Secretary Mark Scott and Deputy Secretary Murat Dizdar welcomed staff back to Term 2, 2020, on Monday 27 April.
Video – Welcome to Term 2
Duration – 35:51
Transcript of Welcome to Term 2 video
Hi everybody. It's Sarah Mitchell here, the Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning. Really thrilled to be able to welcome you all to this mornings all staff live stream. Coming to you from the State Emergency Operation Centre, where we are at the forefront of fighting against COVID-19 across NSW. Can I begin by thanking all of you for the incredible work that you've done during Term 1. I know that it has been a really challenging time, but certainly, as minister, I'm so appreciative of all our teachers, our principals, our school support staff and our corporate staff who have worked so hard to make sure our students feel supported and engaged throughout this process. I can't thank you enough and I really wanted to reiterate that at the beginning of my message to you this morning.
Look, I understand that it's going to be an interesting and different Term 2. We know that we will still be engaging with learning from home, but we will start to bring students back into the school setting from week three.
I'm sure a lot of you have questions, you want some information and I think today's live stream is a really great opportunity for you to hear from the top of our department about how this is going to work and how we're going to support you throughout Term 2. We'll continue to work with you to make this a success in your local schools and make sure that all of our students keep engaged in their learning. So thank you for everything that you've done so far and for all of the great work that I know will happen right across the state in Term 2. Thank you.
I'm here with Murat Dizdar and we’re at Parramatta Public School and this is the first time we've attempted a live stream that goes to all the staff in the NSW Department of Education.
The education department employs more people than anyone else in the NSW public sector and the NSW public sector employs more people than any other organisation in the entire country. So we've got a big crew online today. We've got those who are involved in running and regulating early childhood education, those who run one of the world's largest education systems, the NSW public school system, and those who help regulate and support the operations of the entire education sector in NSW, those who oversee training in vocational education in NSW and the governance of our university sector. From cradle to grave, lifelong learning, the NSW Department of Education's at the centre of it. And I want to thank Gail Charlier and the team for welcoming us here to Parramatta Public School.
And at the outset, I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. Here, we're on the land of the Dharug People, but wherever you are, we want to pay our respects to Elders, past, present and emerging.
The focus of today's discussion is really going to be on the operation of our schools in Term 2. None of us, even if you've had a lifelong career in the Department of Education, have ever had to live through so much intense change and so much fast movement in our settings as we've had to deal with in the second half of Term 1 and now leading into Term 2. I want to talk a little bit about where we've come from, a little bit about where we are today, some of the issues and the positioning that we're going to have to deal with and then to look ahead at what Term 2 looks like.
It was five weeks ago that the Premier held a press conference and said she thought it would be best if parents could keep children at home. And in the seven days leading up to that, we'd seen in a sense a remarkable movement of children out of our system. The previous Monday, 17% of children were kept at home. On the Monday the Premier made her statement, 41% of children were kept at home. There was clearly great concern that existed in the community amongst parents around the spread of COVID-19 and the remarkable growth we were seeing in COVID-19 cases. And this was making it very difficult for our schools to be able to run a regular classroom setting, at the same time as having nearly half of our school students at home with parents expecting them to learn there as well.
So the decision was made to move to one unit of work and to have that delivered for students at home or at school. And I want to pay tribute to our classroom teachers, to our leadership teams, to our school principals for the enormous work that they did to transition our system so that in effect, 95% of our students were learning from home because that's what actually happened once the Premier made a statement, we quickly moved to 95% of our students learning from home.
We have enormous respect and admiration for the professionalism and dedication of our staff, to move so quickly in such a profound way to ensure our children's learning was continued at home. I think you have won the respect of the community for that, you've won the respect of parents with that, who now appreciate in a far more detailed and systematic way, the kind of work and the kind of skills and professionalism you bring to your work every day. And we really want to thank you for that remarkable, remarkable effort in creating that one unit of work and continuing to connect with students if they're at home or if they're at school.
