“Understandably we wanted to minimise the number of HSC exams, so that other students could also return to school, which was the basis of our advice to government.”
They said the response committee did not have details of the return to school plan for students in kindergarten to year 11, which was announced last Friday. “That year 12 students could actually return to school on October 25th was never factored into our thinking,” they said.
However, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant changed her advice at a meeting this week, and multiple sources — who would not comment publicly due to the sensitivity of the matter — said the view of many on the committee was now shifting towards running the full complement of HSC exams.
Advice from Dr Chant that other students could be on site during exams “changes things a lot”, the letter said.
“So now we have to think about whether we can run many or all exams, or whether it is in the best interests of the students to cancel most or all examinations, based on their mental health concerns, or whether one of the many other options now suddenly open to us might be best for the students of NSW,” the letter stated.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the NESA committee was not tasked with the return to school plan. “As was made very clear to members of NESA’s COVID committee by Health, the later date is to allow for vaccination rates to increase for students and staff, and also in the wider community,” she said.
“Students at schools across south-west Sydney have as much right to sit their exams as the students at independent schools in the eastern suburbs, and a delayed HSC helps achieve this. All members of NESA’s COVID committee have an obligation to look after the interests of students from all backgrounds and all school sectors.”
The head of Catholics Schools NSW Dallas McInerney, who is on the committee, defended it and said it had important work to do. “It’s got the right people,” he said. “And it has the full support of the Catholic sector.”