SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools
Gareth Parker: What did happen last night, though, is something that I think’s important in addressing some of the anxieties and some of the concerns of classroom teachers. The specialist health advisory body that’s been contributing its advice to the National Cabinet on all of these things, it issued new guidelines about what can change within school classrooms and within school environments, to make sure they are as safe as they possibly can be. The Federal Education Minister is Dan Tehan. Minister, good morning.
Dan Tehan: Morning Gareth. How are you?
Parker: Yeah, good. Thank you for your time this morning. So, the AHPPC is the acronym, they’re the health advisors. Their advice last night is updated, and, I think, it’s quite important, isn’t it? I mean, what sorts of things are they saying to address the concerns of teachers here?
Tehan: Yeah, you’re right Gareth. It is incredibly important, and I call them the medical expert panel, just so people can understand their role. It’s basically the chief medial officers, from every state and territory and the Commonwealth, coming together to provide this advice. So, it is the best medical advice that we can get, nationally, through this medical expert panel. And, what they’ve said, is, there are quite a number of steps that schools can take to ensure that they’re not only safe for our children. And, the consistent advice right away through this pandemic has been that it is safe for our children to go to school, but, also, safe for our teachers. And, that’s things like ensuring that parents’ contact with teachers is limited, making sure that teachers – when they’re in the lunchroom or at recess or having a cup of tea – that they practice social distancing. Ensuring that children practice good hygiene, when it comes to washing their hands before class. Making sure that any child, if they’re unwell, doesn’t attend school. A mobile phone, so, they make a recommendation that mobile phones should be restricted at school – and, that’s something that I strongly support, whether we have a pandemic or not. It’s something that the Western Australian State Government has been strong on, as well. So, there’s a raft of these things, including additional guidance around cleaning at school. So, all this is set out in this advice from the medical expert panel, which, I think, will, once again, go another step to helping us ensure that our schools remain open for that classroom teaching, which involves that face-to-face teaching between a professional teacher and a student.
Parker: One of the interesting recommendations is, they’re saying to schools, ‘Look, have a think about whether you can stagger your start and finish times and stagger your recess and lunch times’?
Tehan: Yep, absolutely. Just good, common sense, practical things that, I think, will go a long way to ensuring that we are doing everything we can, in particular, to make the work environment for our teachers as safe as possible. The other guidance that they’ve given, previously, is for teachers over 65 years of age – it’s probably better that they don’t have an in classroom role. Or, any teacher that might have a co-morbidity, that they don’t have an in classroom role. So, these are all the types of things that they’re recommending.
Parker: It’s a big ask, isn’t it? I mean, teachers. I think, if I think about the feedback I’ve had on this program from teachers, it’s that, while we’re seeing one set of guidelines and advice for people out in the community, but, then, within a school environment, we’re being asked to, sort of, do a different task in a different way, when it comes to social distancing. And, you know, getting eight-year-old kids to stay a metre and a half away from you is easier said than done. Do you understand the anxieties that have been expressed by teachers over the past few weeks?
Tehan: I do, yeah, I do. And, look, I’d, to start with, just like to thank all the teachers who are providing that continuity of education for our children in the classroom. Your role is as important as our nurses, our doctors, and everyone else who’s contributing to help us deal with this pandemic. And, look, can I say to all those teachers, the medical expert panel is watching and monitoring the whole time, what is going on, what is happening here in Australia, but, also, what is happening globally. And, if they saw changes which meant that they didn’t think schools were a safe place for both teachers and students to be, then I’m sure that they would change their advice. But, they’ve been consistent, right throughout, that schools remain a safe place for our children. And, also, with the proper precautions put in place, for our teachers to be teaching our children at.
Parker: Some teacher’s groups, principal’s groups, and so on, in this state, have asked whether they should have personal protective equipment made available to them. What does the medical advice say about that?
Tehan: Yeah. The medical advice is saying that that’s not necessary. So, they’ve looked at all these types of issues, and they’ve said that they don’t see that as necessary. They see it as more necessary to make sure that there’s good social distancing being practiced, especially between adults, so, teacher to teacher or teacher and parent, and, then, a range of other things. But, they haven’t said that it’s necessary to go down that role of PPE.
Parker: Is it a problem that different states are coming to different arrangements?
Tehan: Well, look, I think one of the things that this pandemic has shown is that we do have a federation, and, sometimes it works in our interest, and, sometimes it means that trying to get national consistency is difficult. And, I think, on this issue around schools, we’ve seen that, obviously, Victoria, have taken a position which is different to Western Australia, which is different to the Northern Territory, and, which is different, in nuance, to New South Wales and Queensland. But, ultimately, we have to understand that the Constitution sets out education is the jurisdictional responsibility of states and territories. And, as a Commonwealth Government, what we’ve been trying to do right throughout this is provide nationally consistent advice to state and territory governments. And, we’re hoping, as best we can, that we get that implemented as consistently as possible. But, we can’t enforce that, but, that we want to continue working with states and territories to get the very best outcomes. And, can I just say, from my point of view, a big thank you to Sue Ellery, your Western Australia State Education Minister, for the way that she’s worked with the Commonwealth Government. And, I think her and your Premier, on this issue, have shown outstanding leadership in doing everything they can, to, at this stage, keep your schools open. I understand they’ll be making an announcement, probably this afternoon. But, I think, they’ve shown exemplary leadership in this regard.
Parker: Dan Tehan, Federal Education Minister, thank you for your time.
Tehan: Pleasure, Gareth.
Parker: Dan Tehan, the Education Minister.