. And if we're doing everything we meant to be doing, sometimes these things just happen. And I do think we just need to have that bit of kindness and just knowledge that this might happen. And just kind of just recognise that bumpiness. I would love to say, "Hey, we'll be fine. Don't worry. We'll go back." It will be bumpy on the way out.

Georgina Harrisson

Sharon, I wonder if I just turn to the teachers across schools here in NSW for any of our teachers who are feeling anxious about being back in the classroom, who were worried about those outbreaks in their schools, what advice would you have for our teachers, both in managing themselves in that environment, but also building their confidence about their work and their work environment?

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

So haven't teachers been the most extraordinary frontline workforce for us? You know, I talk about taking pivoting to a whole different level, having to do remote learning and not remote learning and some remote learning and kids coming back into the classroom, but maybe not all kids. And then the kids that traditionally may not have been able to come back to class anyway, those with chronic diseases that might prevent it. So there's a whole lot of management that teachers need to think through.

So the first thing is, wow, like in terms of what the teachers have to do. And of course teachers are also people. And so they've got their own concerns in regard to their own health, but just like the children. I think we try and have worked as hard as we can to keep teachers safe as well.

And of course the vaccine has been the absolute game changer in that sense, wearing masks where appropriate, I think has been another layer in that sort of work to try and keep teachers safe, keeping out of tea rooms, those sorts of layered strategies, doing as much as you can outside. In this short-term bumpy ride, I think those are the things that one can do to keep oneself safe and also to keep one's colleagues safe and then thinking about the kids as well.

Clearly it will be bumpy for changes as well. Just like there'll be bumpy for the children. There might be a case in the classroom. There's a teacher in that classroom as well, and they might have to be at home as well.

So once again, it's just acknowledging that this might happen, that there might be a few more swabs up the nose that need to happen and that teachers will be going on and off sort of various leave arrangements. And that's stress for the teachers and for the principals trying to manage all of that.

But again, I just think we have to acknowledge this is the way it's going to be, because the opposite of that is kids not going to school at all. And that would just be terrible.

Georgina Harrisson

That's great advice. Thank you, Sharon. As we look forward to 2022, and I know many in the community, we're all holding out for those Christmas celebrations this year, when that break over the summer period.

I wondered if you could share with our parents and community, what you see coming in the months ahead and what we might have to look forward to.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

So there's a few things coming up. As I said, I think this kind of rocky kind of exit is going to sort of take us through to the end of the year I suspect, although the numbers in NSW are certainly going down. And so one would anticipate while the numbers might blip up, as kids go back to school, as we've seen in other countries, they do blip down again as everything sort of settles and particularly with our very high vaccination rates, particularly in adolescents. So that's just a great job by NSW, really in getting those high vaccination rates.

And then as we move into 2022, probably, and particularly with international movement, it's all a little bit of an unknown George. I wish I had a sort of total crystal ball. We don't know what's really going to emerge, but we are certainly going to need to be living with COVID, whatever that looks like.

I think a lot of parents will be asking about primary school age vaccination. And that's a reasonable question. The answer to that is we don't know in Australia, it has been approved in the US. and I think we'll wait and see what happens in the US and see how safe it is.

We know it works, which is a great big tick. Now we want to know how safe it is, but the beauty for us is all the kids are going to go on leave while we are on holiday, while we work that out. And I think by the time we get into January of 2022, we should hopefully have a lot more information and work out where the primary school kids could get and should get vaccinated as well. So that's a big question.

We don't know the answer to yet, but I also think we'll just get much more to that rhythm of living with COVID. It might be a little bit of a bumpy start to 2022, but I think if you look at some of the countries overseas, kind of, once things have settled, masks have gone out the window, there's not much happening in mitigation strategies and people are sort of just getting on with it.

But I think as we head into our summer and their winter, we'll get a much better sense of how schools are going overseas. And that will inform us again into 2022. I do think we won't have all the answers at the beginning of 2022, but I think we've got a bit of a rhythm with Term 4 this year, working out kind of how to do it with minimum number of stays away from school.

Georgina Harrisson

As the parent of a Kindergarten child who has, I feel started school twice this year, that resonates exceptionally well with me, Sharon. Can I thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. I could sit and chat to you all day.

