‘A fair bit of excitement’: Schools on track for return to pre-COVID routine

‘A fair bit of excitement’: Schools on track for return to pre-COVID routine

January 20, 2021

When more than 1 million students return to Victorian schools next week, life will almost be back to normal.

There will be inter-school sports, choirs and camps. Children will use drinking taps and parents – including those of Victoria's 84,000 new preps – will be allowed inside the school gates.

Department of Education and Training deputy secretary David Howes hopes Victorian students will be able to participate in a full school year.Credit:Joe Armao

Department of Education and Training deputy secretary David Howes said he hoped students would be able to participate in a full school year, "including all the things that they missed out on last year".

Schools spent months teaching online in 2020 and hundreds of campuses shut because of COVID-19 cases during the state's second wave of the deadly pandemic.

Under the rules for 2021, face masks will be recommended but not mandatory for secondary schools, and parents will be required to record their details for contact tracing purposes if they remain at school for more than 15 minutes.

There'll be no social distancing rules, although there will be density ratios for visitors.

VCE students endured a year like no other in 2020. Credit:Jason South

"All these things are put in place to ensure that schools are able to operate pretty much as they would have day one of last year, with some extra precautions in place," Dr Howes said.

Research shows that disadvantaged students suffered most during the state's lockdowns and schools will continue to focus on student learning and wellbeing.

"Schools did a lot of work around assessing student learning and wellbeing at the end of last year and, obviously, a number of schools, the secondaries that are taking in year 7s and the primaries that are adding preps, will have to go through that process," Dr Howes said.

About $250 million will be spent putting tutors in schools and mental health practitioners will be employed in government specialist schools for secondary students.

Schools will also be given a checklist to identify students who need additional support, which can be provided by the school or other professionals.

Dr Howes said principals and teachers were optimistic about 2021 and keen to incorporate the lessons of remote learning.

"I think there's a fair bit of excitement around. There's a lot of enthusiasm for getting back to school productions, school sports, school concerts – all those things that were so difficult last year."

Tina King, president-elect of the Australian Principals Federation, said school leadership had stood tall last year.

"We'll just head into this year with that confidence of knowing we've been able to do it before and we'll deal with what comes," Ms King said.

"It's back to normal, but it's not … there's some trepidation because we don't know what lies ahead."

Dr Howes said if coronavirus community transmission re-emerged, the community could have faith that schools would cope because last year's process of rapid school closure, contact tracing and deep cleaning had worked well.

"We didn't have significant outbreaks in schools; rates of transmission were very low, so we imagine that we would follow the same process, but as always we would follow the advice of the health authority."

Schools and early learning centres are unlikely to drive transmission of COVID-19, a study of global literature and Victorian outbreak data found late last year.

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute report found "household transmission has been consistently found to be the commonest sources of infection for children".

Furthermore, the report noted that children aged less than 12 years seemed to transmit less than other people and an outbreak was very uncommon if the first case was a child aged 0 to 5.

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