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Federal Education Minister Backs Down After Attacking Victorian Premier Over School Closures

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has withdrawn his comments after a scathing attack on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over school closures on Sunday.

Tehan accepted the Victorian Premier had been acting in step with state health advice, which was "more cautious" than the advice given to other states.

"All Premiers and Chief Ministers are seeking to make balanced judgements on the basis of the advice they have available to them," Tehan said in a statement on Sunday.

"Like many of my colleagues... I have heard countless stories of families struggling to cope with juggling remote learning and remote learning, as well as circumstances of vulnerable children suffering," he added.

"It was this frustration that led me to overstep the mark in questioning Premier Andrew’s leadership on this matter and I withdraw."

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Speaking on Insiders earlier on Sunday, Tehan accused Andrews of taking a "sledgehammer" to schools and said his reluctance to reopen them was a "failure of leadership".

"Our national medical advice has been consistent right throughout this: it's safe for schools to open and it's safe for teachers to be in the classroom when the right protocols are in place," Tehan said.

Tehan said Andrews was "jeopardising the national consensus" by not flagging an easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Image: Getty

"What has Gladys done? She now has a plan to open her schools and she has started opening her schools," he said.

"Yet here in Victoria, we don't have one. We have nothing. And it is the children ultimately in the end, and those most disadvantaged, who are suffering. "

"And I think it's time that we seriously call Dan Andrews out on this."

Tehan pointed to a report commissioned by the government that says school closures may cause 'learning gaps'.

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Almost half of Australian primary and secondary students are at risk of falling behind if schools remain shut for too long, according to the report.

Those at particular risk of poor learning outcomes include students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who have English as a second language, special learning needs, or those from remote areas.

While 97 percent of students are learning from home, Victoria still has a small number of children in its classrooms.

The state has some of the strictest coronavirus measures in the country and Premier Daniel Andrews has been adamant about keeping school attendance to a minimum to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos. Image: AAP

"It's perfectly fine to send your kinds to school if you can't have them learning from home, but if you can have the kids learning from home they must learn from home," Andrews told Sky News in April.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged schools to reopen but said parents should listen to the advice of premiers.

Tehan backed down on his comments after it was revealed that a school in Victoria would be forced to close after a teacher tested positive to COVID-19.

Meadowglen Primary School will be closed for three days from Monday to allow a "thorough cleaning" of the school, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said on Sunday.

"Parents, carers and staff were contacted by the school earlier this morning to notify them a teacher had tested positive to coronavirus," Mikakos said.

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She said the government will undertake contact tracing at the school to assess which students were in classrooms with the infected teacher in recent days.

Victoria has reported 13 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the state's total to 1,384.

On Sunday, Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said he was unaware of Tehan's comments but said no one should be criticising state leaders.

"It would be pretty disappointing if the Morrison government was using it as a chance to take pot shots at the states," Miles said.

"The last thing we need right now is levels of government criticising each other."

Shadow Minister for Education Tanya Plibersek also said political rivalry between the state and federal governments was unhelpful.

She noted the federal government had told parents to listen to premiers and advised against "mixed messaging".

Tanya Plibersek. Image: Getty

"What we don't want is fights between the state and Federal Government," Plibersek said.

"Everybody wants to see kids back in the classroom as soon as possible but what we don't want is the mixed message as to whether it's safe or not," she added.

"Families are doing the very best they can under very difficult circumstances."

Victoria is not expected to relax its measures to suppress the spread of coronavirus before the state of emergency is due to expire on May 11.

With AAP

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