DIOCESE of Maitland-Newcastle director of schools Gerard Mowbray said he expects a "significant proportion" of students to be back in classrooms by June 1, but the key driver will be "kids and staff and family wellbeing" and not the government's offer to bring forward funding.
Federal education minister Dan Tehan wrote to the Independent Schools Council of Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission on Tuesday to say they'll be able to apply to have the payment of 25 per cent of their total annual recurrent funding, due in July, brought forward to May and June.
To receive the first payment of 12.5 per cent, schools need to have campuses open for learning, plus a plan to fully reopen by June 1.
For the second payment, they need to commit to having 50 per cent of students attending classrooms by June 1. They must apply by May 1.
Mr Mowbray said it was "probable" the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) - which has 57 schools and will stagger students' return to classrooms from May 11 - would apply, but only because it had already expected at least 50 per cent of pupils to be back by June 1.
"But if that were to occur it will occur because it's smart and safe to do so," he said.
"We're not going to let the funding be the driver of what we do with face to face teaching."
Mr Mowbray said he anticipated medical modelling would "continue to show us schools are very safe places to be".
But he said if this changed, the CSO would not hasten students to return in order to meet the government's conditions.
"We couldn't do that," he said.
Hunter Valley Grammar had 80 per cent of its students return to campus on Tuesday and expects the remainder to be back within a week. Newcastle Grammar has taken a staggered approach and expects face to face teaching to "return to normal" on June 1.
Independent Education Union (IEU) Australia federal secretary Chris Watt called on non-government schools to reject the government's proposal, "which brings no new funding or support to the table, compromises the safety of staff and students, and seeks to exploit short term financial concerns".
Some schools had raised the issue of cash flow due to families unable to pay fees.
He said the offer attempted to "force non-government schools into transitioning away from remote learning" and described it as "extortion" and "divisive and destructive wedge-politics".
Other sources said the offer was an attempt to "embarrass" state governments into sending students back to public schools sooner than anticipated.
IEU NSW/ACT Hunter organiser Therese Fitzgibbon said the Newcastle office had received calls from members, including the vulnerable, "asking are we going to allow this bribe to happen?"