Thank you ever so much for your time and your insights. They're incredibly insightful. What fabulous expertise to be able to share with our communities. Thank you very much.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

Absolute pleasure.

End of transcript

COVID-19 response protocols

The department is continuing to work closely with NSW Health and other relevant agencies when a positive COVID-19 case is identified to have an impact on schools.

Please refer to the COVID-19 response protocols for more information.

Term 4 roadmap - from 8 November

From 8 November all schools operate on updated Level 3 settings for the rest of Term 4, with additional activities allowed in a COVID-safe manner.

Download the Term 4 roadmap (PDF 117.46 KB)

Translations of the Term 4 roadmap are available in 35 langauges.

You can also access an Easy read version of the Term 4 roadmap (PDF 3,701KB).

Full details follow on this page.

Student attendance at school

Updated 2:30 pm 25 November 2021

  • All students are expected to be at school unless they are unwell. Do not attend school if unwell, even with mild symptoms. Get tested for COVID-19 and follow NSW Health directions. Find your local testing clinics.

  • If you have any COVID-19 symptoms you will be sent home and must not return to school unless you have either:
    • isolated for 10 days, when no medical certificate is available
    • a negative COVID-19 test result and are symptom free.

  • In circumstances where a student has other medical reasons for recurrent symptoms, a letter from your GP is sufficient to negate the requirement for a negative test.

  • Self-isolation periods and testing requirements differ for close contacts based on their exposure and vaccination status. Refer to NSW Health's advice for close contacts for more information.
  • Rapid antigen home testing might be an option for students and school-based staff to return to face-to-face learning and teaching. Refer to the department’s Response protocols for more information.

COVID-safe measures at school

A combination of layered safety measures – vaccination, wearing masks, student cohorting, physical distancing, ventilation, hygiene and cleaning - allows us to prioritise student and staff wellbeing while we keep schools operational.

COVID-safe cohorting for students

To provide a safe learning environment for students and staff, schools will be implementing a cohort model to reduce interaction between students in different groups and minimise physical interaction between students on school grounds.

  • All activities will minimise mixing and mingling between cohorts.

  • Each cohort will be allocated a learning space, completing all lessons and break times with their cohort.

  • Drop-offs, pick-ups, break times, playground and canteen access will be staggered by cohort.

  • Within each cohort, students should maintain strict personal hygiene and physical distancing wherever possible.

Schools will manage the cohort model in a way that best meets the needs of their students.

Vaccinations required

  • All staff on school sites must be fully vaccinated.
  • All parents and carers, volunteers and providers who are permitted to come onto school sites must be fully vaccinated.
  • For more information, refer to Vaccination requirements for school sites.
  • Students from the age of 12 and above are eligible to receive either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and are strongly recommended to do so where possible.

Wear masks indoors

  • Masks are required indoors for all staff, visitors and students in Year 7 or above, and strongly recommended indoors for primary students.

  • You can take your mask off when eating or exercising.

If a student or staff member has a physical illness, mental health condition or disability that makes mask wearing unsuitable then they may provide proof of exemption for not wearing a mask.

Proof of exemption is either of the following:

  • a medical certificate or letter signed by a registered health practitioner (such as a doctor) or a registered NDIS provider
  • a statutory declaration.

Either forms of proof of exemption should:

  • identify the physical illness, mental health condition, or disability
  • why the physical illness, mental health condition, or disability makes wearing a fitted face covering unsuitable.

Proof of exemption can be provided to the principal.

If providing a statutory declaration, download the form.

A statutory declaration is a written statement which a person swears, affirms or declares to be true in the presence of an authorised witness — usually a JP, lawyer or notary public. This may be made by a person aged 16+ with legal capacity.

It is a criminal offence to make false or incorrect statements in a statutory declaration.

Always check in

  • All staff and visitors must check in when attending a school site or gathering.

  • Schools must maintain attendance records of all gatherings.

Physically distance

  • Maintain 1.5 metres physical distancing wherever practicable.

Maximise ventilation

  • Teaching and learning in indoor spaces will be well ventilated and as large as possible for the number of participants.

