Weekly Wrap: February 18, 2021

18 February 2021

The information in the Weekly Wrap is aggregated from other news sources to provide you with news that is relevant to the education sector across Australia and worldwide. Each paragraph is a summary of the subject matter covered in the particular news article. The information does not necessarily reflect the views of CompliSpace.


Teachers prepare, parents fret as schools snap back to remote learning

The Age reports that almost a million students were sent home on Friday for what is hoped will be just three days of remote learning during the state’s snap stage four lockdown. Less than three weeks into term one, about 2270 schools across the state were told to close for all but vulnerable children and the children of permitted workers as part of the five-day lockdown. Education Minister James Merlino said schools had a role to play in containing the latest outbreak of COVID-19, but the decision drew criticism from the independent schools sector and the state opposition, which labelled the move harmful to children. Australian Principals Federation president Tina King said school leaders generally understood there was a possibility of another stint of remote learning this year. Independent Schools Victoria, which represents schools that teach almost 150,000 students, said the lockdown was “extremely disappointing and frustrating news for principals and teachers and above all the students”.

[Note: 9news reports that Victoria's snap five-day lockdown will end as planned at midnight on Wednesday, with only a few restrictions to remain. Schools, retail and hospitality will be open on Thursday.]


Schools seek answers on international students

The Age reports that the Andrews government is being urged to “consider all options” to get international school students back into the country, including putting them on charter flights and into residential quarantine. Education Minister James Merlino met with principals from state, Catholic and independent schools on last week, but offered them no commitment on when overseas students might be allowed back into the state. More than 40 high-fee Victorian schools are proposing that year 11 and 12 students from low-COVID places such as China, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong and Cambodia would take exclusively commissioned charter flights to Melbourne. The students would then go into hotel quarantine with parents or school staff, and rejoin Victorian classrooms. Separately, the Australian Boarding School Association is in talks for international students to quarantine, alongside school staff, at hotels in South Australia and Tasmania. But the government has warned it will not rush to revive the state’s biggest service-based export.


Corruption fears raised over child sexual abuse litigation exemption laws

The Mercury reports that a Hobart lawyer has raised the alarm on new legal powers quietly ushered through government that he says could lead to corruption in historic child sexual abuse investigations. Sebastian Buscemi, who is representing numerous survivors suing the government after they were abused as children by state employees, has warned the new powers meant some abusers – and others who seemingly covered up for them – could potentially get away with their crimes. He said this could happen if evidence was requested and subsequently destroyed. But the government said it introduced the exemption to improve timeliness in responding to claims and identifying relevant evidence, and would not provide an unfair advantage or allow perpetrators to go unpunished. The exemption to the Personal Information Protection Act 2004 (Tas) was gazetted in November last year by Justice Minister Elise Archer and allows the Department of Justice to request any information relevant, or potentially relevant, to civil claims against the state of Tasmania if it is in the public interest to do so.


The need for mental health education in Australian schools

According to an article in EducationHQ, mental illness accounts for 16 per cent of the global burden of disease and injury for youth aged 10-19. One in seven Australian young people are affected by a mental disorder, with a recent report finding that Australian youth were five times less likely to seek help at times of psychological distress. Mental illness in young people can affect core areas such as education, achievement, relationships, and occupational success. The prevalence of mental health concerns has increased among children and adolescents due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with mental health services struggling to keep up. Schools have been established as an optimal space for learning, and young people spend the majority of their time in school. Therefore, incorporating mental health literacy programs in schools could solve issues of transportation and access that often inhibit young people’s involvement in such programs. Experts say mental health should be a priority in schools in 2021.


New research highlights impact of COVID-19 on student health

The Educator reports that a new study has revealed a massive decrease in physical and mental wellbeing in children aged 6-12 during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The research, by leading Outside School Hours Care provider, Camp Australia, was conducted in December 2020 and surveyed 1,138 Australian parents, as well as 124 principals from the organisation’s partner schools. The survey found 90 per cent of principals surveyed and 69 per cent of parents reported a decrease in physical activity due to the loss of sport. Meanwhile, 97 per cent of principals and 69 per cent of parents reported anxiety in children due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. However, there were some encouraging findings, with 94 per cent of principals and 74 per cent of parents reporting an increase in resilience and independence in their children. Brett Comer, Chief Operating Officer for Camp Australia, said that while children showed incredible resilience throughout last year, screen time habits will be hard to break as schools navigate 2021.


“'It's a winner”: app-based school nutrition program changes parents' behaviour

Education HQ reports that a nutrition program underpinned by the science of behavioural change has seen remarkable results in NSW primary schools – and there’s now plans to roll it out across the country. The app-based SWAP IT program, led by Dr Rachel Sutherland from the University of Newcastle, works on changing parents’ behaviour when it comes to choosing what foods they send their child off to school with each day. SWAP IT homes in on reducing the amount of “discretionary” kilojoules, found in foods like chips, biscuits, cake and fruit juice that sneak into (and add up in) children’s daily diet. After consultations with principals, SWAP IT partnered with SkoolBag, a widely-used school-to-parent communications app using its SkoolShare feature. What started as a small pilot project with a small number of schools has now expanded to include around 150 that are currently on board. Early results show that 6525 children across 44 schools underwent an average decrease of 600 kilojoules from discretionary lunchbox foods per week.


