TEACHERS will spend one less week juggling face-to-face and online learning, after the government announced changes to the staggered return to classrooms.
NSW Secondary Principals' Council Hunter president and Kotara High principal Mark Snedden welcomed Premier Dominic Perrottet's Thursday announcement that kept kindergarten, year one and year 12 returning from October 18, but brought all other grades back to school sites from October 25, instead of some from November 1.
"I would say that schools are ready to go back anyway," Mr Snedden said.
"We want the kids back, we want the kids in the classroom, that's what we put our hands up to do, so we're ready to go.
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"What you get with face to face interaction is real time learning and also that discourse, that discussion around concepts and around exploration of what you're learning in class. You also have that peer contact which is so important, even in the classroom setting not just in the playground... those things really underpin what education is about in the 21st century, it's not about learning facts and regurgitation, it's about that discussion, it's about that strategic thinking and that is difficult to do online and in isolation."
He said the new timeline would make life easier for his teachers who teach across grades, who will juggle teaching year 12 face-to-face and other grades online for one week from October 18.
"In those first few weeks the focus is going to be around socialisation, reconnection, checking in and making sure everyone is okay, I think those things have to come first because that's what they've craved and that's what they've missed."
Mr Snedden said schools would operate under the same kinds of restrictions as before the region went into lockdown on August 5.
The NSW Teachers Federation and Independent Education Union NSW/ACT said they were not consulted about the changes before they was announced and both pointed to "disrespect" for the teaching profession.
The deadline for teachers to have received two doses of vaccination is November 8. Students are not required to be vaccinated and some age groups don't yet have access to vaccination.
Mr Snedden said principals were waiting for further direction from the government about end-of-year celebrations for year 12 including graduations and formals.
He said all schools had been meeting with their communities about this and he had spoken in recent weeks to year 12 students and their families about what they would like to do under the current circumstances.
"We've got a number of ideas in writing and then we'll just wait for that further direction, which is coming very soon from the department," he said.
"We definitely will [have some kind of celebration] and all schools will, in talking to my colleagues they've got a number of concepts and ideas that they're floating at the moment.
"There has to be some sort of graduation for this year group, because when you think about this current year 12 they've had it tough for two years.
"They started the HSC in semester one last year in year 11 in lockdown. We focused on year 12 last year, as we had to.
"We got them through year 11 and they've come into year 12 and then at the worst possible stage they've had at-home learning.
"They've had it tough, so they really do deserve a graduation and some of those fun activities and those rites of passage events that all seniors do.
"I've been working with my school leaders around a few days of that when we come back to school because I think that's just so important, 13 years of education, we can't not do these things."
Waratah West Public School said it had planned a week-long "welcome back celebration" from October 25.
"You might find your teachers look a little weird, with masks and scruffy hair-dos, but underneath we are incredibly excited that we will see you all very soon."
Most Hunter students have been learning remotely since the region went into lockdown on August 5. Term four resumed on Tuesday.
The government has issued tips for families about returning to school, which include finding school equipment and ensuring shoes and uniforms still fit and allowing more time than usual to get ready on the first morning.
University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Mark Hoffman said UON students would continue studying from home for the remainder of the year, apart from some who started some learning activities on campus on Tuesday.
He said UON was considering how the Thursday announcements may impact its policy on vaccination.
A spokesperson for TAFE NSW said it had been following NSW Public Health Orders and state government requirements, including the Return to Vocational Education and Training Guidelines.
It has been conducting some face-to-face training with Hunter students in recent weeks and will progressively bring back more face-to-face classes from next week, using COVID-safe measures.
"As education is an essential service, TAFE NSW campuses have remained operational during the stay-at-home orders using a combination of face-to-face, online, and virtual training," she said.
"Throughout this period, face-to-face training has been prioritised in critical skill areas [including nursing] to enable student progression.
"This has allowed TAFE NSW to bring students onto campuses in small groups, where it is safe to do so, and with appropriate risk controls in place.
"From next week, TAFE NSW will progressively bring back additional face-to-face training across all skill areas, using a range of safety measures already in place such as checking-in using the Service NSW QR code, socially distancing, and wearing masks in indoor settings."
She said TAFE NSW was following vaccination requirements as set out in the NSW Public Health Orders.
"As of the 7 of October 2021, there are several categories of staff and students with vaccination requirements," she said. "In line with public health orders, where an industry requires employee vaccination, for example aged care, TAFE NSW staff and students who go into those workplaces will need to be vaccinated, or to provide the appropriate evidence of medical exemption. TAFE NSW also requires staff and students to be vaccinated where they are engaged in simulated work environments with members of the public, including restaurants, or hair and beauty facilities."
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