A lot has happened in five weeks and it's important to reflect on that because one of the things we've had to do as a department is to really think through and consider how we respond to the changing circumstances that are happening around us. And I think the most compelling way to reflect on this is the statistics that we're dealing with. Back at the time the Premier made her statement that children should stay at home, we were averaging around 150 new COVID-19 cases in NSW a day, in fact, there was one day, it was more than 200 New COVID-19 cases a day. So the Premier made her announcement about schools. There were a series of other restrictions that applied as we all know and we went about together to try and bend that curve and flatten that curve and it is remarkable the success we've had.
In recent days in NSW we've had single-digit increases in the number of COVID-19 cases. Six, five, five, and this morning the Premier announced that in yesterday's testing with well over 4,000 people tested, only two new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed. And I think it's fair to say, in the briefings that I've been in with health and with my other secretaries in the departments and some of the political leaders in the state, the success that has been achieved on flattening the curve so that we are now into single digits’ growth; it was certainly not anticipated that it would be so successful when the Premier made her call five weeks ago.
So yes, we are changing our strategy in light of this remarkable success in flattening the curve. Now, we all know that we're going to have to live with COVID-19 for a period of time. We all know that there are going to be social distancing rules that are applied to us as a community, but what we need to think through is how we can best ensure that learning, and engagement with learning, can continue for young people, given what has happened in the last four or five weeks.
As you'll have seen the AHPPC, which is the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the chief advisors to governments around Australia, around health and health-related issues have said that yes, our schools are safe to open and to operate, but they've given us guidelines on how they need to operate and I'll be talking about that again shortly.
And you'll have seen over the weekend that there has been this tracking work that has been done of all the COVID-19 cases that have been identified in our schools since early March. Non-students, non-teachers tracking all their close contacts and it is remarkable that of the 863 close contacts that were identified in a school setting, only two additional COVID-19 cases were identified. And this research is very consistent with research done in China and Iceland and the Netherlands, other global centres where the impact of COVID-19 has been investigated in schools. It's encouraging research.
So I think what we can see from the government is that now the curve has been significantly flattened they are looking to reduce some levels of restrictions, and a clear priority for that is our schools and creating environments where students can come into schools. That's a priority because there's really nothing more important in our society than that. It's more important than being able to dine at a restaurant. It's more important than being able to go fashion shopping in a big department store. There's nothing more important than our students learning and being able to learn in an environment that is safe and healthy for them and for our staff who are working with them.
So what the government has said is given a clear direction to us on the way of returning, but we have given some guidelines to schools for you to work through how it works best in your setting. I think it's interesting given the research that's existed and the advice that's come to bear from the government, there is clear advice that in a sense we could open schools fully today and be fully operational, but that's not what the State Government has said. What the NSW Government has said is that they recognise we want a measured and staged return to the classroom in NSW schools.
And so the advice is clear. For the next two weeks, it's the same as it was at the end of last term. If you can keep your children at home, you should. And then we're going to go to a model that says, we're going to open up our schools one day a week for students, and in doing this, we will know that there is health advice that we need to follow to ensure that our schools are as safe as they can be. You're going to see enhanced cleaning in schools, including cleaning through the day. We've looked to procure massive amounts of sanitiser so we can have hand sanitiser in classrooms and other supplies as well. We're looking to manage the crowds that can exist in and around schools, including giving schools the ability to stagger start and finish times and encouraging schools to keep parents off-site and to manage the flow of adults into a school setting. We know social distancing remains important for adults and we're asking schools to think about how they can spread staff out through the schools and ensure that the adults in the school setting are practising social distancing and we know that you're going to need more staff to help you be able to manage this complexity.
And that's why we've made an arrangement to guarantee employment for our casual teachers, 10,000 teachers and support staff qualify under the government's new scheme to guarantee employment of casuals during Term 2. As we've gone and thought through the model about bringing students in one day a week, there's been some suggestions that I've seen on social media that we should ask the principals. We should have asked the teachers and can I say, I think that's exactly what we are doing. The government has said we want to see every student one day a week and some interest groups said to us, we should be very prescriptive on telling principals they had to do that. We haven't done that because we know you understand your school, you understand your context and your school community better than anyone. With that instruction about finding a way of getting students in one day a week, we know that you are going to be able to come up with your best solutions locally to be able to do it.
