School principals have serious concerns about the Government's decision to make physical school attendance "voluntary" when the country moves to level 3 of the coronavirus alert system.
Principals' Federation president Perry Rush said there was no consultation with principals before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced at 1pm that early childhood centres and schools "will be available up to Year 10 only, but attendance is purely voluntary".
"For children who are able, distance learning is still the best option," she said.
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Rush, who heard about it on television like everyone else, said he had serious concerns about how teachers could teach a class in the classroom and support other students at home at the same time.
"I think it's going to be challenging to support," he said.
"We have this obvious question of students on the physical site needing to be taught, and potentially large groups of students at home requiring remote teaching and learning, so you have a dual focus for teachers.
"An obvious question is how do you as a teacher adequately support teaching and learning on site and also at home."
Rush, who is principal of Hastings Intermediate, said schools would also have to cope with having fewer than the usual number of teachers on site.
About 10 to 15 per cent of teachers stayed at home when the country was briefly on level 2 and then level 3 just before the March 25 lockdown because they were over 70 or had health conditions making them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
"We haven't had any information here about what level 3 might mean for workers who are vulnerable," Rush said.
Vulnerable teachers might be tasked with working from their homes with the students who are still studying at home.
But in that case, he said, there would be fewer teachers on site to teach the children who turn up to school, so their classes would need to be combined with larger numbers of students.
"Then it's likely that the students at the site will be grouped together across fewer teachers, therefore increasing the size of those groupings and potentially it could end up being a normal sized class," he said.
He said that would make it impossible to maintain the recommended "social distancing" of one metre between each student.
A table released by Ardern says that level 3 requires "physical distancing of two metres outside the home (including on public transport), or one metre In controlled environments like schools and workplaces".
But Rush said that would be impossible in primary and intermediate schools.
"We have no capacity to adequately control close contacts in that setting," he said.
"So you have to be comfortable with very close contact of 20 or 30 kids within the context of a class, or in schools such as Hobsonville Point Primary where you have a situation with flexible learning, then you have very often groupings with 40, 50 or 70 students in close contact.
"So we need to be realistic about what this means."
• Level 3 - the full list: covid19.govt.nz.