The Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian branch has called on the Department of Education and Training (DET) to allow a flexible approach for both special schools and year 11 and 12 students in its learning guidelines for schools during term three.
The union wants the DET to allow schools to make suitable arrangements where necessary to ensure a high-quality public education is provided and meet the needs of staff, students and parents. Those arrangements may include remote learning on set days or for set students.
AEU Victorian branch President Meredith Peace said the DET’s unwillingness to compromise and allow a flexible approach meant some students were missing out on formal education delivery and had led to additional stress for principals, teachers and support staff.
“We’re seeing drop-offs in attendance rates, particularly in our special schools, and because schools have not been authorised to make local decisions those kids who aren’t physically attending school are getting limited, if any education,” said Ms Peace.
A number of special schools have reported attendance rates of around 50%, as many parents choose to keep their children at home due to concerns related to COVID-19 and the high number of infections in Victoria.
“Parents want their children to have access to educational programs but are also deeply concerned about the health of their children who may be medically vulnerable.
“The fact they have no access to learning unless they attend school puts parents in an impossible situation and leaves students falling behind their peers, and that’s not good enough in our opinion.
“We’ve learned from the previous lockdown that the hard work of school staff led to many positive experiences for students during remote learning, and while we acknowledge it’s not perfect, it’s certainly a lot better than no learning at all.”
Special schools have been of particular concern to the AEU because the hands-on nature of the education and care of students makes physical distancing extremely difficult, and staff have expressed frustration about the lack of personal protective equipment and clear guidelines about its use.
“Right now, our special school staff feel they are being neglected and we want to see some action from the department that shows us they will prioritise the health and safety of their employees and students.”