I want to talk briefly about this model that has been embraced by the department and by the government. The clear understanding that every student will be known, valued and cared for. And even though we know that there's been remarkable work done to ensure that learning takes place from home, we know that learning takes place best in a context of wellbeing and in the context of student engagement and what bringing every student in one day a week allows us to check in on every student to check in that they're engaged with their learning, to check out their wellbeing, to see how they are tracking, to keep that relationship between the student and the school and the student and the classroom teacher as an absolute priority. Because we know that wellbeing and student engagement are the foundations for effective learning.
And we do not want weeks and weeks to go by without students being able to walk into schools like the one we're in today at Parramatta Public school – and this to our mind was one of the problems with the models that said only bring in HSC kids or only bring in Kindergarten kids, because fundamentally that could mean that beyond the five weeks that we know that students are away from school, it could be another three or four weeks after that before everyone could get into a school and we do not want any student to be lost to us, lost to schooling, lost to the engagement with schools for eight, nine or 10 weeks. So the strategy is to bring every student in for a day.
But I know from the many high school principals I've been speaking to that every high school has an eye to solving this challenge with a particular commitment to students in Year 12 to help them with their major works, to help them engage with staff, to help them keep learning from home. And to create opportunities for our Year 12 students to be fully and completely engaged in learning during this most disruptive of years. We know it's going to be demanding to keep this unit of work going while we're having students in the school as well and we know that we'll need the full cooperation of teaching and non-teaching staff in order to be able to make this work effectively as well, but we are confident that our schools can pull it off magnificently as they did last term.
There are just a few other things I want to reference and then an opportunity for some of your questions. There had been some other guidelines that have been identified to help you with your local planning. We talked about bringing in 25% of students each day and that's only a guideline that was a signal to schools that we don't want you to bring in all your students on a Monday and Tuesday and not have anyone in for the balance of the week. Our feeling is schools should be looking at a strategy to spread students across the week.
But if you can do that in four days and have the fifth day leftover for teachers to work on the learning from home and professional development, then that's fine with us, too. We really are encouraging schools to think how they deploy flexibly and how they plan innovatively to bring students in and to keep flexibility around staff at this time. We've also said one of the things you should be looking to do is spread students around the school if you can. We said if you're bringing in a quarter of the students who might be able to have 10 students in a standard classroom, you'd be able to keep more students and still space them out in a classroom like we've got here. The AHPPC advice says that those social distancing rules do not apply or need to apply in classrooms, but with the measured approach we've developed in NSW, it gives you an opportunity to space students out and we think that might be a benefit and support for our staff and also reassuring to our parent community at this time too.
We want to get every student in because every student is known, valued and cared for, but we're expecting there to be a clear reinforcement of advice from the Premier. We expect there to be clear advice that we really would like there to be cooperation around the strategy to hold your student back for just one day a week as we have a staged return to school in Term 2.
It's staff development days today and tomorrow. We're glad to have been able to get that extra staff development day for you tomorrow when we know that your school leadership teams will be thinking very carefully about how best to be able to deliver this solution in your context. This is really hard work and a number of you have expressed to me it just how demanding it is, how tiring it is and how frustrating it is that some of the planning you might have done has had to be fine-tuned and modified because of this changing and evolving strategy.
It is evolving. It's all new. I don't think any of us expected that there'll only be two new COVID-19 cases at this point in April. And that's encouraging news and we need to take advantage of the opportunities we have to prioritise the returning of our students to school in a safe and healthy environment for everyone in our school community. There’s been lots of great work that's been taking place to support the efforts that are operating in schools. I want to pay tribute to the learning continuity team, the great work they've done in providing you with the curriculum support and the IT support you need. The procurement teams have been out there buying vast amounts of sanitiser and soap and paper towel and toilet paper and even those people who have been working on a communication strategy to try and answer some of the questions that you legitimately have as you try and manage through this time of great complexity.
And when it comes to answering questions, there are lots that you've been asking and I’m now joined by Murat here as we go to some of the questions that you've asked and let's try and answer some of these in the time that we've got available.
