SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools
Allison Langdon: Well, the Prime Minister and National Cabinet have agreed on a list of seven principles on how schools should respond to the coronavirus crisis.
Karl Stefanovic: The principles emphasise the importance of face-to-face learning and the apparent low-risk of children returning to the classroom for term two. The Minister for Education Dan Tehan joins us now in Canberra. Minister, good morning to you. Thank you for your time today, really appreciate it. Is it too soon to reopen our schools?
Dan Tehan: Well, that all depends on the virus itself, and the impact it’s having on state and territories. If you look at the NT, next week they go back to school, and students will go back to the classroom for their learning. In Western Australia, it’s highly likely that children will go back to the classroom there. In New South Wales and Victoria, it’s a little different. But, as we have just heard from the New South Wales Premier, she is very keen to see that face-to-face, student to professional teacher relationship, back in the classroom as soon as possible. So, the message is, if we can keep flattening the curve, keep doing the right thing, hopefully, right across the nation, we’ll be able to get back to that normality of students going to school and learning in the classroom, which all state and territory leaders have as their number one priority on this list of principles.
Langdon: Okay. So, parents should be listening to the premiers here, not the Prime Minister?
Tehan: That’s the clear message from the Prime Minister yesterday. The federation works, when it comes to education, by each state and territory having responsibility. So, they’ll, ultimately, make the decision. But, what we have here now is a set of seven principles to govern their decision making, listening to the medical expert panel, understanding that it is safe for children to go to school, but that we have to put precautions in place. Especially for teachers and contact they might have with parents, or within the school themselves with other teachers, looking after those older teachers over 65, or those teachers with co-morbidities. These rules set all that out, and some of the hygiene practices that schools should put in place.
Stefanovic: Okay. You’ve been pushing much harder for face-to-face learning. Has the Victorian Chief Medical Officer got all this wrong?
Tehan: Well, what we’ve been doing is taking the advice of the medical expert panel, and that includes the Victorian Chief Medical Officer and all chief medical officers across the nation. And, their advice has been consistent – that it is safe for children to go to school. So, our hope is, if we can keep flattening the curve, we’ll see more states and territories providing that option for students to be able to go back to school, and get that teaching in the classroom from a teacher.
Stefanovic: But, he has – with respect – he has said, has he not, that putting a million kids in Victoria back to school increases the risk of this virus spreading? That does fly in the face of what you’re saying.
Tehan: Well, what we have been doing is listening to the medical expert panel, which is the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and all the state and territory chief medical officers, including the one from Victoria. And, that advice has been consistent – it’s safe for children to go to school. They’ve updated their advice on the types of things that schools can do, to make sure we’re looking after our teachers. So, we’ll continue to listen to that medical expert panel and their advice, and, that’s saying, quite clearly, and has said all along, it is safe for children to be going to school.
Langdon: See, this is where parents get really frustrated is that, you know, you’ve got state and federal medical officers and politicians saying the advice is consistent, is consistent, and, it’s absolutely not. There are definitely different messages coming out of, from each state. Is this a situation where education is a state issue? Every state is at a different point with this virus? That you guys need to take a step back, and let the premiers and the states take the lead?
Tehan: Well, what we’ve been seeing is there has been calls for a bit of national clarity on this, around the principles which should govern it. And, that’s why National Cabinet considered those principles, and that’s why we’ve got a medical expert panel – which has every state and territory chief medical officer and the Commonwealth Medical Officer on it –and they’ve put these guidelines in place. But, we have said all along, that, ultimately, responsibility lies with each state and territory, and they’ll make decisions. And, that’s why, for the Northern Territory, where it’s so important for their students to engage with schools because they can’t put remote learning in place, that’s why they’re keeping their schools open. That’s why Western Australia will be doing the same. So, each state and territory will, ultimately, make different decisions. And, I understand that there’s some confusion out there for parents, but what we now have is clear national priorities and, importantly, stating how important it is that we can, as best as possible, get back to that face-to-face classroom teaching.
Stefanovic: It might be very safe for students, it might be, in part, safe for students. But, it is not entirely safe for teachers, is it?
Tehan: We need to put in place practices which look after our teachers, and those practices have been updated by the medical expert panel overnight. Things like encouraging students not to take their mobile phones to school – which I think is good practice anyway. Making sure that parents aren’t having contact with teachers – so, making sure there’s proper separation there. Keeping teachers self-distancing in the lunchroom. Those types of things, all set out very clearly, to make it safer for our teachers to be back at school teaching.
Langdon: Okay. Minister, thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.