“We do think schools need to be made safe, and the national cabinet has asked us to come back later this week with some detailed advice on how to make schools safe, in terms of hygiene measures, reducing gatherings, practising where possible social distancing, cleaning playground equipment.”
Physical teacher numbers were reduced in the lead up to April as schools moved to remote online learning platforms, while a skeleton staff remained on campus for the children of essential workers.
Teachers unions led calls for restricted staffing and are expected to be a key part of the negotiations to manage a steady rise in students after the Easter break. They have been particularly concerned about coronavirus exposure for vulnerable older workers in the sector.
Thursday’s national cabinet will also put pressure on educators to innovate their way through the coronavirus crisis in the “new normal” as leaders resolve to get educators delivering a combination of remote and in class learning to see students through the pandemic.
The federal and state governments are determined to have the school year completed and suggestions that school students would have to repeat or complete a “year 13″ have been rejected.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said the priority for planning was on students who could not safely learn at home but “the more the government could do to encourage students to go to school the better”.
“The coronavirus is going to take a lot away from us but we don’t want to take away their education,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.
Mr Tehan said the University College London found that when “you weigh the balance up” the government “should be erring to having children at school”.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published research on Monday showing children were less likely to develop any of the major coronavirus symptoms. There is no evidence to conclude whether children are or are not spreaders of the disease.
A key consideration for the government has been the economic cost of pulling parents out of the workplace to help educate and supervise their children.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that a situation where parents would have to choose between work commitments and education was not “tolerable”.
“From the Commonwealth’s point of view, and particularly from a national economy point of view, then we obviously want to ensure that parents who are unable to provide a proper learning environment at home that they don’t have to choose between their children’s education and having a job that can feed their children,” he said.
Victorian students were scheduled to return to school on April 14. NSW students were due to return on April 27.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra