18 Oct 2021

Back to school, but still in lockdown for many

10:19 am on 18 October 2021

Nearly 400,000 children in Auckland, Northland and Waikato are starting the final school term of the year learning from home today.

Kid studying homework math during his online lesson at home, social distance during quarantine. Self-isolation and online education concept caused by coronavirus pandemia

Photo: 123RF

Schools in the three regions are remote learning because they are in alert level 3, though in Northland and Waikato that status was scheduled to change tonight.

Auckland principals told RNZ re-engaging children and preparing teenagers for NCEA exams were their priorities for the fourth term.

Carmel College principal Chris Allen said her school would start term four with just one student on site.

The biggest job ahead was preparing senior students for NCEA exams in November, she said.

"There's not many weeks left before the externals start. How do we provide them with the revision exercises. We haven't been able to hold mocks. How do we give them the confidence to prepare for those exams. That's our biggest worry at the moment."

Allen said schools also had to meet new requirements including registers of students' vaccination status, regular testing of staff and mandatory vaccinations for them.

In addition, schools had to be ready to reopen at short notice.

"The ministry is indicating they will give us 48 hours notice but we have to have every single person who comes on site with a Covid test before they're allowed on site so the timeframes for us to be able to get everybody to have a test, and you think of the thousands of workers all over Auckland, could be quite a challenge," she said.

James Cook High School principal Grant McMillan said it would be important to mark today as the start of a new school term in order to get students' attention.

"One of the challenges of lockdown is the days begin to blur and for our students it's also about their peace of mind, their wellbeing, and their anxiety as well. It's also for families to help us get our students re-engaging and back into learning as best we possibly can," he said.

The school wanted to re-engage all of the students who had been learning online and also those who had disengaged.

"We've learnt a large number of our young people are actually involved in employment right now, many of them in the essential space. A number of them are actually in the meeting and greeting and directing staff at vaccination centres and things like that as well because of course they've got other language skills. We know what is needed for our students. It's about making that connection and getting them back on board again," he said.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Stephen Lethbridge said schools would resume remote learning with one eye to the possibility of reopening.

"We really need to be prepared in week-about blocs. We pretty much live to the Cabinet decisions and any decisions that come out of the Cabinet meeting on Mondays and then changes to the alert level status," he said.

Schools in Waikato and Northland also started the term in level 3 on Monday though it might be for just one day.

Manaia View School principal Leanne Otene said it was not straight-forward.

"Organising staff under a level 3 bubble school as we call it is very very tricky. It's one day and we need to make sure that the staff that are going into school have all been tested, have had a negative Covid test returned," she said.

Some staff got their tests early last week only to learn that it must be conducted no more than five days before school started, so they had to do it again.

Level 3 was scheduled to expire in Northland and Waikato on Monday night. If that happened, schools in the regions had 48 hours to prepare to reopen as normal meaning many would not be back to class until Thursday.