  • Outdoor settings for activities and events should be prioritised wherever practical as these represent a lower risk than indoor settings.

  • Where activities or events will proceed indoors, organisers will ensure the space is well ventilated and as large as possible for the number of attendeearly.

School cleaning practices

Updated 2:30 pm 25 November 2021

Cleaning practices are one part of our layers of protection in schools, along with vaccinations, mask-wearing, good ventilation, minimising contact between class groups, physical distancing and practising good hand hygiene.

NSW public schools are cleaned by professional cleaners each day, guided by expert advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and by NSW Health.

At the start of the pandemic the NSW Government quickly scaled up the school cleaning program. On top of the regular cleaning of schools, enhanced cleaning before or after school was added, as well as additional day cleaning, focused on high touch surfaces such as handrails, light switches and door handles as well as high use areas such as toilet facilities and bubblers. In the case of a positive COVID-19 case schools were also closed for up to 2 days to enable an environmental clean to be undertaken by specialist cleaners.

Over time, NSW Health advice has evolved based on the virus profile and research, which now supports that contamination risk from surfaces is very small. NSW Health has agreed that the department's regular clean (undertaken outside of school hours), day clean (clean of high touch areas at recess or lunch times) and enhanced clean (additional before or afterschool clean) provides a more than sufficient layer of protection in schools for students and staff.

From 29 November, environmental cleaning in schools will only be conducted on a case-by-case basis following an assessment from the department’s Health and Safety team and contact tracers. NSW Health has agreed there is no benefit to undertaking an environmental clean which is highly disruptive to students and prevents a quicker return to face-to-face learning than would otherwise be possible. The department will continue to monitor the cleaning settings in consultation with NSW Health.

The vast majority of school cleaning is undertaken outside of school hours. A comprehensive risk analysis undertaken by the Department of Education confirms that cleaners are classified as low risk for school settings. Cleaners on school sites must be fully vaccinated, have minimal contact with students and are required to wear personal protective equipment while undertaking their duties.

Updated Level 3 settings

Parents and carers on site

Fully vaccinated parents and carers will be allowed on site to support curriculum delivery, vulnerable students or students with disability, student wellbeing activities and school operations (for example reading support, canteens and uniform shops). Parents and carers must check in using the school check-in, show proof of vaccination on entry to the school site and follow mask-wearing requirements.

One fully vaccinated parent or carer is permitted to attend their child’s Kindergarten orientation when conducted outdoors. For more information, refer to Kindergarten orientation and transition.

Parents and carers must follow their school’s advice regarding student drop-off and pick-up, which will usually require parents to remain off school sites at these times. This includes staying in the car when dropping off and picking up children if it is safe to do so. This does not apply to drop-off and pick-up from outside of school hours care (OOSHC) as sign-in and -out procedures are required for OOSHC.

Parents and carers should follow the physical distancing advice for their local area and avoid gathering outside of school gates.

Assemblies and presentations

Updated 4:30 pm 26 November 2021

Assemblies and presentations will be allowed outdoors on site. Cohorts will be separated with physical distancing in place where practicable.

Fully vaccinated visitors (including parents and carers) are only allowed to attend if invited by the school to complete a specific role (such as presenting) All visitors must check in using the school check-in and show proof of vaccination.

Dancing, singing, music and performances

Updated 2:30 pm 25 November 2021

Dancing is allowed indoors and outdoors in class cohorts.

Restrictions are different for instruments that rely on breath, as these pose a higher transmission risk. If unsure, consider whether the instrument could be played with a mask on. If no – this instrument should be treated as relying on breath.

Bands, choirs, ensembles and music classes within cohorts or one-to-one tuition are allowed with some conditions.

Singing, chanting, group repetition and choirs, as well as instruments that rely on breath may be played:

  • outdoors only, with masks optional
  • with physical distancing of:
    • 1.5 m between performers including instructors and teachers
    • 5 m between the performer and any person in front of them
    • 3 m between the performer and any person in the direction of airflow from their instruments
  • with no sharing of instruments.

Instruments that do not rely on breath may be played:

  • indoors, with masks required
  • outdoors, with masks optional
  • with 1.5 m physical distancing.

