The new National Boarding Standard for Australian schools, ‘AS 5725:2015 Boarding Standard for Australian schools and residences’ (AS 5725 or the Standard) has been released, specifying requirements for the management and operations of residential boarding services for students. It is intended to apply to all schools across Australia, including non-government schools.
Australia has now joined the likes of New Zealand and the UK in producing a national standard to promote and safeguard the welfare of boarding students. This publication comes at a time when the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is making child protection a national agenda.
The Standard was first developed in draft form in November last year. We reported on the introduction of the draft standard and the impetus for a national standard, in a previous blog. The draft Standard went through a period of public comment between October 2014 to January 2015. After processing feedback from boarding staff, school and boarding service administrators, members of organisations such as Boarding Australia and the Australian Boarding Schools Association, as well from non-government agencies involved in education services delivery and youth work, the final Standard was published and is now available for purchase from SAI Global.
While the Standard has been introduced as a voluntary national standard, the former President of Boarding Australia Jim Hopkins (commenting on the draft version), hopes that it will become the framework and basis for any legislated boarding standard should that occur in the future.
What has changed
The draft Standard proposed a set of minimum requirements around schools being able to show compliance in the following five areas:
- Governance and management;
- Parent, family and community engagement; and
All five sections have been retained in the final Standard and in addition, the ‘Scope and General’ section which was included in the draft version, has been given greater prominance in a diagram structure of how the Standard operates. There have been multiple changes to the content of those six sections in the final AS 5725.
Key changes include:
- new wording in the Introduction stating that ‘the Standard is designed to promote and safeguard the welfare of students for whom boarding accommodation is provided’;
- new definitions including:
- code of conduct;
- community engagement;
- international students;
- parent/family engagement;
- policy; and
- Governance and Management: increased compliance and risk management obligations as part of boarding governance and management including, among other things, that boarding staff meet child protection and other screening requirements and that all policies and procedures are reviewed and updated at least once every two years or when legislative amendments occur;
- Boarders: increased emphasis on the reporting of critical incidents and injuries to boarding service management, policies and procedures relating to the use of alcohol and drugs, a process to recognise and respect diversity and procedures outlining the manner and supervision of boarders in off-site or extra-curricular activities and excursions;
- Staff: a new requirement for policies and procedures in relation to recruitment, employment and engagement of volunteers and a requirement that all policies and procedures are provided to staff at commencement of employment;
- Parent, family and community engagement: a new requirement to develop partnerships that ‘consider the diverse needs and expectations of the parents and families of children with particular needs’; and
- Facilities: new requirement for the provision of suitable accommodation to cater for sick or injured boarding students.
A ‘voluntary’ framework
The objective of the Standard is ‘to provide owners, operators, managers and staff of boarding services with a framework of required topics that need to be addressed in order to deliver a safe, healthy and productive environment for boarders.’ Student safety and wellbeing should be a priority of all schools and the requirements in the Standard mirror other obligations for schools that come under general duty of care obligations, legislative and regulatory requirements.
Many schools will already address the governance and compliance topics raised by the Standard in existing general policies for student care and welfare.
Legislative requirements vary among the States and Territories, and in acknowledging this issue, the Standard has been formatted to allow enough generality for each jurisdiction to comply with the new requirements.
Although compliance with the Standard is not mandated by law and is optional for schools, schools should be aware of the principles it promotes and regard it as a benchmark of ‘best practice’ in the management of boarding services.
What this means for schools
The Standard should not be feared by schools but instead it should be welcomed as providing a clear standard of what policies and procedures could be introduced to ensure the welfare of boarding students.
While there are various boarding requirements mandated by education standards and guidelines and general legislation such as health and safety legislation which all apply to the provision of boarding services, the Standard is ‘industry-based’ providing schools with an evaluative instrument that brings together the best standards from all jurisdictions.
The introduction of the Standard will assist all Australian schools with boarding facilities to develop good governance systems and compliance programs to assist them to meet their local registration standards and legal obligations.
Importantly, compliance with the AS 5725 will enable schools to better identify and manage risks which may arise in relation to their boarders, which, if not identified and effectively controlled, could lead to a breach of their legal and regulatory obligations.