“This has been a challenging six months and our principals, teachers and support staff have done an incredible job to keep our education system running.”

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Michelle Green, the chief executive of Independent Schools Victoria, said the plan offers the prospect of “limited and gradual respite from the extremely difficult restrictions” teachers, students and parents have endured.

“Students in years 3 to 10 in metropolitan Melbourne, however, face continued uncertainty, after a frustrating and anxious year marked by massive disruption which has compromised the education and wellbeing of many students,” Ms Green said.

Under the plan, childcare reopens from September 28 for all parents, while sessional kindergarten begins from October 5, Premier Daniel Andrews and Education Minister James Merlino announced on Sunday.

In metropolitan Melbourne, from the week beginning October 12, the students returning to school are: prep, grade 1, grade 2, year 11, year 12, year 10s studying VCE or VCAL subjects and children at specialist schools.

In regional Victoria, all students – from prep to year 12 – will return to school the week of October 12.

Mr Merlino said schools can decide to stagger returns across the week.

Senior students who are taking the General Achievement Test and other essential assessments will sit their tests at school from October 5 whether they are in regional Victoria or metropolitan Melbourne.

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But students from grade 3 to year 10 in metropolitan Melbourne will continue remote learning.

There is a potential for a staggered return for those year levels from October 26 if there was an average of less than five new cases day, according the government’s road map.

Independent Education Union general secretary Deb James said remote schooling has been hard for everyone, but safety must come first.

“We support a carefully monitored return to school grounds next term for our lower primary and upper secondary students. Senior students in particular will need all the support we can give them as they continue to endure a very disrupted finish to their schooling,” Ms James said.

“Key to ensuring that this is safe and sustainable will be keeping on-site staffing levels to a minimum, and genuine ongoing consultation in every school around staff attendance and safety protocols.”

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she emphasised with the frustration being felt by all households with students still at home, while the reopening of regional schools was good news for country areas.

“None of this has been fair or easy on anyone or anywhere in regard to how the pandemic has impacted on us to all live, work and learn,” Ms McHardy said.

Mr Merlino said the decisions were based on the case numbers and health advice.

He said whether students from grade 3 to year 10 will return to school this year will depend on daily case numbers.

“We understand what impact this is having on parents and students and we want every child back to face-to-face teaching, but we simply cannot do that now. It is not a choice available to us,” Mr Merlino said.

Loretta Piazza, principal of Meadowglen Primary School in Epping, said the slow return was sensible, but the sooner all students could get back, the better.Credit:Joe Armao

“Decisions will be made in the future, but they will be entirely based on case numbers.”

He said he was “very confident” VCE students in metropolitan areas will not be compromised.

Students seeking to repeat their year 12 would be “part of the conversation”, Mr Merlino said.

Lilydale High School principal Wendy Powson said she was worried the government could have been pushed into opening early.

“Having spent many hours speaking to students, parents and teachers, it is very apparent that they understand and appreciate the decisions being made,” Ms Powson said.

“And we’ll certainly be looking after our year 12s. They’ve already shown strength and resilience beyond their years.”

Loretta Piazza, principal of Meadowglen Primary School in Epping, said the staggered return was sensible, but the sooner all students could get back, the better.

“The sooner we can get the others back, the better, because we have much to do to determine where students are at with their learning and what strategic decisions need to be made for optimum learning in 2021,” Ms Piazza said.

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Tammy Mills is the legal affairs reporter for The Age.

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