Senior students in Year 11, 12 and 13 will be able to return to the classroom in Level 3 from October 26, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced today.
"Learners in this age group are able to be vaccinated and are required to wear masks, and staff and volunteers working on site will need a negative test before attending," Hipkins said.
He did not rule out Years 1-10 being able to return before the end of the year, but said they needed to be satisfied any risk was minimised as it was a high risk setting. Cabinet would consider the setting for that age group next Tuesday.
Hipkins said those in Year 11-13 could prepared for their end of year exams and complete their NCEA assessments.
Staff must present a negative Covid test, and staff and student at higher risk of Covid must stay home.
Masks must be worn on school public transport.
Hipkins confirmed NCEA and scholarship exams would proceed including Level 3 areas.
Students in Level 3 could access 'unexpected event grades' which that recognises the work they've done through the year.
Anyone who cannot attend the exams can access that grade, others are able to be given the better grade of their in-person exam and their unexpected event grade.
National's Paul Goldsmith welcomed senior students returning to school, but said "the "risks of continuing to deny five to 14-year-olds a proper education 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.
"The Government is misguided in being ultra-cautious in reopening schools. Waiting for nearly everyone to get around to getting vaccinated is too slow.
"Ensure the teachers are vaccinated, open the windows, put on the masks and get on with it."
In a statement, the New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) said secondary teachers are "dismayed and angry" following the announcement.
"We're not sure who Minister Hipkins consulted before he made his announcement, but he certainly didn’t talk to PPTA," president Melanie Webber said.
"It's beyond belief that in the very week the case numbers in this pandemic in New Zealand have reached an all-time high and are expected to increase significantly — coupled with the fact that young people aged between 12 and 19 have the lowest vaccination rates — that the Government would open up secondary schools to hundreds of thousands of students.
"The Government seems to have gone from acting out of an abundance of caution to a reckless disregard for the consequences in the blink of an eyelid."
Webber added the decision for external exams to go ahead is also a matter of concern, noting an 'unexpected event grade' "would have been the safer option and would have considerably reduced anxiety for many students".
"The Government seems to have thrown all its Covid-19 caution to the wind."
Auckland secondary students received extra NCEA credits to recognise the time spent in Alert Levels 3 and 4 in September.