New WA Registration Standards Released: Child Protection and Governance changes for July 2018

The Western Australian Minister for Education has released new Standards for Non-Government Schools (the Standards) which will take effect from 1 July 2018. There are now 17 Standards, rather than 14, and the three new Standards relate to new requirements for the minimum age for enrolment, modes of curriculum delivery and provisions for numbers of students enrolled at a CARE school. Significant changes have also been made to the Standards relating to preventing and responding to child abuse, specifically to include grooming, annual training requirements, staff code of conduct and complaints processes.

The Minister has also announced that an updated guide to the Standards and requirements for non-government schools will be available to schools on the Department of Education Services website “in the near future”.

Key Changes to the Standards

While the substance of the initial 14 Standards remains very much the same, the three new Standards relate to:

  • Minimum Age of Enrolment (Standard 15) – schools cannot enrol children before the age of 3
  • Modes of Curriculum Delivery (Standard 16) – restrictions on how online learning can be delivered
  • Numbers of Children Enrolled (Standard 17) – while this applies to schools who are designated as CARE schools, this is a new standard relating to the effective number of students able to be catered for by the school, having regard to the safety and needs of the students, and the financial and other resources of the school.

Other changes to the Standards include the rearrangement of Standards including:

  • some child protection requirements relating to Boarding (Standard 10) have now been moved to Standard 12: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse
  • provisions in Standard 10 relating to boarding premises and facilities have been moved to sit within Standard 5: Premises.

Additionally, Standard 14: Methods of Discipline and Punishment has been renamed Behaviour Management, and includes definitions of “child abuse”, “corporal punishment” and “degrading punishment”.

Child Protection

The theme of child protection is constant throughout the Standards. Child protection has a renewed focus in Standard 12, and this includes implementing a preventative approach to child protection incorporating a child safe organisational framework and revised requirements for acodes of conduct for staff and students.

Apart from the initial child protection amendments introduced on 1 January 2017, small but significant changes have been made to the Standards relating to child protection including:

Standard 4: Staff

  • Standard 4.1 specifies the school rather than the governing body is now responsible for Working with Children Check compliance.
  • Standard 4.3 sets out new obligations regarding the Staff Code of Conduct, including boarding staff if relevant and includes new details for:
    • clearly delineating the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate interactions between adults and students,
    • a new duty for all staff to report “objectively observable behaviour which is not permitted by the Code”. This new duty is in addition to any mandatory reporting obligations which remain the same.
  • Standard 4.4 outlines new requirements for annual staff training on grooming behaviours, prevention and deterrance of grooming and child abuse. There is also a new definition of grooming to accompany this Standard.

Standard 12: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse

A key focus of the new amendments in this Standard is that the School Board, and all staff, volunteers and students, understand and maintain the school’s culture of child safety, including:

  • arrangement of all premises and implementation of policies and procedures to deter inappropriate interactions and facilitate detection
  • the implementation of a Child Safe Organisation Framework, focusing on Board accountability for an overall child protection program and cultural practices within the school
  • continued focus on recruitment practices including the interview and induction process and how child protection is handled during this process
  • a new definition of “advocacy and support services”
  • a protective behaviours curriculum delivered to all students, accompanied by a student code of conduct covering bullying, harassment and other peer-to-peer abuse
  • a focus on prevention and response, particularly a school’s complaints handling procedures for detection and reporting of staff code of conduct breaches, grooming and child abuse

In particular, Standard 12 mentions an “authoritative and context appropriate child safe organisation framework” as the basis for a school’s child protection policies, procedures, practices and strategies. School Governance has confirmed that the particular framework which is considered appropriate is the Child Safe Organisations WA: Guidelines. These guidelines are based on the principle of a child safe and friendly organisation with the nine core domains of:

  • leadership, governance and culture
  • empowering children to participate
  • involving family and community
  • child safe and friendly policies
  • managing staff and volunteers
  • safe environments – physical and online
  • child friendly complaint process and reporting
  • education and development
  • continuous improvement.

If a school’s child protection policies and procedures do not address the Child Safe Organisations WA: Guidelines, schools should understand what changes are required to ensure compliance before 1 July 2018.

Critical Incidents

Standard 9: Critical and Emergency Incidents has been updated to include a new definition of “critical incidents”. This definition now includes child abuse allegations and grooming incidents by a staff member as part of a school’s critical and emergency incidents policy and procedures.

What This Means for Schools

The changes to the Standards generally aim to ensure the enhanced safety and protection of all students in a school, from early learning to Year 12. The changes also reflect Western Australia’s commitment to ensuring child safe environments in all non-government schools and follow the child protection and safety regulatory focus across Australia, especially after the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Although new Guidelines for the Standards are not yet available, schools should understand the new Standards, and the changes outlined above, now.

About the Author

Lauren Osbich is a Legal Research Consultant and School Governance reporter. She can be contacted here.

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