COVID-19

Back-to-class chaos looms as teacher illness spikes

Many will continue bringing forward pupil-free days, staggering work-from-home days for different year levels and combining classes, all to cope with staff losses of up to 50 per cent due to Covid and flu.The Australian Education Union has said it is “very concerned” about the situation facing primary and secondary schools in the new term due to widespread staff illness.Some teachers are also concerned about the safety of schools, given that masks are off and unvaccinated staff have returned to campus. Malcolm Elliott, president of the Australian Primary Principals’ Association, said students would not be returning to normal classroom teaching when classes resumed on Monday or Tuesday.“In some instances, kids will be watching films or spending extra time in libraries rather than being taught in classrooms,” he said. “It’s hard to get relief teachers and those that are around are getting sick too. “A primary school may have 16 teachers but up to six or more of them off sick – ­principals are having to teach as well as do their own job.“This constant uncertainty is having an impact on children who don’t know who will be teaching them”. Mr Elliott added that some teachers were worried about their safety. “Teachers are people too and they are worried about their own health and wider family. Teachers are aware of escalating infection numbers and hoping they remain healthy so they can do their jobs,” he said.“This is a very, very serious situation.”Australian Education Union Victorian branch deputy president Justin Mullaly said the union was “very concerned” about the shortages still plaguing schools.“In particular, we’re worried about the additional workloads experienced by public school teachers, principals and education support staff ­because of illness-related staff absences and associated staff shortages,” he said. “These additional workloads are only adding to the stress and increasing pressure felt by school staff this year.” Mr Mullaly called on the Department of Education to continue to wind back teachers’ bureaucratic and administrative workloads to get staff back into classrooms. “We have continued to raise these concerns with the ­department and expect them to provide additional support to schools,” he said. “This includes acting to boost the supply of casual relief teachers, and scaling back ­department and school-based work requirements so schools can concentrate on essential teaching and student and staff wellbeing. “School staff need more flexibility and support from the department to manage these pressures.”A state government spokesman said: “Our principals and school staff have worked hard through terms one and two and were able to maximise face-to-face learning, despite the significant challenges of Covid-19 and influenza.“The Department of Education will continue to work closely with schools and provide every support possible to ensure that this is again the case in term three,” he said.

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