NSW is bracing for the immediate impact of Omicron on the state’s classrooms with fears of staff shortages prompting the government to try to entice part-time teachers to take on full-time work in schools.
An online learning hub with weeks of material for students has also been developed under the expectation that children across the state will soon be sick with or isolating from COVID-19 after schools return later this month.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will present his state’s back-to-school plan to national cabinet on Thursday, which is expected to rely heavily on rapid antigen testing of students in a scheme developed with his Victorian counterparts.
The government is considering implementing a wide-scale surveillance testing program in a bid to contain the spread of the virus through classrooms as schools return.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said an online resource hub had been developed for students between preschool and year 10 who need to isolate after contracting COVID-19.
“Once school is back, the majority of schools and students will be able to be in the classroom, but there will be those who are at home isolating or sick and we need to support them,” Ms Mitchell said.
“This will reduce the workload for teachers, so they don’t have to do two modes of teaching, and it will also ensure the quality of the materials that are available for students.”
Existing, accredited teachers working part-time across the state’s schools will also be offered full-time temporary engagement roles, and guaranteed salary, as the government prepares for staff shortages from COVID-19 exposure.
Expressions of interest for the roles will be issued on January 20, with teachers asked to nominate a location they want to work in, and the number of terms they are available, with the government set to match them with schools impacted by the virus.
Some sectors are predicting up to 20 per cent of teachers at a single school could be off sick at the same time due to illness when class resumes. Last year, before Omicron hit, schools were already struggling with shortages of casual teachers.
The Education Minister on Wednesday flagged that the government was considering a surveillance testing program, in which parents would be supplied with two rapid antigen tests a week per child, rather than a test-to-stay system.
“It will be about using those tests to obviously support our workforce but also looking at opportunities around surveillance testing for our students as well,” Ms Mitchell said.
Retired teachers and final university students will also be asked to support schools under the government plan.
A test-to-stay program would see children who are contacts of positive cases potentially stay at school if they returned negative rapid antigen tests for seven days.
Meanwhile, a surveillance program involves parents being given enough rapid antigen kits to test each student twice a week before school. Those who test positive would have to stay home, but their classmates could continue attending school without daily testing.
Mr Perrottet has insisted that the closure of schools due to a COVID-19 outbreak will be a last resort, with teachers set to be exempt from close contact rules, along with thousands of other essential workers.
The online “centralised working hub” will be accessed through the Education Department’s website, with students able to share their work with teachers. Students will be asked to provide feedback at the end of each day using an “emoji poll”.
Resources are also expected to be available for year 11 and 12 students at an HSC Hub.