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4 Apr 2020 6:13
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  •   Home > News > International

    States announce pupil-free days and early term breaks as they prepare for distance learning during coronavirus pandemic

    Leaders announce a series of different measures for schools across the country, with some calling on parents to keep children at home if they can. Here's what is happening in each state and territory.

    Premiers have announced a series of different measures for schools across the country, with some calling on parents to keep children at home if they can.

    Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia will keep schools open for the children of essential workers but will begin to implement pupil-free days in the coming weeks.

    The Federal Government has been adamant that schools would remain open and while most states have kept schools open for now, some have indicated they will move to remote learning in the weeks and months ahead.

    Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe told the ABC it was clear this was not "business as usual".

    "These announcements today are a welcome first step," she said.

    She said the pupil-free days would give teachers time to begin preparing to deliver classes by distance.

    Ms Haythorpe called on governments to recognise the challenges of educating students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and asked for teachers to be given the necessary time and resources.

    Queensland schools 'student-free' from Monday

    Next week, schools in Queensland will be student-free, except for the children of essential workers, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Thursday.

    The student-free period would allow teachers to receive training in distance learning and using online resources.

    She said the children of essential workers, including supermarket staff, would be able to keep going to school.

    "It's not just our health workers, it's not just our emergency services workers, it's not just our police workers, it actually involves anyone who's in our workforce including people who stack shelves at Woolies and work in a whole [range of] different industries that their students will still be allowed to go to school," Ms Palaszczuk said.

    Online learning resources have been made available for parents who can keep their children at home through the Queensland Department of Education.

    WA asks parents to keep children home if they can

    WA Premier Mark McGowan asked parents to keep children home if they could, but said schools would remain open next week.

    "I want to reassure parents that our schools are well prepared to continue to provide education for their children," he said.

    "However, the State Government encourages families to keep their children at home if they can access online or other resources for the education of their children to continue."

    While schools do remain open next week, the Premier also announced the state's current school term will now end next Friday, April 3.

    South Australia will move to online and remote learning next term

    Classes will move to online learning in the second term in South Australia, with pupil-free days announced for the week leading up to Good Friday on April 10.

    Pupil-free days mean students will not be required to attend school, but as in other parts of Australia, schools will be open for the children of essential workers.

    The pupil-free days will allow teachers to prepare for the shift to distance learning, according to Education Minister John Gardner.

    "The message for parents is this — if you are capable of supervising your child at home so they can learn from home, we are now supporting you to do so," he said.

    But teachers have expressed a desire for stronger action and Australian Education Union SA branch president Lara Golding said the pupil-free period should start next week.

    "Teachers are highly anxious — in fact, some are feeling quite terrified," she said.

    Northern Territory to have pupil-free days

    Next week is set to be the final week of regular term in the Northern Territory.

    But from Monday, April 6 to Thursday, April 9, schools will be pupil-free to allow teachers to prepare for "the continued delivery of education in term two", according to a statement from the Government.

    Minister for Education Selena Uibo said the Government would ensure all families had equal access to distance learning, providing both online and hard-copy resources.

    "We know many parents are anxious and we know many teachers and school staff are anxious, so for the rest of this week and next week, parents can choose to keep kids at home," she said.

    "We know some families will still need to send their child to school.

    "No child will be turned away from school."

    Tasmania's school term will end early

    Schools will close for an early end-of-term break from next Friday in Tasmania before shifting to distance learning.

    Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has said once school returns in the second term, children of essential workers would still be welcome.

    "We will support other students in their home, through either online or through other resources," he said.

    Victoria and ACT schools already on break

    Schools in Victoria have already started their school holidays after Premier Daniel Andrews brought the break forward to begin on Tuesday.

    The second term is scheduled to begin on April 14 and Mr Andrews said he expected classes to recommence unless he had medical advice that they should not.

    The ACT joined Victoria on an early break.

    Education Minister Yvette Berry initially said schools would close before explaining the children of essential workers would still be welcome during this week's pupil-free days.

    Less than 5 per cent of students physically attended schools on the first pupil-free day earlier this week, Ms Berry told the Canberra Times.

    NSW schools still open, but students encouraged to stay home

    For now, NSW schools remain unaffected but Premier Gladys Berejiklian has told parents they should keep children at home if they can.

    "For practical reasons, we are encouraging parents to keep their students at home," Ms Berejiklian said.

    The Government has said all schools in the state were providing online learning options for the remainder of term one for parents who have chosen to keep their children home.

    But so far, the school calendar remains unaffected and schools remain open until the regular term break begins on Friday, April 9.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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