City staff head north to keep classrooms running

The northern tablelands’ Inverell High School is one of the first schools to benefit from the department’s COVID workforce plan, writes Vanessa Lahey.

Image: Inverell High School Relief teacher Peter Davis and Year 11 student Jack Marshall

The NSW Department of Education’s COVID workforce plan was devised ahead of this year’s return to school to quickly mobilise current, former and future staff if and when absences occurred in schools due to teachers and staff testing positive to COVID-19.

Inverell High School is taking full advantage of these ready-made measures and Principal Wayne Fowke couldn’t be happier.

“The extra helping hands have relieved the pressure on staff and school is functioning as normal. I love it!” explained Mr Fowke.

The school welcomed three of its corporate colleagues from Sydney, Tamworth and Armidale, to help out with school operations to minimise the disruption to the learning of students.

One of the staff members on secondment is NSW Education Curriculum Project Adviser and former Normanhurst Boys High School teacher Peter Davis who left Sydney to take up the cause for the staff and students at Inverell.

“I haven’t been in a classroom since 2017, so it’s actually a great experience being back at the coal face of learning,” Mr Davis commented.

“I’m really impressed with how the school is operating under the circumstances. The kids are positive and welcoming and the staff are brilliant.

“While here at Inverell High School, I’ll be helping out with coding for the junior classes as computing is my background, and filling holes where there’s a need.”

The Department’s contingency measures were aimed at tackling potential workforce shortages due to COVID-19 infections and ensuring schools could stay open for learning.

Under the plan, retired teachers, final year university students and corporate professionals were identified to help schools to backfill staff who are on leave due to COVID-19, in areas such as teaching, administration, and student support.

Secretary of the NSW Department of Education Georgina Harrison said the priority has always been to support a smooth and COVID-safe transition back to school in term one.

“We knew what potential impacts the COVID-19 Omicron variant presented our schools from what we saw at the end of 2021,” Ms Harrison said.

“We anticipated that even with the combination of physical distancing, mask-wearing, strict hygiene practices, home testing kits, and frequent cleaning of schools, COVID-19 might remain present in the schoolyard.  

“So it’s really satisfying to see the plan pay-off in the way it has for Inverell High School.

“I would like to thank our non-school-based workforce for supporting their frontline colleagues to help keep our schools open and safe for students,” Ms Harrison said.

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