Students and staff can use instruments that rely on breath and participate in singing, chanting, group repetition and choirs for 2022 HSC preparation and assessment purposes. In these settings, schools should maximise ventilation and physical distancing (per guidance above).

School performances, productions and concerts are not permitted.

Excursions and incursions

Excursions will be allowed outdoors and indoors. If the excursion is indoors, the cohort will need to have sole use of the venue.

Excursions are day-only and not overnight.

Excursions must comply with any COVID-safe requirements in place for that venue. Note, the current public health orders (expected to be in effect until 15 December) mean that where excursions are held indoors at an entertainment facility, recreation facility or hospitality venues:

  • anyone aged 16 and over must be fully vaccinated to attend venues

  • children under 16 years of age who are not fully vaccinated can attend as long as they are accompanied by a fully vaccinated member of their household.

Transportation to and from venues must maintain cohorts.

Incursions will be allowed indoors or outdoors in cohorts. Any visitors on site to support incursions must be fully vaccinated and will be required to check in using the school check-in app and show proof of vaccination status on entry to the school site.

Graduations and formals

Updated 11:30 am 25 November 2021

Schools can plan for these events to be held from 1 December. However, Year 12 formals and graduations should not occur until after the final exam for that school’s HSC cohort, which may be as late as 3 December.

Graduations and formals will be allowed within cohorts, either on school sites or at external venues.

For graduations and formals held on school sites, students in the cohort may attend regardless of vaccination status.

Anyone advised by NSW Health that they are a close contact of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 must not attend.

Anyone who have symptoms of COVID-19 must not attend

Graduations and formals held off school sites must comply with any COVID-safe requirements in place for that venue.

Year 12 students will be able to attend end-of-year school celebrations including formals, dinners or graduations – regardless of their vaccination status. The event must be organised by, or on behalf of, the school in which the student is enrolled. 

To celebrate with their cohort, Year 12 students who have not been vaccinated will be required to show a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to the event and follow the COVID-safe rules in place at the venue. 

Currently masks are required for anyone aged 12 and over while indoors (and strongly recommended for primary school students) except while eating and drinking. If graduations and formals are held outdoors, masks are not required.

Using shared spaces at school

Shared spaces, such as changing rooms, libraries, school halls and other communal areas, may only be used by one cohort at a time, with adherence to strict personal hygiene protocols and physical distancing requirements.

Sports and swimming pool access

From 1 November, school sports are allowed, including inter-school sports outside of school hours.

Schools can access pools (both indoor and outdoor) within cohorts and with COVID-safe measures in place to reduce mixing and mingling of cohorts.

For more information, refer to School sport activities.

Transitions and orientations

Transitions and orientations will be allowed as long as they are designed to minimise mingling between visiting children and school cohorts.

These events are for students only, except for Kindergarten orientation where one fully vaccinated parent or carer may accompany their child for outdoor components.

Fully vaccinated parents or carers may attend any transition or orientation event if required to support a child with additional needs.

Visitors and volunteers on site

Fully vaccinated visitors – such as volunteers, allied health partners and other external providers – are allowed on site to support curriculum delivery, wellbeing programs and school operations that maintain student cohorts. These include programs such as reading support, canteens, uniform shops and gardening.

All visitors must sign in using the school check-in app and show proof of vaccination status on entry to the school site. For more information, refer to the Vaccination requirements for school sites.

School photos

School photos are allowed outdoors on school sites. Providers supporting school photos must be fully vaccinated and sign in using the school check-in app. Class photos are permitted with physical distancing maintained. Individual photos and sibling photos are permitted. No team photos are permitted as this would introduce mixing between cohorts.

Community use of school sites outside of school hours

Community use of school sites will be allowed outside of school hours, with a Community Use Agreement and a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place. The COVID-19 Safety Plan must be provided to the principal as part of the Community Use Agreement.

Community use of school sites should use outdoor spaces where possible.

