Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) has ended the school term one week early to give teachers at the organisation’s 150 primary and secondary schools more time to plan remote learning.

SCS joins 11 other NSW and ACT dioceses in bringing forward the end of Term 1 and replacing lessons with staff development days from 6 April.

The decision, made in consultation with the NSW Government and Catholic Schools NSW, will also give families welcome downtime after measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 have left many to complete their own work and supervise their children’s learning at home.

The extra days this week will really help our family take a breath and work out the best way we can, as a family, tackle remote learning.

– Sarah Leaney

Schools will remain open to supervise students where needed, but no new lessons will be posted until Term 2 resumes on 27 April.

Educators and parents from Sydney Catholic schools have welcomed the decision.

SCS’ Director of Education and Research Kate O’Brien said teachers would use the additional time to plan units of work that could be completed at home independently or with minimal assistance, and timetables to best connect with students and their families in a rapidly changing space.

Students have so far shown a creative approach to remote learning, and filmed themselves making cakes, volcanoes, and new house plans at home. Podcasts have also become a new medium to explain what they have learnt from reading and literacy tasks.

“It is a very complex time for all families and having to supervise work and manage the impact of COVID-19 means different things to different families,” Ms O’Brien said.

“Teachers want the learning to be fun, to be filled with opportunities to do something a little different.”

Acting Principal of De La Salle Catholic College Cronulla Stephen Mahoney said teachers and students had shown extraordinary resilience in the switch to remote learning, and would continue to refine the process and resources involved.

“Our collective aim as a school without a physical classroom is to ensure that students’ learning remains connected and progresses with the college’s wellbeing and learning services in the background to support students in this new remote learning world,” he said.

Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School Villawood’s teachers, including a specialist in diverse learning and English as an Additional Language/Dialect, will collaborate from Monday to modify Term 2 lessons for students from all grades.

“Our teachers will share their creativity, resources, and knowledge of the curriculum to plan highly engaging learning tasks,” said Principal Michelle Bourne. “Teachers also have more time to contact and check in with parents regarding their child’s learning, which will strengthen the existing support and communication between home and school.”

Teachers want the learning to be fun, to be filled with opportunities to do something a little different.

– Dr Kate O’Brien

Having staff who are fluent in other languages has also helped the school bridge the gap.

School secretary Helen Tieu, speaks all forms of Chinese, while teacher’s aide Sr Angela Nguyen has translated for the large proportion of Vietnamese families at the school for more than 20 years.

“We have aimed to overcome the complexity of delivering remote learning by ensuring that parents know who to contact,” Mrs Bourne said.

Parent Katy Donoghue, whose daughters attend Marist Sisters’ College Woolwich, said her three teenagers had adjusted well to learning remotely for the duration of the school day, but the extended vacation time was welcome.

“The pressure will be off me as the parent to push my three teenagers to get out of bed and get focused before their school day begins, though the school holidays will make the house a lot busier with the kids unable to do the standard holiday activities of friends visiting, going to the shops, movies and beach,” she said.

Parent at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Primary School Miranda Sarah Leaney said the holiday would be helpful to take stock of the changes as a family, and a chance to have fun.

“In this time of such rapid change having the extra days this week will really help our family take a breath and work out the best way we can as a family tackle remote learning,” she said. “It’s been a big change for all of us and for my kids it’s nice for them to just have some fun.”