Wendouree Electorate Schools – Ministerial Response

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Original adjournment matter from Juliana Addison MP to Parliament –

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Education, and the action I seek is for the minister to provide me with an update on what measures are being undertaken to keep our students safe and our schools open throughout term 1 in my electorate of Wendouree.

As a former teacher and as a parent of school-aged children, I know firsthand how important face-to-face learning is. I am proud to be a member of the Andrews Labor government, which is investing in our schools, providing learning spaces that are safe and keeping our schools open across the state.

After two years of interrupted onsite learning, and as we transition into the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is so important that our schools are safe environments for our dedicated teachers and support staff to work and our children to learn and play in. Face-to-face classroom teaching and attending school each day is optimal—not only for learning outcomes for students but for their wellbeing. That is why we have done the work to get students safely back in the classroom and are making sure they stay there.

The Andrews Labor government has implemented a comprehensive return-to-school plan to keep education settings open, while taking every measure to protect students and staff from the spread of COVID. No other state has taken such strong steps to protect students, staff and school communities.

I wish to take the opportunity to thank the minister for his strong commitment to supporting and upgrading schools across the electorate of Wendouree. Major investments and new initiatives have been committed to for many of the schools in my electorate to make our schools fit for purpose for 21st century learners and as safe as possible for Victorian students. We have funded work at the Ballarat Specialist School, Black Hill Primary, Ballarat North Primary, Dana Street Primary, Forest Street Primary, Alfredton Primary, Macarthur Street Primary and Newington Primary.

I would also like to highlight the outstanding achievements of the Wendouree Primary School in the latest NAPLAN results. I congratulate principal Christine Branagh, acting principal Shelley Backwell, staff and students on the strong results in numeracy and literacy. I note the big gains made in students’ maths skills. Well done to the teachers and students alike.

I look forward to seeing more great results from students across my electorate as we continue to invest in our teachers and our schools to make them great places for teaching and learning. I look forward to receiving the update from the Minister for Education on the measures to be taken to ensure the safety of staff and students throughout Ballarat in the future.

Response from the Hon James Merlino MP, Minister for Education (19 May 2022) –

Thank you for your support of the Andrews Labor Government’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19) and education.

The government is committed to keeping education settings open and as safe as possible in 2022, with a comprehensive suite of COVIDSafe measures in place to protect communities and minimise disruption to learning.

In Wendouree and across Victoria,  schools continue to operate under COVIDSafe measures; with a focus on the 3Vs of Ventilation, Vaccination, and Vital COVIDSafe steps. These measures will reduce coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission and public health risk.

Ensuring adequate ventilation and improving this wherever possible is a key measure to keeping schools safe. The Andrews Labor Government has made the largest investment in ventilation in schools in Australian history, investing more than $190 million to deliver 110,000 air purifiers to government and low-fee non-government schools. This will help protect the health of students, staff and school communities and slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The focus on encouraging coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination continues. Vaccination is voluntary for students; however, it is strongly encouraged.

As part of the 3Vs, Vital COVIDSafe steps such as staying home when unwell, physical distancing, regular hand hygiene and testing remain critical in protecting schools and their communities.

Throughout Term 1, more than 39 million rapid antigen tests were delivered to schools and early childhood education and care settings as part of an important screening program.

In light of potential significant but short-term staffing challenges in schools, the government launched a pool of inactive teachers, education support staff, retired principals and surge administrative support staff for schools to access to cover any coronavirus (COVID-19) related workforce shortages.

Several programs have been designed to promote further engagement and support of schools and students.

  • Shade sail grants – More than 1,900 government and eligible non-government schools have applied for a School Shade Sails Grant up to $25,000, to allow more classes to learn safely outdoors.
  • Tutor Learning Initiative – Victorian students are also being provided with extra targeted learning support through the Tutor Learning Initiative. In 2021, the $250 million initiative enabled all Victorian government schools and eligible non-government schools to engage over 6,400 tutors to provide students, who may have fallen behind or become disengaged during remote and flexible learning in 2020, with extra targeted learning support. An additional $230 million of funding extends the Tutor Learning Initiative for the 2022 school year and will continue to provide schools and students with targeted learning support.
  • Positive Start – The Victorian Government’s $112.9 million Positive Startin 2022 initiative, will help students get back out and enjoy the best camps, sporting programs and cultural experiences Victoria has to offer, reengaging them in the extracurricular activities they loved before the pandemic.
  • Mental Health Programs – To ensure our children and young people receive mental health support when and where they need it most, the 2021–22 Victorian State Budget has invested a record $3.8 billion to deliver every single recommendation of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and build a system that works for every Victorian. This includes the $200 million Schools Mental Health Fund to support schools to pick the mental health tools that best match the needs of their students.  This comes on top of the Victorian Government’s completed rollout of placing a suitably qualified mental health practitioner in every government secondary and specialist school. Further, an additional 74 primary schools across Victoria have joined the Mental Health in Primary Schools Pilot in 2022.

Thank you for raising this matter. I trust this information is of assistance.