LOCAL Catholic and independent schools have rejected a multi-billion-dollar federal government funding offer designed to get kids back in classrooms before the end of term two.
Victorian independent and Catholic schools were offered an advance on 2021 commonwealth funding by federal Education Minister Dan Tehan as an incentive to schools to reopen classrooms to all students by the end of May.
“We will take advice from state authorities and return when we are told it is safe to do so,” Newhaven College principal Gea Lovell told the Sentinel-Times last week, while Chairo Christian School’s executive principal Simon Matthews said: “We have communicated consistently with our families and staff members that we will only return to face-to-face teaching on the advice of the Victorian Premier and Chief Health Officer”.
Mr Matthews, who oversees Chairo’s five campuses across Gippsland, acknowledged online and remote learning “falls short of face-to-face teaching in some ways” and commended students, families and staff for their efforts in difficult circumstances.
Acting principal and Head of Teaching and Learning at Chairo’s Leongatha campus, Christine Hibma, reported that the partnership between school and home during the pandemic has been working well.
“We have been blown away by the positive attitude and amazing efforts shown by our students, parents and staff members, and we have received many appreciative comments from families about our clear communications, well-prepared lessons and creative solutions,” Mrs Hibma said.
Chairo’s student enrolments have not been affected by the pandemic, Mr Matthews said, with the school able to offer some fee relief to all families, plus additional support to families facing financial hardship at this time.
“While the pandemic has impacted Chairo in much the same way as countless other schools, businesses and not-for-profit organisations across Australia, we have been able to adjust our budget for the year in ways that allow us to continue to employ all staff members and provide quality online and remote learning for every student,” he said.
Diocese following state advice
Diocese of Sale Catholic Education Limited (DOSCEL), which directs and serves 37 primary schools and seven secondary schools in the region, including Leongatha’s Mary MacKillop College, Wonthaggi’s St Joseph’s Primary, and Our Lady Star of the Sea at Cowes, has also rejected the federal funding offer.
Director of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Sale, Ms Maria Kirkwood, said the organisation was acting on advice from the Victorian government, with the safety and wellbeing of students, staff and their families remaining its highest priority.
“In line with advice from the Victorian government and the Victorian Chief Health Officer, all Catholic schools within the Diocese of Sale are currently offering remote schooling,” Ms Kirkwood said.
“In fairness to all school students, including those in government and independent schools, Catholic schools within our diocese will not return to normal schooling before the advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer changes. Nor will they apply for the early release of funding from the federal government.”
DOSCEL is monitoring the situation, and will continue to “respond quickly and adjust [its] approach as needed,” Ms Kirkwood said.
Mary Mac’s Acting Principal Kieran O’Dwyer has told parents, in the latest school newsletter: “While there can be little doubt that onsite learning is the overall preferred option for a range of reasons, online learning, for a period of time, offers many opportunities for skill development, independent learning, initiative and creativity.”
UPDATE May 12: Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that Victorian school students will begin a phased return to classrooms before the end of May, following advice from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer that it is safe for the community to do so.