Single-sex schools: girls in a class of their own for optimism

The Australian reports that teenage girls attending single-sex schools have coped better than most throughout the pandemic, with a national survey revealing above-average levels of life satisfaction, happiness and confidence in the future. Data from Mission Australia’s annual youth survey, collated for the Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia, also found that girls attending single-sex schools reported higher participation in sports and lower instances of poor mental health than the broader female population. According to the report, 2020 presented significant challenges as schools in most states closed at various times in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Yet most of the 15 to 19-year-olds participating in the survey remained happy with their circumstances and optimistic. The report says, “Girls from single-sex schools obtained higher scores than the Australian female average in key areas of the survey related to physical and mental health status, overall life satisfaction and educational and career aspirations.”


Sydney school principal warns girls “skimpy” clothes could “compromise the employment” of male teachers at Cheltenham

The ABC News reports that the NSW Department of Education says a Sydney Upper North Shore principal, who warned female students not to wear "skimpy" clothes because it could "compromise" the employment of male teachers, will apologise. In a video address seen by the ABC, Cheltenham Girls High School (CGHS) principal Suellen Lawrence told pupils not to wear "stringy, skimpy or revealing" clothes at casual dress days. It is understood the lecture was prompted by dress standards at a recent swimming carnival. Cathy Brennan, the executive director of the school performance metropolitan north, said Ms Lawrence's comments were "unfortunate" and "inappropriate". "We're really proud of the fact that our girls there were empowered to raise concerns when it did occur," Ms Brennan said. On Friday, after several students confronted the principal about her stance, a whole-school muster was held where Ms Lawrence claimed the remarks had been taken out of context.


South Australian schools tackle “period poverty” with free pads and tampons for students

The ABC News reports that free pads and tampons will be made available in every public school across South Australia this year to ensure girls do not miss school because they cannot access sanitary items. Over the next three years the State Government will spend $450,000 on the program with the funding based on the number of female students enrolled in year 5 and above. The grants will be allocated to schools by the end of the first school term this year. The rollout follows a successful trial of the program in 15 schools last year where girls could take pads and tampons from a basket or box in a particular bathroom or they could be handed out in a discreet bag with a code word for staff. Education Minister John Gardner said there was an overwhelmingly positive response from the students in the trial schools. Last month, Taboo Sanitary Products co-founder Isobel Marshall was named the 2021 Young Australian of the Year in recognition of her work to fight period poverty abroad and menstrual stigma at home.


School banking programs to be banned in Canberra from July, after unanimous support from ACT politicians

The ABC News reports that school banking programs, like Commonwealth Bank's Dollarmites program, will be banned from ACT schools from July, after a motion was unanimously passed in the Legislative Assembly last week. A review of the financial programs by ASIC last year concluded they do little to help students. The banking regulator said the programs did not improve money-saving behaviour among students, and the objective of the banks in running these programs was in gaining new customers. ACT Greens MLA Johnathan Davis, who introduced the motion, said banks were using sophisticated advertising tactics on vulnerable consumers. Supporting Mr Davis's motion, Education Minister Yvette Berry said community consultation had shown students were not satisfied with the financial education they received at school. The ACT is the second state or territory to implement a ban, following a similar decision by the Victorian Government in November last year.



AP Interview: French government to tackle child abuse issue (France)

The Chicago Daily Herald reports that France has a “deeply rooted” societal problem with child sexual abuse, the French official responsible for children and families acknowledged last Friday while discussing new government plans to address it with tougher laws and heightened vigilance in schools. Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Adrien Taquet, a secretary of state in the French Health Ministry, said “there are some urgent matters, and we have some urgent responses”. The proposed measures follow a series of high-profile cases in France that highlighted legal obstacles to prosecuting alleged child rapists. A massive online movement that saw thousands of people share accounts about sexual abuse within their families also brought attention to the issue. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that all elementary and middle school students will be screened for signs of sexual abuse and that prevention education will be stepped up. Taquet said teachers and other professionals who work with children will get specific training.


IBM hands out $3 million in cybersecurity funding for US public schools (United States)

ITWorldCanada reports that for years, schools have been fighting an uphill battle when it comes to cybersecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse as they become key targets for hackers as millions of teachers and students have turned to video chat software and other online tools for remote learning. IBM is awarding grants totalling $3 million in value to help six public school districts in the United States prepare for and respond to cyberattacks. The grants are for US public schools only. IBM says there are a total of six grants of in-kind services, valued at $500,000 each. School districts can apply between February 4 and March 1, 2021, and recipients will be announced shortly after. School districts will be selected to receive the grant based on their level of cybersecurity needs and how they meet the criteria outlined by IBM, the company noted in a recent news release.


Catholic schools in US hit by unprecedented enrolment drop (United States)

The Boston Globe reports that enrolment in Roman Catholic schools in the United States dropped 6.4 percent from the previous academic year amid the pandemic and economic stresses — the largest single-year decline in at least five decades, Catholic education officials reported last week. Among the factors were the closure or consolidation of more than 200 schools and the difficulty for many parents of paying tuition fees that average more than $5,000 for grades K-8 and more than $10,000 for secondary schools, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. John Reyes, the NCEA’s executive director for operational vitality, said the pandemic has been an "accelerant” for longstanding challenges facing Catholic education. With the recent wave of closures, there are now 5,981 Catholic schools in the United States, compared with more than 11,000 in 1970. Reyes said they disproportionately impacted urban communities where significant numbers of Black children, including many from non-Catholic families, attended Catholic schools.

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