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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyNovember 10, 2021

All schools can return next Wednesday: here’s what you need to know

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

After nearly three months of home schooling for most Auckland kids, years one to 10 students in level three areas will return to school next Wednesday.

What’s all this then?

Education minister Chris Hipkins today announced that Auckland and Waikato students in years 1-10 can return to face-to-face learning at schools and kura from November 17. 

I thought it was supposed to be Monday?

After senior students returned to school on October 26, education minister Chris Hipkins announced an “indicative date” of Monday, November 15 for a phased return for younger students. That has now been pushed to Wednesday, November 17. In the press conference announcing the news, Hipkins said the Ministry of Education had been in discussions with schools, “and have taken on board that you wanted a few extra days’ preparation time, and for all students not to come back at once”.

Will it still be a “phased” situation? 

Those in years nine and 10 will be heading back to the classroom full time to join their senior schoolmates, while most students in years one to eight will be returning part time. There will be limits on numbers of students allowed on site. “Each school and kura will decide what works best for their learners and their community. That might be by alternating days or half weeks – through year levels, or through whānau groupings,” said Hipkins in a press release announcing the news. “Full-time learning will continue on-site for students whose parents have needed it, for example to go to work.”

How do I know what will happen at my kids’ school?

Your school will be in touch directly to let you know. In terms of limits on student numbers, Hipkins said, “We haven’t set a hard and fast number because it will depend on the school and how much space they have, and how much learning they can do outdoors.”

Will there be any public health measures in place?

There will. In addition to the aforementioned limit on numbers, groups of children will be required to be distanced from each other, those in years four and above will be required to wear masks “in most cases”, and there will be ventilation guidelines.

What about vaccination?

As of Monday, all teachers (and other school staff who have contact with students) must have had at least their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and by January 1 they must be fully vaccinated. Kids aged under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Those 12 and over are, but there are no requirements that they must have had it to return to the classroom. Hipkins said that students in the years nine and 10 age bracket are currently at around 80%-plus for first doses.

Any testing requirements?

Teachers must provide evidence of a negative test before returning to school. Staff who are not fully vaccinated must continue to get tested for Covid-19 and provide evidence of a negative test result every seven days until they are fully vaccinated.

Is this safe?

According to Hipkins, “Public health advice supports a return to on-site learning. As vaccination rates increase, including the requirement for teachers to have at least one Covid-19 vaccination from Monday, the risk to children and students is lowered.

“The health advice also tells us that in other countries, out-of-school activities create a greater risk of transmission than what happens at places of learning. It is clear that the risk of reopening schools is outweighed by the benefits of kids re-engaging with their learning face-to-face in this context,” he said. 

Will there be any changes to the curriculum?

The planned curriculum refresh, the new Aotearoa New Zealand history requirement, changes to NCEA and the early childhood curriculum, among other things, are being pushed back, mostly to 2023.

“Our teachers, kaiako, learners, whānau and communities continue to manage their way through uncertainty caused by Covid-19, particularly in the Auckland region,” Hipkins said in a statement. “Helping them begin a process of sustained recovery from nearly two years of Covid-19 disruption is a major priority for next year. To make this possible we’re giving schools, kura and early learning services more time to roll out the curriculum and assessment work programmes.

“These change programmes remain critical for the future success of our education system but they require considerable effort. We consider that time spent reconnecting with communities and focusing on wellbeing, as well as teaching and learning, will serve communities best heading in to the new year,” he said.

“We want to ensure teachers, kaiako, learners, whānau and communities have the time they need to engage in these changes and fully participate in their implementation.”

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