Community use for sport, recreation and outdoor public gatherings

If community use of a school site is for any of the following purposes, the organiser must develop a COVID-19 Safety Plan in the form specified by the NSW Government to meet public health requirements:

  • outdoor community sport

  • indoor sport and recreation

  • indoor pools

  • outdoor public gathering such a market or fete

Further information on developing a COVID-19 Safety Plan for the above types of use is available at NSW Government COVID-19 Safety Plans.

The organiser is responsible for ensuring that all attendees meet any specified vaccination requirements. All attendees must check in using the organisation’s QR code.

For assistance setting up a free QR code, organisers should refer to the NSW Government’s Setting up electronic check-in and QR codes.

Playgroups that operate on school sites

Playgroups are allowed to operate on school sites, with a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place.

All playgroups operating on school sites must ensure:

  • All staff, volunteers and parents in attendance must be fully vaccinated and must show proof of vaccination status.

  • Staff, volunteers and parents must check-in using the playgroup’s QR code. Parents should check their child as a dependent.

  • Physical distancing of 1.5 metres should be maintained at all times.

  • Any person aged 12 and over must wear a mask at all times indoors unless they have an exemption.

Playgroups can develop COVID-19 Safety Plans in any form as long as the above requirements are addressed.

For assistance setting up a free QR code, organisers should refer to the NSW Government’s Setting up electronic check-in and QR codes.

Language schools that operate on school sites

Secondary College of Languages (formerly known as Saturday School of Community Languages) and community languages schools are allowed to operate on school sites, with a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place.

  • Individual classes will be kept separate to minimise risk of transmission, similar to cohort arrangements in schools.

  • Physical distancing of 1.5 metres should be maintained where practicable.

  • Staff and students aged 12 and over must wear a mask at all times indoors unless they have an exemption.

Community languages schools off school sites

Community languages schools that operate in locations other than school sites are allowed to operate, with a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place.

Parents and citizens associations meetings outside of school hours

P&C associations may hold meetings on school sites outside of school hours without a Community Use Agreement or COVID-19 Safety Plan.

The local President of the P&C, or a delegate, must ensure:

  • All P&C members that attend meetings on the school site must be fully vaccinated. The President (or delegate) must visually sight vaccination status to verify that requirements are met.

  • All P&C members in attendance at each meeting must check-in using either the school check-in code or a P&C-specific QR code.

For assistance setting up a free QR code, organisations should refer to the NSW Government’s Setting up electronic check-in and QR codes.

Other activities permitted

When COVID-safe measures are in place – mask wearing indoors, full vaccination of adults on site, minimising mingling, square metre rules in place and good hygiene practices – then schools can continue to operate:

  • canteens

  • uniform stores

  • early childhood services (OOSHC, vacation care, preschools etc.)

  • special religious education (SRE), special education in ethics (SEE) or voluntary student activities of a religious nature in schools (VSA) in student cohorts

  • emergency drills and evacuations where possible, conducted in a COVID-safe manner – this means where possible keeping classes, groups or cohorts together.

Pre-service teachers and others on professional experience placements

  • Pre-service teachers and others on professional experience placements are required to be fully vaccinated by 8 November. Principals should ensure all placements meet these requirements.

  • Professional experience placements are voluntary for all schools.

VET, TAFE, SBATS and trade schools

  • VET work placements can resume wherever possible in line with Public Health Orders. Some industries where vaccinations are mandated may decline to take a placement student unless that student is fully vaccinated. NESA has advised that students who cannot complete their VET work placement due to COVID-related impacts will still be eligible for the HSC. Any placements must be subject to appropriate risk assessments and approvals.

  • Trade schools, VET and TAFE courses should continue to be delivered virtually where possible. Training that cannot be delivered virtually or online can be delivered face to face if the training complies with COVID-safe practices and NSW Public Health Orders.

  • School-based apprenticeship and traineeship training should continue to be delivered virtually where possible. Training that cannot be delivered virtually or online can be delivered face to face if the training complies with COVID-safe practices and NSW Public Health Orders.

  • Prospective and current school-based apprentices and trainees (SBATs) may undertake work experience and employment if their employment complies with COVID-Safe practices and NSW Public Health Orders.

  • The white card training to school students should only be conducted via face-to-face delivery.

  • Non-essential work experience should be deferred.

