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Schools are adapting but childcare, family day care and kindy still face challenges

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Childcare centres will require a clean bill of health, community kindergartens may be kept open in Queensland but family day care operators may struggle to survive the coronavirus changes.

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After Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced a $1.6 billion initiative to keep childcare centres open, the Australian Health Principals Protection Committee distributed advice on keeping kids and staff safe.

The initiative was in response to the economic crisis and will prioritise children of parents still working in the community, along with the most vulnerable, and seek to allow anyone forced to give up their jobs during the pandemic to now return to work.

According to advice from the committee this week, Early Childhood and Learning Centres are “essential services and should continue at this time but with risk mitigation measures in place”.

These measures include excluding any unwell staff, children and visitors, and, from May 1, requiring everyone to have flu injections.

Staff will also be required to divide and separate children, with meal and play times staggered and more hand-washing stations. This is in addition to the existing cleaning guidelines that require high-touch surfaces to be disinfected daily and play items to be frequently washed.

Yet centres are already having to abruptly close over concerns staff, children and parents may have come into contact with COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, Queensland’s Department of Education was reporting the emergency closure of 79 Early Childhood Education and Care Services, a number that has increased in recent weeks but changes daily.

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace has foreshadowed a positive announcement this week about the future of community kindergartens.

However, family daycare operators remain in crisis talks with the Morrison government, concerned the free child care initiative will put them at a financial disadvantage. They will argue that essential workers utilise different types of care, not just childcare.

Ministers, meeting nationally as the Education Council, continue to discuss changes to the school system to minimise the disruption to students, particularly those in Year 12. Grace said final-year students would still finish this year, but possibly with a different external assessment to help determine scores for those seeking admission to university next year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, according to the official communique, the council “endorsed a set of national principles for the consideration of the National Cabinet to support continued delivery of high-quality school education for all students during COVID-19”.

“Noting that decisions about education in government schools continue to be the responsibility of states and territories, these principles will inform decision-making to ensure that every student has access to education in a sustainable and effective manner,” the communique states.

Queensland ended the term with a pupil-free week but is expected to keep schools open for those students, and parents, unable to facilitate online learning from home.

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