Returning to Campus 1 May 2020

1 May 2020

This notice first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 1 May 2020. 

The term has begun as planned with all girls returning to online learning for this week and next, but our work has been dominated since Easter by the planning for a staged return to face-to-face teaching. I have consulted extensively inside and outside the School community and had the opportunity to put questions directly to public health experts who are determining the policy for NSW and Australia. Thank you to those of you who took the time to complete the survey which has also been helpful in shaping our plan for a smooth and safe transition back to school.

Today’s message is, once again, longer than usual because I feel that it is important to share with you the thinking behind our planning for the next few weeks. We have also asked you for your views via our survey and every response has been carefully considered. If this background is of interest, please read on, but if you simply want to know the plan - see below: ‘Weeks 3 and 4’.

Planning in uncertain times

Policy makers across the world are grappling with uncertainty during this pandemic. Given the uncertainties, there is no single right answer and there will be valid criticisms of any model adopted by the School.

We have seriously considered the full range of parent views, of which these are a sample:

[Returning to campus] is an unnecessary risk when the school has effective online learning resources. It is appropriate to wait a minimum of a further 2-3 weeks beyond the mandated government school openings to benefit from any learnings prior to reconvening on-site classes.
[One day a week] is not ambitious enough and we would hope that the school can revise this timing so that our daughter can return to school full time immediately.
Everyone in our household will be welcoming the opportunity to return to school and connect with teachers and friends. We would prefer a gentle approach back to ensure their safety.

I sympathise with every one of these views. They are naturally influenced, too, by the circumstances of each girl and each household. There are many who are juggling the intense demands of working from home with younger children, who have children of different ages with varying capacity to work independently, who have concerns about specific health needs or risks for their child or other members of their household, or who may be working in environments that put them and their families at higher risk (eg in hospitals). These individual factors, quite rightly, play into each family’s view of the proper solution for their daughter.

Student and Staff Wellbeing

Everyone agrees that student wellbeing must be at the forefront of our plan. What this means for the pace of the return to campus again varies from family to family. Some examples of parent feedback:

Our biggest problem (for our Year 7 daughter) has been the isolation. She is not yet confident enough to reach out to newly formed relationships. A focus on this would really help.
I think the online lessons have worked well but girls are missing their friends and social face to face connections.
My daughter is loving online learning as she is not very comfortable socially at school and is happy just to get on with her work.
These children have grown up in a digital age and have many tools at their disposal to continue social connection. I think the school should prioritise Year 11 and 12 and only provide onsite learning for students below that level as is practical and safe for the staff.
I would prefer that the focus of teaching being on getting back to normal as soon as possible rather than on wellbeing and rebuilding peer connections, the latter is something I think will naturally happen.

In the Junior School, girls spend most of the day in their class group, so it is easier to secure social bonds in a normal timetable. In the Senior School, especially in the younger years, those connections are newer and more thinly stretched in a busy timetable with different class groupings. For this reason we are tailoring the approach according to the year group, with more focus on social connection for some than others.

Many parents also acknowledged in their feedback the importance of ensuring the safety of the staff. Teachers are very keen to return to face-to-face teaching but we have a small number who are at particular risk due to age or health, and they will be staying in isolation in accordance with medical advice. These teachers are mostly in the Senior School, so we will be putting in place arrangements to allow them to teach from home even when the girls are at school. This was successfully tested last term and will maintain continuity of teaching. Most teachers, however, will return to campus as we resume face-to-face teaching and our wish (and obligation) is to ensure that the risks are kept to a minimum. They are, statistically speaking, far more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection than our students and measures must be taken to ensure that their health and wellbeing is also protected.

Similarly, we know a small number of families live with health professionals who have higher risk of exposure or with individuals who are at high risk if they contract COVID-19. We are committed to supporting those girls who are not able to return to face-to-face lessons. As much as possible, on-site lessons will be documented and resources provided so girls at home can undertake activities as they are able.

Although not unanimous, most parents agreed that the pressure to return was particularly strong for the most senior students (Years 11 and 12) and also the most junior (Kindergarten – Year 2). None of this, however, affects our desire to return all girls to campus as fast as is consistent with public health guidance..

Government Guidance

In developing the response for Queenwood, I acknowledge that there are no black and white answers. Yet it is clear that Australia is in an enviable position and has so far been well advised by the medical experts and well led by our political leaders. In the week commencing 23 March (the day when we moved to online learning), 1258 new cases were diagnosed in New South Wales. In the last seven days, we have had just 43 (although with a higher proportion of community transmission). In just five weeks, the turnaround has far surpassed anyone’s expectations and underlines just how fast prospects can change – for better or, possibly, for worse. As social restrictions are now easing (and complacency may creep in), no-one can rule out the possibility of a second wave of infection which could take us backwards again. For now, however, the news is very good.

