Auckland & Waikato schools to reopen

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As Auckland eases alert level restrictions, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced that schools will gradually reopen over the coming weeks.

Auckland and Waikato students in years 1-10 can return to face-to-face learning at schools and kura from 17 November.

”Lockdowns can be stressful for children and young people, so returning to some on-site learning will mean they can reconnect with their teacher and friends. Starting this month will provide certainty ahead of the Christmas break and before the new school year starts,” says Hipkins.

“Public health advice supports a return to onsite learning. Measures to help minimise the risk of Covid-19 will include mask wearing from year four up in most cases, ventilating classrooms, limiting the number of students on site, and making sure groups of children distance from each other.

“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. Full-time learning will continue on-site for students whose parents have needed it, for example to go to work.

“Thank you to those who have engaged with us on this over the past fortnight, we appreciate your feedback and have taken on board that you wanted a few extra days preparation time, and for all students not to come back at once.

“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,” Hipkins says.

While most students in years one to eight will be returning part-time, years nine and 10 will be able to return full time alongside those already back at high schools in years 11-13.

“With really strong vaccination rates, the balance of risk has shifted.

“As vaccinations 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.

Hipkins says year 11-13 students have been back at school at Level 3 full-time for some weeks now to help re-engage in their learning, and prepare for exams.

“Parents, caregivers and teachers have been doing an incredible job helping children to adapt and learn online, I want to thank them for that and acknowledge those school leaders and teachers who will be working hard from here to prepare for hybrid learning from November 17.”

The government is ensuring schools can have the time and space they need to look after students and staff by easing the timelines for the national curriculum and assessment programmes, says Hipkins.

“Our teachers, kaiako, learners, whānau and communities continue to manage their way through uncertainty caused by Covid-19, particularly in the Auckland region.

“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.”

For schools this means resetting the timelines for The New Zealand Curriculum refresh, Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories, Te Takanga o Te Wā and the NCEA Change Programme.

For early learning services this means deferring consultation on the gazetting of Te Whāriki. 

“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,” says Hipkins.

“The curriculum and assessment changes are happening over several years, and we want our schools, kura and early learning services to be in the best possible position to successfully deliver them and get the best outcomes for learners and their whānau.

“There is no change to their intent and ambition, and they will be adjusted to either happen at a later date or in a different way to help manage their impact on staff. This will include rescheduling engagements, giving more time for implementation and redesigning pilot schemes.

“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.

“Positivity remains about the Government’s direction of travel in these spaces, but this shows we are listening and acknowledges the impact Covid-19 has had this year,” says Hipkins.

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