This is the first part of a two-part series exploring school curriculums and associated compliance with child safety requirements. Part One highlights key recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with respect to prevention education, and compares them to existing curriculum requirements around Australia. Part Two will cover the evidentiary expectations of schools with respect to their curricula, and the relationship between the Child Safe Standards and school registration obligations.
School Curriculums and Child Safety
A key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse (Royal Commission) was the endorsement, implementation and oversight of nationally consistent Child Safe Standards, identified as being the key components for maintaining a child-safe institution. The Royal Commission recommended that nationally consistent standards, based on its own recommended 10 Child Safe Standards, be adopted as part of a new National Statement of Principles for Child Safe Organisations, become mandatory for all child-related organisations and be embedded in state and territory legal and regulatory frameworks.
These Royal Commission recommendations have in effect been accepted by all Australian governments, and the Royal Commission’s recommended Child Safe Standards have been adopted into the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, drafted by the Human Rights Commission (AHRC National Principles). The AHRC National Principles are expected to be endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in late 2018 or early 2019 as the mandatory standards for child-safe organisations that will apply across all Australian jurisdictions and all child-related sectors.
Principle 2 of the AHRC National Principles, and Standard 2 of the Royal Commission’s Child Safe Standards, requires that children be informed about their rights, participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously. Some of the core components of this Principle, identified by both the AHRC and the Royal Commission, include:
- children are informed about their rights, including in relation to safety, information and participation
- where relevant to the setting or organisational context, children are offered/can access child abuse and harm prevention programs and information in an age appropriate way.
In addition, the Royal Commission recommended that the national strategy to prevent child abuse should encompass prevention education delivered through school and community settings, aimed at increasing children’s knowledge of child abuse and building practical skills to assist in strengthening self-protective skills and strategies. The recommendation also suggested that such education be made mandatory for schools, integrated into existing school curriculums and linked with related areas such as respectful relationships education and sexuality education.
Existing Curriculum Requirements Around Australia
Australia has a national curriculum - the Australian Curriculum - which provides schools, teachers, parents, students, and the community with a clear understanding of what students should learn, regardless of where they live or what school system they are in.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is an independent statutory authority tasked with development and maintenance of the Australian Curriculum. The next review of the Australian Curriculum is expected in 2020, and could well involve integration of additional child safety and harm prevention education for school students.
Health and Physical Education is one of the subjects included in the ACARA Charter and a national curriculum for this subject has been developed. The concepts of child safety and respectful relationships are built into the content for the ‘Personal, Social and Community Health’ aspect of the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education for all year groups.
State, territory and non-government education authorities are responsible for delivering the Australian Curriculum, including decisions about implementation time frames, classroom practices and resources that complement teaching of the Australian Curriculum. This means that the manner in which the Australian Curriculum – including the prominence of concepts of child safety and respectful relationships – is implemented varies between jurisdictions.
Australian Capital Territory
All ACT foundation to year 10 schools use the Australian Curriculum as noted in the ACT Australian Curriculum Implementation Schedule for ACT Schools. According to the ACT Education Directorate, the Australian Curriculum was fully implemented in 2018.
In the ACT, the Australian Curriculum website remains the core reference point for information about the Curriculum. However, the Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C) resources, developed by the Queensland Department of Education, have also been made available for ACT teachers to adapt or adopt to suit local contexts and student needs. Part of the C2C resources focuses on Health and Physical Education, and highlights the importance of students achieving and exploring respectful relationships.
New South Wales
The Education Act 1990 (NSW) sets out the key learning areas that are required for students in all schools in NSW in both primary and secondary school years. The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) sets guidelines for each key learning area and sets and monitors teaching quality, learning, assessment and school standards.
The syllabus and guidelines set by NESA for Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) include Australian Curriculum content for Health and Physical Education, and require that child protection education and respectful relationships education be taught in every stage of learning from Kindergarten to Year 10 as part of PDHPE. The Years 7-10 PDHPE syllabus includes specific lessons on gender issues, while senior students participate in a mandatory 'Crossroads' program to learn about respectful relationships and protection against violence.
