In a previous School Governance article, we reported on the introduction of draft Standards for Registration and Review of Registration of Schools in South Australia (the Standards) by the Education and Early Childhood Services Registration and Standards Board of SA (the Board). The Standards were finalised on 5 April, and all new or existing schools will be assessed against them from 1 July.
While the Standards are not intended to represent an increase in regulatory requirements for schools, they will require a new approach by schools intending to gain or renew their registration.
Registration in South Australia
All schools in South Australia are governed by the Education and Early Childhood Services (Registration and Standards) Act 2011 (the Act).
The registration of a new or changed school is dependent upon its ability to satisfy the Board that the following criteria, as set out under Section 43 of the Act have been met:
- satisfactory nature and content of the instruction offered, or to be offered, at the school;
- adequate protection for the safety, health and welfare of students; and
- satisfaction of any other requirements set out in the Regulations. There are only two additional requirements, relating to the certificate of registration and record retention.
Current Application Forms, as well as the Application Information Sheet provided by the Board list the policies and procedures required to be produced by a school to substantiate these criteria. For example, to demonstrate the satisfactory nature and content of the instruction offered or to be offered, a school is required to provide both an educational philosophy and curriculum policy which corresponds with the student year levels the school currently or intends to enrol.
How is the regime changing?
The Board has introduced the Standards to outline its requirements for the registration of schools. The Standards were introduced in a Consultation Paper in December 2016, in which the Board encouraged the school sector to comment on the proposed Standards.
Each Standard has a series of revised general criteria which schools are expected to fulfil in order to become registered or to maintain ongoing registration. Read our previous article on the Standards which provides an extensive breakdown of the Standards and how they correspond with the situation in other jurisdictions.
The finalised Standards had received some adjustments post-consultation. While no new Standards have been added, some of the Criteria have been adjusted, including the following key amendments:
- Criteria 1.2.6 has replaced a reference to “sufficient leadership staff” with “necessary leadership staff”, bringing this requirement in line with registration requirements in other jurisdictions such as the Northern Territory;
- Criteria 2.9 has been substantially changed and now states: “The school has appropriate non-teaching staff, contractors and volunteers to support the achievement of its educational outcomes and the school supports their performance through the provision of professional development as appropriate”. This more accurately reflects child protection requirements and acknowledges that professional development is not limited to teachers;
- Criteria 2.10 now acknowledges that staff and other employee training is ongoing, requiring the school to “regularly” inform staff, contractors and volunteers of their child protection obligations;
- Criteria 3.1 no longer references the Children’s Protection Act 1993, instead referring to laws “related to child protection”. This is likely precipitated by the impending new child protection legislation in SA, considered in more detail below; and
- Criteria 3.7 now requires the education authority to be informed about a student’s attendance, which reflects the compulsory attendance requirements under the Education Act 1972.
The key issues for schools
The Standards will come into effect from 1 July 2017, and a schedule for the renewal of registration will also be introduced mid-year.
The Board is currently transitioning schools to the new Standards, but has not yet released any guidance material beyond succinct Implementation Arrangements. The Registration Forms currently on the Board's website do not appear to have been updated following the Standards, only referring to the registration requirements under the Act. As a result, schools are largely left in the dark as to how to meet these new Standards taking effect in less than two months’ time. Any new/changed school will also need to resort to outdated documentation for registration purposes.
The other key issue is that schools will likely have to deal with a number of new legal requirements in 2017, most significantly obligations arising from the Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2017 (the Bill).
As we previously reported, the Bill was introduced on 14 February, as part of the Government’s response to the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report ‘The life they deserve’. After significant political and media criticism of the Bill, a number of revisions were made, including making explicit mention of female genital mutilation within the definition of children being "at risk".
The Bill passed the House of Assembly on 11 April and is currently before the Legislative Council. While it is uncertain if and when the Bill will become law, the amendments to the Standards appear to anticipate the Bill soon receiving assent.
If this is the case, schools may soon need to ensure they meet increased staff reporting obligations, child protection policy and procedure requirements and other obligations arising from the Bill. This will be on top of any other new and updated policies and procedures which will be required for a school to adequately respond to the new Standards.