Education Minister Chris Hipkins confirms year 11-13 students in alert level 3 can return to school on October 26

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed year 11-13 students in alert level 3 can return to school from October 26, after Labour Weekend.

Students in Auckland have not been able to attend school for nine weeks after the Delta variant of COVID-19 was discovered in the community, sparking a months-long lockdown. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed earlier this month that schools would not reopen in Auckland on October 18 as initially planned, due to the need for further preparation. 

Distance learning instead recommenced at the beginning of term 4, which started this week. But from Next Tuesday, senior school students will be able to return to the classroom. 

Senior students must wear a mask and keep a record of their whereabouts, and staff must have evidence of a negative test before they return.

Students will not have to be vaccinated, but teachers must have had their first dose of Pfizer by November 15, as per the education vaccine mandate. 

NCEA and New Zealand Scholarship exams will proceed, including in areas where alert level 3 has been in place, such as Waikato and Northland. 

But students will be eligible for an Unexpected Event Grade, which is available for students in any year where their attendance or performance in exams is affected by an illness or injury.

"Students in these regions who cannot attend an exam because of a specific COVID-19 disruption will receive their Unexpected Event Grade. Where they do attend the exam, they will receive the better of their exam grade or their Unexpected Event Grade," Hipkins said on Wednesday. 

"Unexpected Event Grades are based on evidence gathered by teachers during the year, and undergo a quality assurance process to make sure they relate to the standard being assessed."

Students in years 1 to 10 will not be returning to school just yet, because they are not eligible to be vaccinated, and thus are at higher risk of infection. 

The Government is considering rostered attendance for younger students or education classes outside, which poses less risk of transmission. 

Cabinet will consider that advice next Tuesday.

National's education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said it was wrong to "deny 5-14 year-olds a proper education", because the risks of keeping them away from school "outweigh the risks of returning". 

"After two months out of the classroom, more and more students are disengaging, and this has the potential to blight the prospects of tens of thousands of kids," he said. 

"With only three out of five kids in New Zealand attending school regularly at the best of times, we cannot sustain further disruption and loss of momentum."

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