A question about small schools, Murat, we know that's a hallmark of the NSW education system, of small schools. How does a gradual return to face-to-face teaching work in a small school setting?
Thanks Mark. Good morning colleagues. Fantastic to be able to join you and welcome back to Term 2. I want to acknowledge like Mark did the tremendous work, our teachers, our non-teaching staff, our school leaders undertook at the end of Term 1, there in the lead up to the term break and we're certainly going to need that commitment and endeavour and energy this term as well.
Mark, small schools, still we want to go by the guidance of a staged return. We feel as though the staged return is important so that we can ensure the ongoing health and safety. It's of paramount importance to us for our students and staff. We're going to recognise that small schools, unlike where we are here at Parramatta Public, over 1000 students, multiplicity of classrooms are not going to have that. So I just ask you small schools, TP1s, TP2s, you'll know best how you timetable your school – what siblings look like and, some of our best classroom practitioners, as you teach across stages, often in classroom configurations that aren't neat and tidy grouping. So we ask that you look at your physical spaces. We'll ask that you look at your workforce in terms of your teachers and support staff and look at a timetable that allows for that one day model to be best in operation for face-to-face contact for that onsite learning. And we recognise that for many of you, you may have the possibility of bringing those learners more than that one occasion as well.
What about large schools? There's a question about large schools as well. Some of our schools have 1500 students or more. Some of those big schools have construction work that's taking place. How are they going to try and work this through?
Yeah, if you go to the opposite and Mark, we're here at Parramatta with Gail and her exec team, it was great to chat to Gail and I was just asking her how she'd go about managing the community expectation around the one day returnee; the expectation around the one day return here. Very aspirational community here at her school, credit to Gail and the team. They've already been communicating, Mark, with the school community. She was telling me that they've already sent out two written communications around the staff development days, that they're pupil-free days so that we can get on with the planning and professional development for our entire workforce here, so we can best deliver the continuity of learning required.
And Gail acknowledges that she will need to work closely with her P&C and her school community around managing that expectation so that we're in a great position where we can timetable both our workforce as well as our learners for that one day a week.
And I want to just emphasise, Mark, for the other four days it's not like we've got our legs crossed and feet on the table having coffee here. The rest of those four days for those young learners is continuity of learning. It's at home learning, and I'm glad you called out the challenge. This is the challenge for our workforce this term, to be able to plan and deliver for both face to face content as well as at home learning.
Anne Caro has asked a question, Anne is the principal of Lithgow High School. "Can parents choose to keep their children at home all the time if they wish, assuming that they are engaged in remote learning?" This is a tricky one, isn't it?
Yeah. Good morning Anne, and thanks for joining us. Anne, you know your community best. In my experience, our principals, our leadership teams, in a high school context where we've got year advisors and the learning and support team, they have great contact with families. Often we're trying to manage family anxiety. So I'd encourage, if we've got a parent or a family who doesn't want that one day a week return on the campus learning and still wants to undertake it at home to make that contact, to unpack.
As you've heard from Mark, as you've heard from the health experts, we're doing our darnedest to ramp up the safety inside the school gates for our classrooms, for our teachers, for our families, for our students. So we really need to unpack, and sometimes I find that when you're unpacking with a family and you're going to the factual nature of the coverage, you can ease their concern and they return back to school.
But Anne, if a family still insists after that sort of contact then we say, this is not the time to be complex in our rulings, so just provide the continuity of learning at home. And then you'll rightfully ask me, Murat, what do I mark them on the roll? Do I mark them as absent? And we've given guidance in our FAQs around that. But from where I see it, once you've made contact, once you know they're engaging with their learning, once you know that you've tried to convince them to come back and there's that continuity of learning and you're confident of the engagement, then we shouldn't penalise that student and mark them absent.
