School battle plan: Mass exodus of teachers




A mass exodus of older teachers aged over 60 and pregnant women from the nation's schools is likely to be enforced for the next six months under a back-to-school plan being considered by political leaders.

As the national cabinet meets today to consider a battle plan to make schools safer for teachers, the Prime Minister has ramped up his call for teachers to return to the classroom.

But the push will come with some conditions, including guarantees that at-risk teachers can work from home, free COVID-19 tests for educators, more soap and hand sanitiser and a phased return to classes.

The ban on at-risk teachers may include pregnant women, over 60s and even teachers aged over 50 with asthma and heart disease, who will be encouraged to work from home.

But it could also spark teacher shortages with up to one in five teachers likely to be in an at-risk category.

Federal and state officials have told mandatory temperature checks had not been proposed in official health advice to national cabinet.

Futuristic handheld scanners were deployed across Singapore in recent months allowing for contact-free temperature checks in schools and for classes to remain open.

That prompted calls for similar checks in Australia. But officials don't believe it's an option here. One reason is that young children's temperature can often spike when dropped off by parents and childcare and preschool.

"It is fraught. Only non-contact laser type thermometers would even be considered from a health perspective and finding more than 2000 for every school in Queensland would be a challenge,'' Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said.

"Singapore was checking every child and have still had to move to close schools as infection rates got out of control. Many of our members would like it but we would probably prefer to rely on parents monitoring their children's health and not sending their children to school if unwell."

After cases spiked again this month, Singapore has now joined Australia in effectively closing schools.

Mr Bates said teachers remained frustrated with the mixed messages that large gatherings were safe for schools but not for adults who were banned from eating in restaurants and pubs.

"What we have heard over and over again is that kids don't give it to other kids and that's great. But what about teachers?'' he said.

"Our concern is that schools could become hot spots for the spread of the disease."

When school returns on Monday in Queensland, COVID-19 safety rules will require a ratio of just 12 students to each teacher to allow for social distancing.

But Victoria is standing firm that it will not consider any return to classes until at least July 12.

"My advice to the Victorian Government was and continues to be that to slow the spread of coronavirus, schools should undertake remote learning for term two,'' Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton said.

"This is because having around a million children and their parents in closer contact with each other, teachers and other support staff has the potential to increase cases of coronavirus not just in schools but across the community.

"Schools are not 'dangerous places' and parents should feel comfortable sending their kids to school - if they need to. But the mix of onsite and off-site learning supports better physical distancing overall, reducing risk as we drive new cases down. As risk changes, we'll reassess."

Teachers and parents remain sharply divided over whether it is safe to return children to classrooms.

According to a survey with more than 40,000 respondents, 44 per cent of parents believed it was safe to return to school while 56 per cent disagreed.

Scott Morrison revealed this week he would send his two daughters Abigail and Lily back to school in a "heartbeat" if they were going to be taught by teachers, complaining the distance learning model was "childminding", not education.

The Prime Minister's daughters have relocated with his wife Jenny to live the Lodge in Canberra during the COVID-19 crisis so he can attend daily briefings with heath officials and staff.

But the PM said he would not send his kids back to their Sydney private school until it went beyond "looking at a screen".

"I kept my kids in school till the last week because they weren't getting taught in school in that last week, they were looking at a screen. That's not teaching; that's child minding," he told 6PR radio.

"It isn't just about that kids can go along and sit in a hall and be minded; we want them to get educated.

"We're on school holidays in NSW so the kids are at home but I'd have them back in a heartbeat if they were getting taught at school. At the moment we're lucky they can have a learning environment at home."

Samantha Maiden is's national political editor | @samanthamaiden