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Spot fires lurk but students struggle to find a spark in fifth lockdown

“It felt a bit like scuba diving and not decompressing, we didn’t take that time to decompress and reset because all of a sudden we were back into [face-to-face] teaching again.”

As schools prepare for an extension of the fifth period of remote learning, and their third this year, Mr Dalgleish said they were also contending with a growing undercurrent of fatigue and disenchantment with the format among students.

“It’s as much about trying to ensure that we’ve still got our kids engaged, because it’s no longer something new. It becomes harder over time I believe to absolutely maintain that engagement.”

Although the current lockdown originally included just three days of remote learning, by Wednesday students will have lost as many as 123 days of in-class teaching since term one was cut short by a week in March last year.

Grattan Institute education program director Jordana Hunter said it was no surprise that schoolchildren were finding repeat lockdowns mentally draining.

“Closing schools should be a last resort and reopening them should be a first priority,” Ms Hunter said.

“As the pandemic progresses, the negative effects of school closures will accumulate and we really need to be thinking creatively about ways to keep as many kids in school as possible while we manage outbreaks.”

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On Tuesday the Andrews government announced that more students with a disability will be permitted to return to on-site learning on Wednesday.

“Where a parent or carer indicates that a student with a disability cannot learn from home due to vulnerability or family stress, the school must provide on-site learning for that student,” it said in a statement.

“This change will apply to students enrolled in specialist schools and students with a disability enrolled in mainstream schools.”

Ms Hunter said the government should also look at whether it is possible to get senior secondary students and junior primary school students back on-site safely.

Gail McHardy, executive officer of Parents Victoria, which advocates for state school families, said families seemed to be coping with the latest shutdown.

“In this wintry weather, people have gone to their bunkers,” she said. “We’ve got to give Victorians a medal. We’re all doing the best we can.”

The state opposition said schools should remain open during lockdowns and called on the Andrews government to follow NSW in fast-tracking vaccinations for school staff.

“Enough is enough,” said education spokesman David Hodgett.

“We’re asking for education to be classified as essential and treated like every other essential service. It’s high time we prioritise our kids’ education, prioritise our kids’ mental health needs.“

Mr Andrews said fast-tracked vaccination was out of his hands.

“It’s not like I’m sitting on a stockpile of this stuff,” he said.

“The representations that the teachers’ unions and teachers have made and school staff, I’m sure they’ll be taken very seriously.

“Certainly, I would take them seriously, but I don’t get to allocate the vaccine, and I don’t order it, I don’t do the purchasing. The Commonwealth does that.”

With Madeleine Heffernan

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