I think it's an interesting issue for us, and I expect we'll see a bit of this. One of the reasons I think we've embarked on this model of getting every student in every week is that we want to make sure that we're losing no students to the system. We've got 800,000 students in NSW public schools. If we lost 2% of them, lost touch with them, lost their engagement with learning, that's 16,000 students. These are massive numbers that we are dealing with, and we know when it comes to children at risk, children of high complexity, children in out of home care or suffering from severe disadvantage, we know that overwhelmingly they attend school in the public education system.
So we have a particular eye out for them, and I would encourage schools to try and find the distinction between those students who you feel are confidently learning at home and are supported to do so, and those students who aren't at school but also we're not connected with and their remote learning. That is clearly a challenge for us, and we clearly need to find those students and support those students in the learning.
Mark, can I go to a question on the HSC? You're on the NESA board as well as being the Secretary here for us, and Mark Henderson asks a really pertinent question. He says, "As a teacher of a Year 12 student," and he's a parent of a Year 12 student, "are these students going to be prioritised?” I know you spoke a little bit about this, but unpack it more from May 11.
It's a good question, it's a question that I know has been widely asked and yes, we have talked about it at NESA. Can I just say about our Year 12 students, there's never been a Year 12 class that have had their learning more profoundly disrupted than this year's class. Also thinking through the conversations I've had at universities. I think some of the concern about what happens about university entry, I think universities, particularly with the challenge they've faced around international students, are going to be keen to enrol students from this year's Year 12.
It's going to be a good year to try and get a university place next year, and I'm sure our students will be well supported. Look, I think, Murat, we have got a commitment that we're prioritising bringing every student in for a day a week, but every secondary school principal I've spoken to is desperately working to find ways to ensure the Year 12 students can come into schools to work on major works, can do prac work, and our schools that are organising seminars in the afternoons for their Year 12 students.
Really, really working hard to ensure that every student has an opportunity to fully engage with their studies, fully connect with their teachers. And I suspect as we move through the term that we will have a real emphasis and a real prioritisation on delivering for Year 12 once we've got every student through the doors. I know that our principals and our school leadership teams are doing that anyway. I've been disappointed at some of the media coverage and some of the commentary because I think it's just increasing the anxiety for our Year 12 students in an anxious year.
We are committed to our Year 12 students, but we're also committed to our Year 9 students, because if we lose some of our Year 9 students now, they're never even going to see Year 12. I'm confident we can do both. I'm confident we don't have to freeze out the rest of our students to cater for Year 12. I'm confident we can bring every student into school while still really catering for our Year 12 students in a profound and meaningful way, and every principal I know of a secondary school is attempting to do just that.
Question from Andrew Hooper out of Emu Heights Public School, and Andrew says, "Can we enforce that the only way parents can enter our grounds is through the office?" He's got health concerns about morning drop-offs and after-school pickups, and parents wanting to come into classrooms with their children. How are we going to manage all that?
We want to manage, Andrew, the minimisation of the parental movement as well, and again, we're going to require your expertise in communicating to your school community. I know on those odd days where I get to drop off my young children to Year 2 and Year 6, it's a social aspect where the parents like to congregate and debrief and chat away, and now is not going to be the time for that with that stage return.
So my child's public school, great communication across the weekend, requesting that parents seamlessly drop off and then move on, and also giving great guidance around what pick-up will look like for further details. In talking to the PPA, Mark, they were quite innovative with their solution, saying that they may require particular parents to be in particular zones in the school and would communicate that, particularly in a large school, to allow for the smooth entry and exit.
Again, we know that you know your site best, we know that you know your community best, and we know the importance of you communicating that it's now not the time to be a volunteer, for example, a parent volunteer in a classroom, or now's not the time to linger around the entry points and exit points of a school to help us. To help us go from one day, to help us go from what Mark indicated is only two COVID cases overnight, to keep that curve where it is so that we can hopefully get as quickly as possible to full on campus learning for all our students, which is where we all endeavour to be.
And our parents can be challenging on that front and that's where we're going to require your help, and I urge you to get the P&C to back you in. I find, in my experience, that communicating with the P&C and having the P&C on board often helps in our further communication with the school community.
Murat, what's the advice now about staff who do might be immunosuppressed or in a high-risk category?
