New exam timetable for VCE students ‘urban-centric’ approach, regional principal says

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Victoria’s year 12 students will begin to sit their final exams in early November after weeks of uncertainty and disruption as schools prepare for students to return from next week.

Many students were anxious about exams spilling over into 2021 with a potential disruption to higher education ambitions.

But the Andrews Government now says exams will all be completed by December 2, which is two weeks later than the original completion date of November 18 set before the pandemic.

The announcement comes as year 11 and 12 students as well as prep, year 1 and year 2 students prepare to return to the classroom next Tuesday after nearly six weeks of remote learning.

With VCE exams to be finished at the start of December, year 12 students will receive their ATAR score before the end of 2020, rather than January 2021, which was feared at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

VCE exams will begin in the week starting November 9, which is a month earlier than expected when learning from home was first announced.

The changes mean university offers can be made to Victorian students in time for the start of the 2021 academic year.

Education Minister James Merlino said on Friday the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) had made “tweaks” to Unit 4 VCE content and assessments in light of COVID-19, but said exams would not be altered.

A mother in a blue top kisses her son in school uniform at the gate of a primary school while dropping him off.

A mother in a blue top kisses her son in school uniform at the gate of a primary school while dropping him off.

Pick-up and drop-off times will be staggered at schools that open to students next week.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield, file photo)

Mr Merlino said starting exams in November meant “no disadvantage for Victorian students in terms of university and other pathways”.

“The pathway for students will be exactly the same as students right around the country,” he said.

A head and shoulders shot of a woman with cropped dark red hair stands in a living room.

A head and shoulders shot of a woman with cropped dark red hair stands in a living room.

Portland Bayview College principal Michelle Kearney said regional students should be given special consideration.(Supplied: Michelle Kearney)

But Portland Bayview College principal Michelle Kearney told the ABC Mr Merlino’s comments were “a very urban-centric viewpoint”.

She said regional students should be granted special consideration because of poor quality internet during the lockdown compared to their metro counterparts.

“That’s one of the things that has been an issue for us. The lack of real reliability of the internet for some of our Zoom lessons that we’ve had with our students,” she said.

“Regional students need to have special entry consideration looked at.”

The Australian Principals Federation previously called for year 12 exams to be axed this year, after concerns the crisis would leave many students unfairly disadvantaged.

Students ‘glad to hear about an exam’ for the first time

Year 12 student at Minaret College Rumaan Baryala is a member of the Victorian Student Representative Council and told ABC Radio Melbourne the announcement was the first time he was “glad to hear about an exam timetable”.

Mr Baryala said he was “really happy to receive clarity” about the exams and students’ chances of getting in university in 2021.

“Obviously I’m still going to be anxious about [COVID-19] when I return back to the classroom, it will still be in the back of my mind. But we’ll try to distract ourselves as much as we can,” Mr Baryala said.

Alice, who is also in year 12, told ABC Radio Melbourne remote learning had brought its challenges and not being around others had been difficult.

“This has come at a good time, waiting this long has been good because we haven’t been jumping around and changing routines. It has been nice to slow down life and be able to focus on our study routine,” she said.

Mr Merlino said it was too early to tell if there would be a notable rise in the number of year 12 students applying for special consideration this year.

Government advises schools to refund some fees

Schools in Victoria will have a pupil-free day on Monday before year 11 and 12 students as well as prep, year 1 and year 2 students return to the classroom on Tuesday after almost six weeks of remote learning.

Those who teach other year levels will conduct home learning from the school.

Mr Merlino said staggered pick-up and drop-off times would be implemented to prevent parents congregating at the school gate but physical distancing would not take place in classrooms.

Mr Merlino also said the Government had advised schools to provide refunds of schools fees to parents for things like camps and excursions.

“Those things won’t be part of school life for some time yet,” he said.

“We’re giving some common sense advice to schools, in terms of parent fees for those kinds of extracurricular activities.”

Mr Merlino said the Government was supporting and working closely with schools that had been financially impacted by COVID-19.

10,000 school staff tested in 10 days

Mr Merlino said he understood some teachers, parents and students would be concerned about their health when students returned to the classroom.

He referenced a “significant increase in funding to make sure that schools are cleaned regularly” and said hand sanitiser, guidelines for within schools and the huge drive to voluntarily test teachers were in place to protect the health of students and staff.

He said 10,000 school staff had been tested for coronavirus over the last 10 days and none had tested positive.

State schools will be staggering lunch, recess and library visiting times to avoid students in different year levels coming into contact with one another.

“Each school will work through this on a school-by-school basis,” Mr Merlino said.

Playgrounds will be open for students in schools and cleaned regularly but water fountains are off-limits.

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