Kindergarteners across Yass Valley have begun their school journey this month joining many older brothers and sisters at schools in the area.

Although Wee Jasper Public School had no Kindy students this year, both Bina- long PS and Bowning PS boasted four new Kindergarteners each. But Yass Public, Mt Carmel and Berinba had larger cohorts this year.

The familial landmark occasion is heralded by COVID-19 concerns for many NSW families as nearly 3,000 students test positive for the virus across the state.

Despite this the NSW government is hailing its student rapid-antigen testing (RAT) regime a success and revealed that no schools have had to close due to COVID- 19 during the first week of term one last week.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said it was a “marked difference” to the situation last year when many schools were temporarily shut down after staff or students tested positive.

“I really couldn’t have wished for a better start to the school year,” Ms Mitchell said.

Since the beginning of the term on January 31, students and staff have been asked to take a RAT at home two mornings a week before going to school.

Data released showed that 2,417 students and 617 staff tested positive the first week back but the new rules meant that while those affected were required to isolate at home, classes were able to continue.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he was incredibly proud of what had been achieved.

“If we go back a few weeks ago, we sat in press conferences where people said bringing kids back to the classroom couldn’t be done,” he said.

“What I saw this week was smiles on so many kids’ faces right across the state as they returned to class.”

Although final year university students and Department of Education staff were on standby to fill in for absent teachers the gaps were filled by existing staff and casual teachers.

“We have been able to manage those staffing absentee rates with the programs that we have in place,” the Education Minister said.

School attendance rates across 2,200 government schools in NSW were run- ning at 86 per cent.

“It tells me that parents have confidence in the systems that we have in place in our schools and that they are working well,” Ms Mitchell said.

More than 17 million rapid tests are now being prepared for distribution to parents for use in weeks three and four of the school term.

The government has yet to announce whether the program will be continued after that.

Ms Mitchell said a survey was being sent to all parents and teachers asking for feedback before a decision is made.

“The question going forward is what is the take-out from families, what do we see in terms of case numbers in our schools and communities?” she said.

“They are the kind of things we will be considering over the next week or so as we determine what happens from week five onwards in the school term.”

Brianna O’Rourke