On 4 April 2018, the Department of Education in Western Australia released the updated Guide to the Registration Standards and Other Requirements for Non-Government Schools (the Guide). The requirements of the Guide will have effect from 1 July 2018, meaning that all non-government schools, not just those due for renewal of registration this year, need to be compliant with the requirements of the Guide. From 1 July 2018, it should also be noted that ‘the registration standards are also applicable to Catholic system schools’.
The Guide is slightly increased in length from the 2017 version (from 79 pages to 82 pages) and includes a number of new and amended definitions to comply with the revised 2018 Standards (discussed in our previous article). These include new definitions for:
- Code of Conduct
- Compulsory Education Period
- Critical and Emergency Incidents
- Early Childhood Teaching Qualifications
- Early Childhood Teacher
- Early Education Period
- Educational Risk
- Final Year of Early Education Period
- Geographically Isolated
- Minimum Hours of Instruction
- Online Learning
- Pre-compulsory Education Period, and
- Unlawful Discrimination.
The Guide also goes into detail on the requirements for the three new Standards including:
- Standard 15 (Minimum Age of Enrolment) which includes requirements from ss 9-11 of the School Education Act 1999 (WA), needs supporting evidence included on the enrolment register and special provisions for CARE schools.
- Standard 16 (Delivery of the Curriculum) which focuses on the restriction of online learning to students who are geographically isolated (a new term defined at the beginning of the Guide.
- Standard 17 (Number of Children Enrolled) which details provisions for CARE schools so that students' needs and safety can be effectively catered for and protected within the financial and other resources of the school.
Standard 12: Child Protection
There have been small but significant changes to Standard 12 (Child Protection) in the Guide and most of these changes reflect the greater detail given in the Standards to a positive school culture in relation to child protection requirements and student wellbeing, and the training and staff requirements specified in Standard 4 (Staff).
In the Guide, schools must now have a child protection policy applying to all staff, based on a comprehensive implementation of a relevant, child-safe organisation framework benchmarked as better practice by a peak body. This peak body framework, despite not being identified in the Guide, has been confirmed to School Governance by the Department of Education as being the Child Safe Organisations WA Guidelines, prepared by the WA Commissioner. The Board must have full knowledge of and accountability for the child protection program which should look towards implementing the nine domains outlined in the Child Safe Organisations Guidelines, including:
- 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, and
- continuous improvement.
The Guide also outlines the need for schools to now have policies, procedures, practices and strategies in place for both grooming and child abuse. This includes annual professional learning requirements for all staff in order for them to comply with grooming behaviours recognition and reporting, and their obligations under mandatory reporting requirements.
Finally, Standard 12 also reflects the greater focus on a culture of safety by requiring the school to have in place a student code of conduct including requirements for student induction (this was moved from Standard 10 in the previous Guide to improve the focus on child protection and behaviour). The student code of conduct should establish minimum standards of conduct to be observed by all students attending the school and boarding facilities, if relevant. The student code of conduct should guide student behaviour, establish expectations for personal boundaries and clearly delineate appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in relation to staff, other students and other members of the school community. Both the student and staff codes of conduct and the summary of how the school complies with the protective behaviours curriculum (and peak body framework) must also be supplied to parents and guardians.
Standard 4: Staff
Standard 4 (Staff), despite being generally about the same material, has had a lot of detail added to the Standard to focus on the school's culture of child safety:
- In Standard 4.1, responsibility for Working with Children Checks for staff and volunteers has been transferred from the governing body to the school as a whole.
- In Standard 4.2, more detail has been provided on teaching staff, their replacements and appropriate qualifications. Specifically, there is a focus on early childhood teacher obligations, to incorporate the new National Quality Framework, which commences in October 2018 in WA, as detailed in our previous article.
- In Standard 4.3, there are new obligations for schools to have in place a staff code of conduct, with a focus on obligations for staff including reportable conduct, mandatory reporting, appropriate interactions between staff and students, and, a new duty for all staff to report "objectively observable behaviour which is not permitted by the Code." This is in addition to any other obligations at law like mandatory reporting. The Director General's expectations in the Guide have also been significantly expanded.
- In Standard 4.4, there are explicit details about what information staff require upon induction to the school.
- In Standard 4.5, professional learning requirements for staff have been expanded to include new requirements for mandatory reporting, grooming and staff code of conduct obligations
Chapters 1 and 3: Ownership, Management and Control; Fit and Proper Membership
Chapter 1 (Ownership, Management and Control) has had significant changes to the level of knowledge required by the governing body of certain aspects of the ownership, management and control of the school. Besides defining the differences between ownership, management and control, Chapter 1 also holds the governing body directly accountable for:
- performance management of the principal
- strategic direction of the school
- financial resources
- achievements in student learning
- NQS audits, and
- the Child Safe organisation framework.
Specifically, the Guide has indicated that the members of the governing body need to know exactly what they are accountable for and be able to separate their role from the role of day-to-day management. This includes having overall accountability for risk management and policies and procedures relating to this around the school.
Chapter 3 (Fit and Proper Membership) now has a new definition of a fit and proper person using a confirmation via statutory declaration, and a detailed explanation of the Director-General's expectations regarding conflicted members of the board and their responsibilities in regards to their conflicts of interest.
Next Steps for Schools
The Guide sets a new level of compliance for Western Australian non-government schools. In addition to including new requirements for child protection (Standard 12), there are multiple other areas of governance and staff requirements (for grooming and mandatory reporting) which schools must ensure they have addressed with appropriate policies, procedures, implementation and training before 1 July. Chapter 8: Levels of Care in the Guide talks about creating a “positive school culture” in relation to student wellbeing. This awareness of a positive school culture involves not only being aware of and adhering to child protection requirements but also to all other legal and regulatory obligations prescribed by the Standards and the Guide. Such a culture will facilitate compliance with policies and procedures required by the Guide.