Election day fundraisers

Schools across NSW often host polling for local, state and federal government elections. During these elections, parents and citizens associations (P&Cs) commonly hold fundraisers at schools to unite their community and raise funds for local programs. Organisations other than P&Cs are not permitted to host election day fundraiser events.

P&Cs coordinating fundraisers at schools on election day should complete a COVID-19 Safety Plan – Hospitality, including the following measures:

Takeaway food service only

Fundraisers should be limited to takeaway food service only, such as barbeques and cake stalls. Fundraisers should be outdoors wherever possible.


When entering the school site on election day, anyone aged 16 and older must check-in using the election’s QR code. Do not use the School Visitor Check-in code. There is no need to set up a separate P&C QR code for the fundraiser, as NSW Health will manage all contact tracing via the election’s QR code.

Masks and vaccination

Anyone working (including volunteering) on school sites as part of a P&C election day fundraiser must wear masks (both indoors and outdoors) and be fully vaccinated.

There are no vaccination requirements for customers, in line with public health settings for takeaway food shops.

Customers aged 12 and older are not required to wear a mask while outdoors but must wear a mask while indoors.

Volunteers running the fundraiser should take reasonable steps to ensure 1.5 metres of physical distancing is maintained between customers and volunteers while queuing. Measures may include:

  • queues with distancing markers and signage
  • limiting the number of workers (including volunteers) in any confined space (using the 1 person per 2sqm rule)
  • not providing seating – including removing any portable furniture and clearly marking fixed furniture as not to be used
  • reminding customers not to consume food on-site.

High-risk activities not permitted

Schools must not undertake the following activities to avoid mixing of cohorts and to avoid an increased risk of transmission:

  • overnight excursions or camps

  • international excursions

  • student visits to aged care facilities.

Travel and public transport

  • Wherever possible students should be transported to schools by private vehicle to minimise mixing of cohorts while travelling to school.

  • Masks are mandatory on public transport. This applies to students aged 12 years and over, and staff when travelling to and from school and during school excursions by public transport or by chartered or private transport services. 

  • All staff operating vehicles are required to wear a mask or face covering.

  • Children aged 11 years and under should be encouraged to wear a face mask while using public transport.

  • Students are encouraged to not eat or drink while using public transport as this might lead to groups of children seated together removing their face masks at the same time, increasing the risk of transmission. Students are reminded to not share drinks, snacks or other food.

  • Students are reminded about how to correctly wear a face mask.

  • Transport vehicles will operate to the lowest level of density they can, noting there are existing restrictions around capacity.

  • Wherever possible, physical distancing will be maintained.

Assisted School Travel Program

ASTP will remain available for students who access the service and continue to attend school on site, in accordance with the following guidelines:

  • All staff operating vehicles (Assisted Travel Support Officers and Drivers) are required to be fully vaccinated and wear a mask or face covering in and around vehicles at all times.

  • It is mandatory for students aged 12 years and over to wear masks. However, wearing a mask may be unsuitable for some students or they may not be able to wear them for extended periods of time. The Public Health Order includes reasons why someone may be exempted from wearing a mask or face covering, such as intellectual disability, autism, trauma or skin conditions. These students will not be excluded from ASTP services for not wearing a mask or face covering.

  • Vehicles will be adequately ventilated during runs and regularly sanitised.

  • Parents and carers are also required to wear a mask around vehicles in order to minimise risk of transmission during student pick up and drop off. Parents and carers may access the same mask wearing exemptions as students.

Boarding schools

Boarding schools must comply with all school requirements set out in these guidelines, and also refer to the Boarding school guidelines.

Border communities

Where state-specific border restrictions allow students and staff to cross the border, students and staff should refer to the level settings for the local government area in which their school is located.

All students and staff who cannot attend school or work due to interstate border disruptions will be supported to learn and work from home.

Preschools managed by the department

Preschools are being managed in line with the rest of schools under these guidelines.

Families should follow normal sign-in/out procedures and COVID-safe guidelines when dropping off and picking up. Preschools will consider procedures to support pick up and drop off from the school gates. Where this is not possible or unsafe, families should pick up from the entrance of the preschool, following COVID-safe guidelines.

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