Back to the classroom

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Mr Tony Farley, Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools.
Mr Tony Farley, Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools.

The Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools, Mr Tony Farley said it has been very encouraging to see staff and students across 150 Catholic primary and secondary schools across the Archdiocese of Sydney transition back well to full-time classroom learning after a long period of remote learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools reopened to the more than 70,000 students on 28 January and Mr Farley said all public health precautions are being closely followed to keep school communities safe, including regular Rapid Antigen Testing at home.

“All of our staff are vaccinated in keeping with the public health directives and we’re avoiding the gathering of large groups on school campuses as much as possible to contain the potential for outbreaks of COVID”, he explained.

“We know some children thrive in the remote learning environment, while others struggle without the face-to-face interaction with their classmates.”

“We’re limiting gatherings to year cohorts and clearly in cases in which students and staff test positive for COVID, we are closely following all the quarantine procedures as well”.

Tony Farley said the months of remote learning across 2020 and 2021 had generated a lot of anxiety and stress, with many students feeling the pressure of being isolated from their peers.

“So as they come back, I think there was a real sense of being present again”, he said.

“Our schools are really sensitive to the needs of the children and recognise that for some of our students, returning to the school environment can be difficult”.

Five Dock’s All Hallows Catholic Primary School Principal Helen Elliott welcomes a family in to school PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli
Five Dock’s All Hallows Catholic Primary School Principal Helen Elliott welcomes a family in to school PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“We know some children thrive in the remote learning environment, while others struggle without the face-to-face interaction with their classmates. So it’s very much a case of being conscious of the wellbeing, psychological or  emotional state of each child and accompanying them on that individual journey”, he said.

Mr Farley said the transition towards remote learning during the pandemic had benefited teachers greatly, helping them adapt to new remote learning technologies which would serve them well in the future.

He said another silver-lining to emerge from the crisis was the unprecedented HSC success of the class of 2021.

“It was our best ever performance since the HSC exams began in 1967 with 11 of our 33 schools ranked in the top 100, compared with five in the top 100 the previous year”, Mr Farley explained.

“Our schools are really sensitive to the needs of the students and recognise that for some of our students, returning to the school environment can be difficult.”

“We gathered all our 33 schools in the early part of 2021 together, examined the data around their performance and then talked through it at the local level”.

“We looked at strategies that each school could implement to improve their HSC performance and then followed that up with goals in each of the schools”.

Tony Farley believes the secret to long-term success lies in nurturing a high set of expectations across all schools with the support at the local level to help each student achieve their best.

“We have a fundamental belief that every one of our students is capable of performing at the highest standard and we work closely with parents to strive for excellence, not just in terms of HSC performance, but also in NAPLAN, the arts and music, sport, mathematics and science”, he said.