We do not blindly follow directives from government but nor am I easily tempted to substitute my own judgment for that of the medical and public health experts – particularly when their advice has been vindicated by events thus far. We have examined the data (eg the high rate of testing and low rate of positives in NSW, the low incidence in 0-19 age group, the absence of transmission by students where there have been cases in schools) and sought detailed advice, including a briefing directly with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and we believe that it supports the plan of the NSW Government, which is that schools should begin a staged return from Week 3 (11 May). The advice for schools is that, initially, only a proportion of the student population should return on any given day (25% in state schools) and that precautions should be put in place to reduce the risk to students and especially the staff, who are at higher risk of infection than the students. We will follow that advice.

In doing so, we acknowledge that we cannot eliminate all risk in relation to COVID-19. As outlined last term, face-to-face teaching will be suspended if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 amongst staff or students. In these circumstances, the campus will shut immediately for a day or so to allow for tracing and isolation of close contacts. The School will be cleaned and then re-open – as has been the case in other schools in Sydney.

We are, of course, well placed to manage any shift back to online learning that is required as the circumstances change. At all times, we will be monitoring information as it comes to hand and making our decisions in the best interests of the girls, the staff and our community.

Weeks 3 and 4

In our survey of parents, we foreshadowed our plans for the return of students to campus. These plans aim to maximise physical distancing, reduce mixing of student cohorts and meet a range of academic and pastoral needs. 87% of parents indicated that they would send their girls to school on that basis, provided that government advice remained the same.

Having refined those plans in light of your feedback, the first stage of return in Weeks 3 and 4 is set out below. We hope to increase attendance from Week 5 but will review emerging data before finalising plans for the end of the term and updating parents accordingly.

The full details are explained in these documents for Junior School and Senior School but key points are:

Junior School
Kindergarten: Monday & Friday
Year 1: Tuesday & Thursday
Year 2: Wednesday & Friday
Year 3: Thursday
Year 4: Wednesday
Year 5: Tuesday
Year 6: Monday

Senior School
Year 7: Wednesday
Year 8: Thursday (Week 3) and then Friday (Week 4)
Year 9: Friday (Week 3) and then Thursday (Week 4)
Year 10: Tuesday
Year 11: Monday
Year 12: return to face-to-face teaching full-time from Week 3

  • Additional days for Year 11 will be considered for Week 4, if feasible.

  • Where practicable, lessons will be moved to larger classrooms and teaching spaces and a variety of measures will reduce playground contact (eg locker rooms closed, allocated playground spaces).

  • Further measures introduced to manage physical distancing and hygiene for staff and students, including temperature checks on entry.

  • We are working on systems to make on-campus lessons available to students who remain at home for health reasons (eg by recording or live-streaming).

  • Girls will be sent home if sick. If displaying respiratory symptoms, students must have a negative COVID-19 test before returning to the campus.

  • Q buses will run when justified by demand. (Only 5 ‘yes’ responses from the latest survey.)

  • No visitors will be allowed on campus, including parents, except by prior appointment.

  • Canteen will operate on limited menu (to be published in the next newsletter).

Please note that these are arrangements for Weeks 3 and 4 only. If the trend continues positively, the return of students will be accelerated – but equally could be scaled back if the situation worsens.

There will be a further opportunity to explore these arrangements during the Parent Webinar Series which will include an opportunity to ask questions (dates and times below). In the meantime, a reminder that families with questions about how COVID-19 is impacting their daughter in particular should contact their class teacher, Tutor or email

Warning for Parents

There is a health warning of another kind to share with you. Parents at a number of independent schools have received fake emails demanding payment of fees invoices. This is a scam. There are many clues but if you are in any doubt, please do not hesitate to contact the Business Office on 8968 7790.

Finally, I am grateful for the many message of support and affirmation which have been communicated by parents to me and my colleagues. This is an age of humanity in which individualism reigns supreme – or at least, it seemed so prior to COVID-19. If nothing else, this pandemic is teaching all of us about interconnectedness and the importance of community. To quote Year 12’s rallying cry for 2020: we are stronger together.

I thank you for working with the School, for your helpful communications and suggestions and for your ongoing support of your daughters’ education.