Pandemic keeps biting

Staff shortages have been an issue for schools in the Dandenong area. Picture: SUPPLIED.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

The rise in Covid-19 cases across the state is hurting schools in the local area.

Staff members and students are having their normal school day significantly disrupted due to a large number of absences.

Dandenong North Primary School principal Kevin Mackay said the issue got as bad as having 19 staff members absent one day a couple of weeks ago, disrupting students’ learning.

On average, 4-5 staff members were absent with either Covid-19 or the flu each day for the last couple of weeks, disrupting students learning.

“The effect of one teacher away is significant because learning depends on the relationship between the teacher and the student,” he said.

“Even if you have a casual relief teacher (CRT), that relationship doesn’t exist and when that happens, there is an impact on learning.

“Even when a teacher that is absent leaves a comprehensive planning document for the CRT, it’s pretty hard to pick up on all the pre learning work that has been done the day before.”

A tutor program that the school brought in to address literacy and numeracy shortcomings of students caused by online learning has had to be temporarily scrapped as the school deals with the current situation.

Teachers running that program have been redeployed to help out the absent teachers.

Student absences have also been an issue with class sizes at Dandenong North usually about 20, but recently just 10-12 may be in attendance.

Mr Mackay dispelled the “popular myth” that absent students can be taught via a video conferencing software, pointing out that the already reduced number of teachers are needed in the classroom to teach students face-to-face.

Nearby, the smaller Keysborough Gardens Primary School said it was sending home learning packages to ill students, which is “about 20-30 per cent” across the school” with one year level having up to 60 per cent away simultaneously one week.

Keysborough Gardens is also experiencing shortages with 40 per cent of staff members having been away in the last two weeks, and 6/20 teachers on some days.

With the issue being so widespread, there is insufficient CRT to cover leading to alternative arrangements being made such as combining classes.

Principal Sherri Jenkins cancelled a meeting last week with staff members to allow them a wellbeing night at home.

A decision was also made to cancel the recent Dandenong network meeting, a collegial gathering for principals in the Dandenong region that usually occurs twice a term. Principals reported that they were not in a position to leave their schools as staff are reportedly fatigued.

Meanwhile, St Gerard’s School principal Paul Cowan said they were coping okay, with no adjustments needing to be made from usual practice as Covid-19 cases at the school are less frequent than those nearby.