Anglican Youthworks has welcomed the easing of COVID-Smart settings in NSW schools, which lifts mask requirements and enables students to engage and interact more freely across classes and year groups.
From February 28, schools and early childhood services will be able to welcome more visitors, including parents, and will resume activities such as assemblies and school camps. Mask requirements will be lifted for high school students and staff.
From March 7, Mask requirements will be lifted for primary school and early education staff.
The news comes as a relief for school staff who have been juggling rooms, activities and students over the first few weeks of school, and for Special Religious Education teachers and coordinators.
We need to mobilise SRE teachers, parents and Church staff teams to have positive working relationships with schools
SRE has been permitted in schools this year, as SRE teachers are classed as essential volunteer workers. However, the logistics of managing cohorts and classrooms has been difficult and some schools have been reticent for SRE to return.
“The restrictions around cohorts and volunteer access have made for a false start in many schools across the Diocese of Sydney and NSW," said Andy Stevenson, head of ministry support and the SRE office at Youthworks. "Our team has been assisting SRE coordinators and teachers in negotiations with schools to find workable solutions to get SRE going for 2022.
“While the majority of schools have been able to begin SRE, the administration around room availability, retention of SRE parent forms and the extra workload for teachers has meant more meetings, emails and calls to sort out problems to enable SRE."
Mr Stevenson described it as "a less-than-ideal start for SRE in a year where we had hoped we could kick SRE off well”.
“As the largest provider of Christian SRE in NSW, we need to mobilise SRE teachers, parents and church staff teams to have positive working relationships with schools and help them to help us get back to teaching children and youth about the Christian faith”.
Low COVID transmission in schools
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the news was welcome.
“Relaxing cohorting and restrictions on visitors will let more parents engage with their child’s school and allow students to participate in cross-year group activities," she said. "The return to school, and now the return to school life, is successful because of the tremendous efforts and teamwork from all parents, staff and students. I thank all of our school communities for their support.”
She added that although the State Government has not ruled out the return of some restrictions in future, “We know transmission in schools is extremely low, and not a single school has closed since school returned despite the levels of community transmission”.
Anglican Youthworks CEO, the Rev Canon Craig Roberts, who is an executive member of ICCOREIS (Inter Church Council of Religious Education in Schools) said providers welcome the full support of the Education Department to return SRE teachers and helpers to classrooms.
"After two years of interruptions to routines, support structures and relationships, the great news of the gospel is more precious and needed than ever in young lives," he said. "To commend a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the most powerful, most loving person in the universe, is a great privilege.
“Our teachers and helpers are well trained and look forward to partnering with parents in the faith education of their children."
See answers to common questions about restrictions and guidelines on the Sydney Anglicans COVID FAQ page. To contact the ministry support team at Anglican Youthworks to help with school SRE negotiations and questions, see youthworks.net. Main photo from Education Department announcement here.