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Childcare centres report surge in bookings as school kids stay home

Samantha Page from Early Childhood Australia said some centres reported parents being so enthusiastic, they tried to drop their children off on Friday with no prior booking. “Services have had the phones ringing with families wanting to re-book their spots,” she said.

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“Families may be getting to the point where they’ve used up their leave. I think a lot of families have found that [working with children at home] is more difficult than it might have seemed.”

The increase in demand for childcare came as student attendance in public schools dropped to five per cent after Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked parents two weeks ago to keep their children home if possible.

Catholic schools brought their holidays forward on Friday, to give teachers time before the term formally finishes next Thursday to work on new online learning systems for term two.

“This decision is also an acknowledgement that in some cases, respite is needed for families who are adjusting to supporting their children with their learning from home while managing other important elements of work and home life,” said the head of Parramatta Education Diocese Greg Whitby.

Public school principals organisations also unsuccessfully called for pupil-free days next week, as staff learn to operate new systems.

Some parents, such as mother-of-three Michelle Szczerbanik, have been perplexed by the conflicting messages from the NSW government, which asks students to stay home, and its federal counterpart, which has urged parents to continue with childcare and school.

“When I saw the [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison announcement, I felt comfortable still to send [my daughter] to school, then the next day Gladys [said something different],” she said. “You get confused – am I supposed to send them to school, am I not? Then you feel guilty.”

After her husband lost hours and childcare became free, Mrs Szczerbanik decided to send her children to school and daycare so she can work.

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Professor Julie Leask at the University of Sydney’s faculty of Medicine and Health said parents were beginning to feel the downsides of closing schools. “The government should first consider and then communicate the criteria under which schools will reopen so the process is more transparent,” she said.

UNSW Professor Mary Louise McLaws, a member of the World Health Organisation, said the NSW government could consider reopening schools after the Easter break, now that the rate of spread was dropping and adults had grasped the message about social distancing.

Children did not appear to be significant spreaders of COVID-19, and those who tested positive had contracted it from family rather than other children, she said.

“What [school closures] have done is put a break on behaviour,” she said. “After the Easter holiday, they may well [open schools but] remind parents that the social distancing requirements have not changed, to keep your distance, drop your child off and leave.”

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