Kids Mental Health a Priority as Victoria Opens Schools for the Third Time

October 13, 2020 Updated: October 13, 2020

Priorities are being placed on mental health and supporting student well-being as Victoria opens schooling up for the third time this year.

More than 584,000 primary, secondary, and specialist school students in Melbourne have returned to class as of Oct. 12, with over 846,000 students expected to be back by Oct 16.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has said that he expects to see all schools reopen soon, but added that occasional school closures will continue until a vaccine is found.

“Our focus for Term 4 is on making sure that every student is supported and getting our students back to the classroom is a significant step forward,” Merlino said.

Metropolitan Melbourne students from Year 8 to 10 will return to school on Oct. 26 as the final step of the state’s staggered return.

This return is designed to limit movement and monitor impacts of the return’s first stages, at the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer. It also allows for schools to work with parents, and simultaneously review the risk-mitigation measures along the way.

Measures include staggered start and finish times, physical distancing at school entrances and drop-off points, and restrictions on the adults that enter school grounds.

“Schools have extra measures in place to help students and teachers return safely—but everyone has a part to play by staying at home if you’re sick and getting tested,” Andrews said.

Supporting Students Through The Pandemic

The Victorian government announced a $28.5 million package of initiatives to ensure student support during the transition including the Navigation Program, LOOKOUT, Mental Health Practitioners, and the Mental Health in Primary Schools pilot.

The government has invested over $87 million into supporting the mental health of all Victorians, and is continuing its work with service providers for additional support as Stage 3 and 4 restrictions continue.

More than 1,500 school staff will undergo additional mental health training in partnership with Headspace, a government established youth mental health foundation, to help identify students in need of additional support.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) is also implementing a wide-ranging Consideration of Education Disadvantage process in calculating VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) scores.

“My message to VCE students is clear: you concentrate on doing your best, and we’ll take care of everything else,” Andrews said.

Additionally, the VCAA has reduced course content for Unit 4, rescheduled the GAT (General Achievement Test), and are extending Term 4 for VCE students so that exams are held later in the year.

Each Victorian student will be individually assessed, with all adverse impacts of COVID-19 reflected in their ATAR and other academic rankings. Assessments include mental health challenges, the impact of school closures, student health, substantial extra family responsibilities, and ongoing remote learning.

Specialist schools with students in the secondary age group will also receive funding to recruit a school-based mental health practitioner.

Programs including Navigator and LOOKOUT will see expansion as the government tackles disengagement from education.

Victoria is also supporting a new digital mental health platform, MOST, which provides tailored online therapy and peer support, for students.

“Our focus for Term 4 is on making sure that every student is supported and getting our students back to the classroom is a significant step forward,” Merlino said.