Dan Tehan directs private schools to open, makes it a condition of funding


He said the students might be children of essential workers but added pupils should “not be refused physical classroom access based on their parent’s employment”.

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Under federal legislation, Mr Tehan has the authority to sign off on additional conditions on funding for private schools.

He said he was using this power to include a condition starting from term two “requiring schools to provide a physical classroom education environment for the children of parents who choose to access it”.

Mr Tehan told reporters on Thursday he wanted schools to be open for safety reasons.

“We want them open so children can be safely cared for if their parents are working or if there are other reasons where children are much more safe at school rather than at home,” he said.

While the federal government has maintained the official medical advice is that schools should be open and children should attend, state governments have been taking different approaches. The NSW and Victorian government have been encouraging parents to keep their children at home.

Mr Tehan said the NSW and Victorian decisions reflected the greater spread of COVID-19 in the states. Those governments have also faced pressure from teachers’ unions over the risk to staff, especially those in vulnerable demographics.

Mr Tehan said education ministers were looking at options to make school systems more flexible and open for some students.

“Is there an opportunity maybe to bring year 12 students back one day a week? Or would there be an opportunity for those doing vocational education at school to do some of their practical work at school? Or chemistry students – would they be able to come to school one or two afternoons a week to do the practical side of their chemistry?”

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Victorian students are scheduled to return to school on April 14 under an online learning model. NSW students are due to return on April 27.

Attendance, which plummeted in March, could rise after the holidays. Medical officials are looking at how to make schools safer, with bolstered hygiene and social distancing measures.

The NSW Teachers Federation has suggested a staged return to schools once health authorities and governments agreed to begin lifting social distancing restrictions, beginning with year 12 and kindergarten.

“I’ve advanced a proposition that part of an orderly [process], we could consider a return of year 12 and kindergarten, followed by year seven and year six, and progressively pad that out,” said federation president Angelo Gavrielatos.

He said any return would need to ensure maximum health protections and adequate resources for hygiene measures.

With Jordan Baker

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