Only a handful of students have returned to schools in the Taupō district under Alert Level 3.

At this alert level, children up to year 10 whose parents can't work from home are allowed to return to class, as are those who can't study from home.

Taupō district schools spoken to reported that their numbers of students numbered in the single digits but that didn't mean staff weren't busy, with teachers working from home delivering online learning and other staff making plans for how schools would operate under alert levels 2 and 1.

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Taupō-nui-a-Tia College principal Peter Moyle said the school only had four students learning on-site in their own bubble with one teacher with them at all times and school senior management coming in to give the teacher breaks. The school was following Ministry of Education guidelines which included hand sanitising and social distancing.

"We're trying to keep the bubble as small as possible. They [the students] are doing distance learning and they can go onto Zoom lessons during the day with different teachers."

Students learning in their bubble at Taupō-nui-a-Tia College. Photo / Supplied
Students learning in their bubble at Taupō-nui-a-Tia College. Photo / Supplied

Mr Moyle said the feedback from teaching staff was that they were finding the online teaching busy but feedback from students was positive and most were actively engaged in learning. The school had provided 100 of its own electronic devices to students and the Ministry of Education was supposed to send out paper-based learning materials but Mr Moyle had not heard whether they had arrived.

Tauhara College deputy principal Iain Mutch said the school had six students attending yesterday and the school had created a bubble in the Special Needs Unit for them to work in, with six staff who had volunteered to look after them and keep the bubble intact.

The vast majority of the school's students were learning from home through Google Classroom. The small number who were not were being followed up by school deans, although Mr Mutch said some local families were experiencing all sorts of pressures at this time.

Junior students who did not have their own learning devices had been given ones from the school to use because the Ministry of Education had said it would supply devices to senior students first, he said. Paper-based learning packs for students who lived in remote areas without internet connectivity were also supposed to have been posted out last Thursday.

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Tongariro School in Tūrangi, which caters for students from years one to 13 had eight students learning in two bubbles yesterday and five students in one bubble today, said principal Steve Allen. Teachers were teaching from home using Google Classroom, Zoom or by phone, or otherwise were in their classrooms preparing material for distance learning.

Because Tongariro School is a low decile school, it was given priority to have devices and learning resources delivered and during Tuesday's teacher-only day staff were also busy putting together school material to deliver to students, Mr Allen said.

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"The kids have got heaps to do. The majority are engaged although it's a bit harder for the little kids because their [education] packs are quite generic, but they've got pens and paper and everything they need."

Mr Allen said planning now was going into what the school would need to do for teaching and learning at level 2.

"It's hard to plan because at level 2 it's very unclear what's happening in the educational environment. We're just getting as much done as we can and supporting the people in our community."

At Taupō Intermediate, principal Bill Clarke was thankful that the school's laptop programme meant almost all of its students moved relatively seamlessly to distance learning.

"We had 23 kids in total out of 650 that we were asking the Ministry to support us [with devices] and the laptop programme has been hugely successful in that respect."

The school had three bubbles of students on site with staggered break times and social distancing and Mr Clarke said he expected that number might change as more parents went back to work.

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Numbers of students on site at local primary schools were slightly higher than the colleges, with Mountview School reporting it had 14 children and Waipahihi School with 24 students.

Nationally, one in six schools were not expecting any students at all this week.

Principals' Federation president Perry Rush told the NZ Herald parents had got the message that they should keep children at home in alert level 3 if they possibly could, and many were still worried about the health risks of sending them to school.

A Principals' Federation survey with responses from 620 schools found an average of only 6 per cent of students were expected back at school this week, with 16 per cent of schools not expecting any students to turn up.

The Education Ministry has been told 42,853 children would be returning to partially reopened schools and early learning services this week.

Level 3 education rules

• Students must be kept in bubbles of no more than 10 initially, possibly rising to 20 "once all processes are running smoothly".

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• Start, break and finish times must be staggered so that children in different bubbles don't mix.

• Early learning centres must provide three square metres of indoor space per child, up from 2.5 square metres normally, and must keep temperatures above 18C, up from 16C.

• Children and teachers must keep 1m apart inside and 2m apart outside, except that the ministry accepts that physical contact is needed in early learning centres.

• Playgrounds (but not sandpits) can be open in early learning centres but not in schools.

• Children cannot play with anything that is touched by other students such as balls, ropes or sticks.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

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