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The latest advice for members

Dear Friend,

There has been a lot happening over the past week, with a number of government education announcements, including updated operational guidelines. We recently updated our own FAQs for schools members to reflect these changes.

Hopefully, as we all acclimatise to the new level of restrictions we are living under – and remote and flexible learning for the majority of students – we can settle into some kind of routine. That, of course, is a big ask, given the workload and stress associated with once again changing how we are working, whether we live in regional or rural Victoria or metropolitan Melbourne.

Given the amazing commitment of members in continuing to provide the best educational opportunities for your students, I am confident that you will be able to focus on the work at hand despite the seriousness of the health pandemic we are all experiencing.

The Department of Education and Training has acknowledged in a recent bulletin the importance of prioritising the wellbeing of staff, including appropriate flexibility in working arrangements, particularly to support those who have additional caring responsibilities. This needs to be done within the guidelines of the School Operations Guide and consistently with provisions in the Victorian Government Schools Agreement 2017 (which continues to apply regardless of the pandemic). We have raised with DET member concerns around trying to balance demands at home with work at home.

This is a very challenging time for everyone, and it is vital we try to consider the needs of all our colleagues and ensure we don’t raise expectations in our work to unsustainable levels and to the detriment of our health.

Please find more detailed information and advice below.

In solidarity,

Meredith Peace
President, AEU Victorian Branch

Important updates

School operations guide

There have been a number of updated versions of this guide circulating. The current DET version is dated ‘from 10 August 2020’ and contains important information on school operating models and health and safety considerations.

Working on-site or at home
The key message in the DET operations guide in regard to attendance is ‘Where teachers and support staff are not required on-site, they must work from home.’
In addition, principals have to ensure that there are sufficient staff on-site to run the program for students who need to attend (under the defined categories). When determining which staff are working on-site, principals have to consult staff to identify those willing and able to work on-site, either on an on-going or rostered basis. In the absence of local arrangements achieved through consultation, DET has outlined a process for schools to follow.

For members in special schools in regional and rural Victoria whose schools are still operating, the AEU’s position was all schools should move to remote and flexible learning. Given the government’s decision to continue with on-site learning for these special schools in regional and rural Victoria, we have pushed for and gained greater flexibility for special schools to manage their school operations and student learning programs.

This flexibility is reflected in the latest School Operations Guide and includes the capacity:

  • for staff to work from home provided there are enough staff on-site to support students who attend
  • to merge classes and to provide learning materials to students whose parents have kept them at home. 
All staff working on-site (principals, teachers, ES staff, CRTs) in metropolitan Melbourne must be allocated a permit to allow travel to and from work. If you live in regional Victoria and need to travel to Melbourne for your work or if you live in Melbourne and work in a school in regional Victoria, a permit is also required. There are extremely large fines for individuals and organisations if you do not have a permit.

CRTs employed by agencies should have a permit provided by the agency; those employed by school councils will have a permit provided by the principal of the school.

School staff access to childcare, kindergarten and school for their children

School staff working on-site to support a school’s supervision program are able to have their children attend their usual school for those days they are working on-site, where no other arrangements can be made. 
In metropolitan Melbourne, staff working on-site and working from home have access to childcare as permitted workers, where no other arrangements can be made.

Consideration of educational disadvantage

Given the disruption caused by the pandemic to students in their final year of school, the Deputy Premier has announced a new form of special consideration to recognise the impact on Year 12 VCE students. The announcement is consistent with the position that the union has advocated for with DET and the Minister for Education in response to issues raised by members. This new category does not replace the usual special provision arrangements, which will remain available for students already identified by schools as needing such adjustments leading up to or during the exam period.  
Importantly, the new form of consideration will not require the extensive applications associated with special provision. A single notification from the principal will be able to include all students affected by the pandemic, regardless of how significant the impact is on the student.
This consideration will utilise teacher judgements about a student’s expected results had the pandemic not occurred, triangulated with the GAT and assessments completed at the school before remote and flexible learning. This means a teacher’s knowledge of expected student results will be able to accommodate the full range of students’ experiences. We have been informed that tertiary institutions will accept results and ATARs determined in this way.
We understand that there will be workload ramifications for Year 12 teachers and we are currently in discussions with DET and the Minister for Education’s office about meaningful arrangements to manage that workload.

We are continuing to raise the issue of how adjustments need to be made to VCAL arrangements including VETiS programs, and especially practical assessments, with the department. We are expecting further advice from DET for schools on VCAL and VCE assessment, particularly in relation to assessment which may need to occur on-site, in the coming week.

Student mental health

The government announced an additional funding allocation of $28.5 million to support student mental health and engagement. This includes:

  • supporting an additional 1,500 school staff to access headspace training
  • expanding the Mental Health in Primary Schools Pilot to cover more schools
  • extend the Mental Health Practitioners program to specialist schools with secondary students and P-12 schools
  • increasing the capacity of the Navigator program, which works to reconnect disengaged students with education, and the LOOKOUT program, which supports children and young people in out-of-home care to stay connected with education.

Staff health and wellbeing

The AEU is having ongoing discussions with DET about promoting staff health and wellbeing at this challenging time and also putting in place initiatives to support principals, teachers and ES staff.

The latest school update outlined a range of resources available to staff from DET, including wellbeing and working safely webinars, virtual gym and EAP, as well as a range of leadership supports. School leaders are also being encouraged to talk to staff about options that would make it easier for staff to do their work and make plans to do this where appropriate. This should include consideration of flexible arrangements or changes to tasks and responsibilities, if practical.

Cool teaching resources

Cool Australia has been working with the AEU and supporting teachers since 2008, providing them with sustainability focused learning activities and resources.

Units, lessons and activities are Australian curriculum aligned and free to educators and students, and many have been updated to meet the requirement of remote and flexible teaching and learning.

How are you? Living with COVID-19 restrictions in Australia – survey two

Monash University is conducting a new anonymous online survey to see how people in Australia are experiencing life during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ask what the government could do to help recovery. The survey is now live. The survey is open to all people 18 and over living in Australia and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. 

Find the survey here

Help free Jordanian teacher unionists detained for advocating for members during COVID-19

Education International (EI) calls on workers and unionists to urge the Jordanian authorities to immediately release the education union leaders and revoke the unlawful suspension of all union work by the Jordanian Teacher Association.

The Jordanian security forces arrested leading members of the union on 25 July, raiding the union offices and shutting the union down for two years. JTA had criticised the government for their poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis. On the same day riot police were deployed to stop peaceful demonstrations initiated by JTA members denouncing the crackdown on trade union rights.
Please sign a message to support the unconditional release of union leaders and guarantee the exercise of fundamental rights of teachers and education workers in Jordan.

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