Mark, just like we finished Term 1, really important work for us, we ask that our high-risk category, it's in our guidelines as well, be allowed to work from home. That needs to continue this term. I remind our folk, and they are very committed teaching and non-teaching colleagues, that they are actually assisting us with the continuity of education provision. They're providing, through the technology, lessons to their students. They're preparing, planning and giving feedback on those lessons as well. And that workforce, their health and safety is of paramount importance to us, and at this stage following those health guidelines with our guidelines that we've put out, that workforce needs to continue from home.
We know, Mark, with this staged return from Monday, May 11, we're going to require more of our teachers and non-teaching workforce on-site than where we were at the end of the term. But for that at-risk group that needs to continue, and you might want to touch on where that guaranteed employment of that casual workforce can come in and assist us as well.
So what we've done as a department, we've done, in a sense, a procurement, a guarantee of employment of casual staff who had worked with us for 10 days or more in Term 1, guaranteed them a day or two a week and schools can employ casuals on top of that as well. And this is extra staff made available to school leadership teams to deploy in support of the learning effort. Those staff who may be in a high-risk category, they will be working from home, they're not on sick leave, they're working from home. We need an effective way of deploying them, as was the case in Term 1, but that can be reinforced in a school setting with the casual teachers who will be bringing in to support as well.
A couple of other questions before we go. There are questions around the hygiene and safety. What about those students, moderate to severe physical disabilities and the need to provide them with PPE, with personal protective equipment for the teachers who are working in those settings?
The taskforce, Mark, has been busy at, with the personal protective equipment procured and on its way. You should see them start landing this week, as we go into that staged return and we're prioritising obviously, our special schools. And a big shout out to us special schools, 115 of them across the state, who do an outstanding job with their workforce in meeting the needs of what our high needs learners, that make us such an equitable system, that we do all our best to give them a fantastic education. And there's such diversity in those contexts. So having visited a number, Mark, the masks and the hand sanitisers and the aprons are really important to that workforce and that has been secured by the task force. It's on its way.
My colleagues have also reminded me, and rightfully so, that it's not only our special schools but our support units in the mainstream that also have students that can have challenging needs and require significant modifications to engage them in their learning and in their educational endeavour. So we intend to get the PPE equipment out to our support units as well.
Mark, a massive logistical exercise. It's one thing securing these things in the diversity of NSW, with 2,200 public schools far and wide. Then the challenge is to get it out there and that starts from today.
The things you learned during COVID-19. I saw one brief that said NSW public education goes through more than a million rolls of toilet paper every fortnight. And there was a period of time, as you know, those things were hard to procure. We've been very hard at work, a great team, to get the products and services that you need to be able to operate these schools effectively. And on a number of these things, we're really encouraging school principals, if you have any concern about the supplies that you have on the ground in schools, to let us know, to liaise with your details. We've got a team of support to try and get you the material that you need to be able to operate, particularly when the students start returning in greater numbers from Monday the 11th of May.
One other question here as well about reporting and assessment. We know there's a good deal of engagement on that at a school level. We are seeking further advice on that for you. Some of the reporting rules and requirements that exist in our schools at the moment are part of national guidelines and they can't be unilaterally changed in NSW, but we are seeking advice on that as well.
As we draw to a close here, just want to thank you for all you've done in this remarkable transformation of teaching and learning that we've seen at the end of Term 1, an extraordinary preparation and diligent execution of work, in order to enable all these students to be learning from home. Highest quality work, we saw in evidence from schools around the state. And of course, that work will still be a foundation for a lot of our activity in Term 2.
But as we look to bring our students back, to build that relationship between students and their teachers, between students and their schools, to make sure that they're connected with learning and that they are safe and that they are well, we know you'll continue to do great work. As we are committed to education, we know that the health and safety of our staff and students is absolutely paramount. That's why we are closely following the advice of the absolute experts in this field, and we're implementing their strategies as we look to open our schools up more for our students in Term 2. This enormous effort around learning from home will continue.
We want to thank you for the extraordinary work you've done to make that happen. And we'll conclude today with some footage of great learning from home that's happening in our schools and in our communities, all around the state.
End of transcript.