Education Minister Chris Hipkins announces all students can return to school on November 17

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced all students in alert level 3 lockdown across Auckland and parts of Waikato can return to school next week on November 17. 

Hipkins confirmed last month that year 11-13 students in alert level 3 could return to school from October 26, but students in the years below had to continue learning from home. 

A contributing factor was that younger students are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine is currently only available for people aged 12 and above. 

But Hipkins said on Wednesday public health advice supports a return to onsite learning as long as health measures are adhered to. 

"Measures to help minimise the risk of COVID-19 will include mask wearing from year 4 up in most cases, ventilating classrooms, limiting the number of students on site, and making sure groups of children distance from each other," he said. 

"Each school and kura will decide what works best for their learners and their community. That might be by alternating days or half weeks - through year levels, or through whānau groupings. Full-time learning will continue on-site for students whose parents have needed it, for example to go to work.

"The health advice also tells us that in other countries, out-of-school activities create a greater risk of transmission than what happens at places of learning. It is clear that the risk of reopening schools is outweighed by the benefits of kids re-engaging with their learning face-to-face in this context."

Teachers are required to have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccination from Monday, and it remains unknown how many could lose their jobs for not complying with the mandate. 

Hipkins told reporters there were a "handful of schools" reporting concerns about staff not being vaccinated. He said the Ministry of Education is in contact with them. 

The Government's plan to allow students to return to school next week aligns with the National Party's plan announced a few hours prior. National called for the immediate reopening of schools to give students at least a month of schooling before the summer break.

The Greens slammed National's plan for putting "children and marginalised communities at risk", so it appears the Greens do not support the Government's plan either. 

"National's plan shows it does not care about the lives of our most at risk communities. Not only this, but they would be putting the health of our children at risk," said Green Party COVID-19 spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.

Hipkins also announced that changes to the NCEA curriculum have been delayed due to COVID-19. The NCEA Change Programme, for example, has been delayed, with pilots pushed back by a year, but it's expected to be fully implemented by 2026.

The timeline for 'Aotearoa New Zealand's histories' has also been delayed. Schools and kura will now be expected to implement the new content from 2023, rather than from 2022 as originally intended.

Last month the Government unveiled a $15 million package to help Auckland pupils "re-engage" with the education system after nearly three months at home.