Next steps

The response to COVID-19 has highlighted the capacity of the Education System to be agile and responsive.

This flexibility should not be lost in the return to business as usual, but instead should be leveraged to enable the department to continue to respond to persistent challenges across the system in order to improve the educational outcomes for all students.

The innovations and changed ways of working in response to the pandemic provide an opportunity to re-imagine the way learning happens through our Education System.

Importantly, the response and recovery phases of the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing. There are likely many more learnings to come out of this experience.

Learnings – Continuity of education

The learnings identified through this chapter could have applicability across a range of department initiatives. Most significantly, these ‘ways of learning and working’ should be leveraged in line with the NSW Curriculum Review. That review recommends ways to streamline what is taught in schools. Importantly, these learnings allow further consideration of how that teaching and learning occurs.

There are a number of other projects underway to further identify possible improvements to education, and these should be considered in taking forward the recommended actions. In particular, the Education for a Changing World “Learning from COVID” project identifies further opportunities for learning from the student perspective.

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There are opportunities to re-imagine the way learning is delivered to meet the contextual and individual needs of student and staff.

Consider how to embed new ways of delivering learning and assessment practices across the system


The department rapidly responded to the shift to remote and hybrid learning. Online resources developed by the department proved popular.

Consider how to leverage the Learning from Home hub as a more permanent resource, driving innovation in practice and housing new content for use by staff, students and parents.


Virtual staffrooms helped teachers adjust to remote teaching and facilitate collaboration. There may be opportunities to continue and improve this platform.

Consider whether the virtual statewide staffrooms for teachers should be continued and whether the platform can be improved.


Schools and teachers continued to have flexibility to adapt central resources to their school communities, but they had varied capacity and capability to respond to the challenge. There are opportunities to improve accountability frameworks to ensure the capacity for local decisions at the school level is balanced with appropriate support measures for schools, leaders and teachers.

Consider appropriate system support mechanisms to assist local school practices.


Continuity of learning was supported by readily available online and on-demand professional learning.

Consider online and blended models for the delivery of professional learning going forward


Many parents contributed significantly to the learning of children during this period, continued parent engagement should be leveraged to continue to support student outcomes.

Consider how to embed pro-active relationships with parents to make them partners in learning.

Learnings – Every student is known

It was identified early in the response to COVID-19, that any reduction in face-to-face learning was likely to have more significant impacts on students with higher vulnerability. While this drove the decision to ensure schools remained open for children who needed to attend physically, it also drove the development of a range of responses that could continue to support every student in their learning.

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The department quickly identified that the impacts of COVID 19 would heighten the needs of students already identified as being vulnerable, and make other students vulnerable for the first time.

Consider opportunities to continue and expand supports put in place for students with increased vulnerability


The remote learning period created barriers for some students while removing barriers for others.

Consider opportunities to adapt or enhance flexible learning modes to create a more inclusive Education System, especially for students with a disability.


Multidisciplinary teams, cross-departmental collaborations and streamlined ways of working were critical to success in supporting vulnerable students.

Consider ways to continue outcomes-driven and customer-focused teams and collaborative projects.


Infrastructure and supply chain challenges meant that not all teachers and students had access to an appropriate web-enabled device to participate in online learning. Schools were enabled to respond to their particular community needs.

Consider learnings from the remote learning period to refine and expedite the Schools Digital Strategy, particularly through the Rural Access Gap program and to improve central visibility of laptop location and loan status.

Learnings – Schools are safe and clean

These learnings seek to leverage the additional capacity built during the response to COVID-19 and to assist the system policies being applied at the school level. Additionally, they seek to ensure that schools, staff and students are supported and safe not only in periods of crisis but as standard practice across the department.

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Incidents such as COVID-19, have an immense impact on business operations that are providing front-line support. It is recommended that the department explore options of creating a pool of staff from across the department that can be readily deployed during critical times to support essential areas of the business. This should include systems to support a clear line of sight of staffing capacity across the entire department.

Consider learnings in workforce strategy development.


With the intense focus on infection control measures to keep schools healthy and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there is a greater level of understanding and application of infection control measures in our school environments. There is a new level of understanding of the importance of infection control practices as a means of creating safe working and learning environments which will remain ongoing beyond the response to COVID-19. However, to ensure an ongoing and sustained application, targeted support, training and clear information will be required to support staff and students to maintain best practice.

Consider how schools can be supported to maintain best-practice infection control procedures including how this can be effectively monitored


Following established procedures was critical to not only health and safety but for confidence in the Education System as a whole. Appropriate oversight and accountability measures should reinforce compliance with critical procedures, as well as promote system confidence.

Consider how to clearly communicate and monitor core school-based expectations.


The whole of government cleaning contract allows sufficient flexibility and capacity to adjust cleaning regimes rapidly in response to changing circumstances.

Consider options to enable the continuation of additional cleaning in schools


To enable effective cleaning of high-touch areas such as toilet facilities, and ensure ongoing compliance with infection control and hygiene requirements, it is recommended that an assessment of assets across the portfolio be undertaken and a program of works scoped to upgrade the assets to meet statutory requirements.

Assess assets and scope a program of works to upgrade assets to meet statutory requirements.


The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that school level procurement is vulnerable to supply chain disruption.

The department demonstrated an operational capacity to rapidly stand up critical processes in response to rapidly changing circumstances and government advice. Leveraging whole of system scale was critical to the success of the response.

Consider establishment of permanent logistics and response team with surge capacity for emergency response.


The centralisation of an enabling function, such as the procurement, dispatch and monitoring of hygiene supplies, allowed schools to focus attention on the provision of continuity of education, the delivery of the managed return to school and ensuring every student is known valued and cared for.

Consider how infection control and hygiene requirements can be more clearly defined for each school community in order to inform robust supply chain planning.

Learnings – Communication and Engagement

Effective communication and engagement is integral to the success of responses to health emergencies. The rapidly changing environment of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for prompt and accurate communication of key messages to key stakeholders to ensure they clearly understood their roles and responsibilities in managing the crisis, and to counter misinformation.

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Clearer, direct communications between the department and teachers would have more quickly made teachers aware of what is expected of them, how schools would operate and the helpful support materials and guidance available. This would also enable them to communicate more effectively with parents.

Establish and grow a more direct communications channel with teachers to support department messaging


Regular engagement with cross-sector stakeholders improved the quality and reception of the COVID-19 response. Considering mechanisms to continue and improve cross-sector engagement may assist with future reform, crisis responses and drive innovation to benefit learning.

Consider how to better engage across the education sector, including with student, teacher and parent voices.


The speed at which the crisis unfolded, combined with the decentralised model of communications, and ownership of channels and audiences, within the department, made it difficult to strategically plan and manage communications.

Review communication crisis plan templates to be in place and regularly updated (this should include ownership of channels, stakeholder list and clear responsibility for stakeholders).


Better measurement of communications and segmentation of email distribution lists is needed to accurately understand the effectiveness of the department’s communication with internal stakeholders.

Review communication strategies to ensure clear evaluation measures are in place.

Related projects

There are a range of projects that could be used to progress the learnings identified in this report, or which contributed to the department’s identification of learnings. These include both internal pieces of work, such as the Catalyst Lab Innovation Program’s research piece on student, teacher and parent perspectives of the COVID-19 remote learning period, and external pieces such as the Grattan Institute’s COVID-19 Catchup report on educational disadvantage.

There will likely be a significant amount of emerging research projects which will further inform the understanding of the impacts and learnings from the remote learning and return to school periods that should continue to inform the department’s ongoing work in this area.

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