Only "a couple of handfuls" of children turned up at most schools today, as teachers rush to get home learning plans out to parents for the coronavirus lockdown period.

Principals' Federation president Perry Rush says there has been "a good response from the community" after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday asked all parents except "essential workers" to keep their children at home for the next month.

Perry Rush:
Perry Rush: "We must be pragmatic, balanced and supportive of a range of creative endeavour, and focused on managing what is a really stressful situation." Photo / Supplied

"There are not many at all at school, a couple of handfuls in most schools," he said.

Teachers have been asked to stay at schools today and tomorrow to look after the children of essential workers such as health workers and police officers, and to develop home learning guidelines for children.

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School holidays, which were due to start on Good Friday, April 10, have been moved forward to start this coming Monday, March 30, so effectively schools are expected to provide home learning plans for the rest of this week and then for a week and a half after term 2 starts on the Wednesday after Easter, April 15.

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Rush said he was "thrilled" at the number of schools that are well prepared with home learning plans, both online in better-off communities and through take-home packs in poorer areas.

"Virtually all the schools I spoke to yesterday all had preparatory work they had done and they were ready," he said.

"I have just been stunned by the number of schools that are well prepared."

He said some low-decile schools have lent school computers to families who don't have computers at home.

The Ministry of Education says on its Facebook page that schools "have been asked to supply paper copies of work and that's why today and tomorrow have been set aside, to plan for this".

"You may find you will need to pick up a pack from your school," it says.

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"Remember it's only till the end of this week as the holidays now run from March 30 to April 14 inclusive. Then there will be at least one week of home learning put in place."

This afternoon, New Zealand moved up to COVID-19 Alert Level 3. In 48 hours, we will move up to COVID-19 Alert Level...

Posted by Ministry of Education NZ on Sunday, 22 March 2020

Rush said schools would have various policies on lending computers to families.

"There are issues obviously around things like you have the internet filtered in the school environment through Network for Learning. In home settings that probably won't be the case, so there will be some schools that will feel uncomfortable about doing that," he said.

"It really is down to individual schools to decide how they can support their communities."

He said every team in his own school, Hastings Intermediate, has communicated its expectations to parents.

"They have got their mechanisms in place," he said.

Schools and non-essential services across New Zealand will be closed for the next four weeks after the Government put the country in lockdown to try to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Schools are using apps such as Class Dojo, Seesaw and Google Classroom to send parents homework lists and support.

The Ministry of Education has put initial resources on an English-language website Learning from Home and on a Māori-language version, Ki te Ao Mārama.

Privately-owned education resource companies such as Twinkl have provided even wider resources online.

But Rush advised parents not to let their children spend too much time on online learning.

"It's important that there's a mix. Sitting on your device all the time isn't appropriate," he said.

"We do need to encourage our communities to be realistic and also really gentle with everybody for what occurs at this point.

"So let's take care that we must be pragmatic, balanced and supportive of a range of creative endeavour, and focused on managing what is a really stressful situation in our country, which includes young people. That is our primary objective."

• More information is on the Ministry of Education and covid19 websites.