NSW schools will stay open but parents are being encouraged to keep their kids at home as the state ramps up online learning efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s position appears at odds with the prime minister’s stance and has led parents to criticise the governments for sending mixed messages.
“This coronavirus crisis will take many things from this country and one of the things I am determined it will not take is a year of learning from our children,” Scott Morrison told federal parliament on Monday afternoon.
“There is no health reason for schools to be closed or for children not to go to schools.”
Ms Berejiklian earlier said while no child would be turned away from a NSW public school but she urged parents to keep their kids at home if possible.
“We are encouraging parents to keep their children at home – for those parents who have no option schools will remain open,” the premier told reporters.
Standardised teaching units will be put in place so students get the same education whether they are at home or in the classroom.
“There won’t be a separate class for kids at home, there won’t be a separate class for kids at school, there will be one unit of teaching which makes it simple and practical,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Almost one third of parents in NSW were already keeping their kids home, Ms Berejiklian said on Monday.
State Education Minister Sarah Mitchell says the state is well-prepared to tackle the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are ready to transition and we have a lot of material that is ready to go. In challenging times we think this is the right decision to have made.”
Teachers, including those with health concerns, will be given more flexibility to work from home.
The NSW Teachers Federation says the government must protect staff who have now been thrust on to the frontline of the coronavirus crisis.
“What we have now is a recipe for chaos,” a union spokesman said in a statement.
“There is but scant reference to the safety of teachers and principals and other school employees in dealing with this crisis.”
The union said it would throw its weight behind calls for schools to close if the government could not guarantee complete health protection for teachers as well as support for parents working in essential services.
The Association of Independent Schools of NSW on Monday supported the state government’s decision to keep schools open but ask parents to keep their children at home.
The Public Service Association – which represents 17,500 non-teaching school staff across NSW – called on the Berejiklian government to follow the UK approach and close schools for all children but those of essential service workers.
“The NSW government can readily make arrangements to ensure the children of essential service workers can remain supervised by staff at school during school hours – and if needed after school care too,” PSA general secretary Stewart Little said in a statement.
NSW Opposition leader Jodi McKay wants the coalition to close schools immediately.
“Parents and teachers need clarity and leadership – I don’t see why schools are open,” she told reporters.
Schools in Victoria and the ACT will close on Tuesday.
Victoria has brought the state’s school holidays forward to support the early shutdown and the ACT will have pupil-free classrooms where teaching is conducted online.
Australia’s chief medical officer says his expert panel on Sunday “came to the conclusion that the risks of children not going to school were greater than the risks of them staying at school”.
“That position may change,” Professor Brendan Murphy acknowledged on Monday.
NSW has 704 confirmed COVID-19 cases.