Earlier this week, ACT schools began pupil-free days to provide staff and teachers with time to prepare for a range of online and remote learning delivery options that will be adopted come term 2.
The ACT Government’s decision to do so is consistent with the approach being adopted by NSW and Victoria, with the measures to be maintained until term 1 ends on 9 April.
An Education Directorate spokesperson told Canberra Weekly the move to pupil-free days was made to support teachers and staff transition to alternative methods of education.
Despite this, the “health advice remains that schools are safe to attend”, and ACT schools will remain open to students who “need” to attend.
“Schools will still be able to safely receive and provide learning for parents and carers engaged in essential services and unable to care for their children at home, as well as vulnerable children and those with additional needs,” the spokesperson said.
Essential services include health workers, education workers, aged care workers and critical public service workers.
The spokesperson said schools are focused on maintaining the best possible hygiene standards for staff and students.
“We have revised our approach to cleaning in ACT Government schools, with a greater focus on cleaning areas of higher risk.”
Parents were informed of the change in arrangements via emails directly from their principals and from the Director General of the ACT Education Directorate, Katy Haire, while further messaging was distributed via social media.
The spokesperson said less than 5% of students physically attended an ACT Public School between 24 and 25 March, adding that parents have been supportive of the measures.
“We would like to thank parents and carers for their patience and for keeping their children at home, where possible, to allow our schools space to prepare for an alternative method of education.”
The spokesperson said the government has been working closely with Independent and Catholic schools on pupil-free days, and support for parents and carers.
A spokesperson for Catholic Education, Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn (CEACG), told Canberra Weekly that student attendance has reduced significantly in ACT Catholic schools this week.
“Many parents have chosen to keep their children home. Teachers and staff in Catholic schools are supervising all students who need to attend school.”
CEACG Director Ross Fox said in a statement that, where possible, ACT and NSW Catholic schools will continue to welcome students “whose families wish them to attend” until at least 9 April.
He said that from term 2, it is their plan to offer a program of learning that can be accessed in school or remotely.