The guidelines state that balanced child protection education involves teaching and learning about recognising abuse, power in relationships and protective strategies. However, schools do not need to teach all these themes in each year or even in each stage nor do they need to treat them in any particular order or as separate topics. Further, whether schools teach aspects of these themes within each year of each stage is a school decision and there is no expectation that all of the units and activities in the Child Protection Education: Curriculum materials are to be taught.
The NT Board of Studies oversees curriculum, assessment and reporting for all NT schools. NT schools use the complete suite of Australian Curriculum learning areas, cross curriculum priorities and general capabilities from the first year of school to Year 10. Teaching materials and resources, information and professional learning modules have been developed to support teachers implement the Australian Curriculum, available through Learning Links.
The subject description for Health and Physical Education states that students develop skills, knowledge and understanding to manage satisfying, respectful relationships, learn to enhance safety and wellbeing and critique and challenge assumptions and stereotypes.
Queensland currently follows the Australian Curriculum for the preparatory year through to year 10 for English, Maths, Science, History and Geography. It is moving towards implementing the Australian Curriculum for other learning areas, including Health and Physical Education. Queensland schools are currently permitted to use the Australian Curriculum for Health and Physical Education in preparation for implementation.
The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) has responsibility for developing and revising syllabuses (particularly where the subject is not part of the Australian Curriculum) and assessments, supporting schools in implementing the syllabuses and other functions.
The Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Curriculum was developed by the Qld Department of Education in partnership with the Daniel Morcombe Foundation. It is aligned with the Health and Physical Education curriculum and is available to all schools to assist them to teach the child safety and respectful relationships aspects of this curriculum. Uptake of this program to meet curriculum requirements is a decision made by individual schools, who may use other resources.
Schools in South Australia are required to deliver the Australian Curriculum or alternative curricula approved by ACARA, and to have in place an approved learning program as required by the Education Act 1972 (Tas) (and successors).
The Keeping Safe: Child Protection Curriculum (KS:CPC) is aligned with the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education. It is compulsory for all children and young people in all state (Department of Education), independent (Association of Independent Schools of South Australia) and Catholic (Catholic Education South Australia) schools.
For government schools, it’s a requirement under the child protection in schools, early childhood education and care services policy that:
- all children and young people in preschools and schools will access an approved child protection curriculum each year
- the approved child protection curriculum will be taught by staff who have received training in its use.
Staff must complete the full day training course before delivering the KS:CPC to children and young people.
Tasmanian government schools use the Australian Curriculum for the majority of learning areas and schooling years. Areas such as arts and languages are being implemented in accordance with Curriculum implementation guidelines.
In 2017, the Tasmanian Department of Education launched a Respectful Relationships Education Package which identified strategies, processes and skills to guide schools and communities in the explicit teaching of respectful relationships. Respectful Relationships Education was implemented in all Tasmanian government schools in early 2018.
Schools across Tasmania engage with Respectful Relationships Education as applicable to their student cohort including alignment with the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education, whole-school audits and planning and staff engaging with professional learning.
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 is the curriculum for Victorian schools. It incorporates the Australian Curriculum and reflects Victorian standards and priorities.
In 2016, respectful relationships education became a core component of the Victorian Curriculum from foundation to year 12, and is being taught in all government and Catholic schools and many independent schools. The Victorian Government is implementing Respectful Relationships education across Victorian schools and early childhood services through:
- a leading and partner schools initiative, providing intensive training and support to schools to implement the whole school approach to respectful relationships
- resilience, rights and respectful relationships teaching materials for prep to year 12
- a professional development program for early childhood educators
- a regional Respectful Relationships workforce to support schools to implement respectful relationships education and strengthen referral and response to family violence.
The WA Curriculum and Assessment Outline lays out the K-10 curriculum for all children in WA, and encompasses the Australian Curriculum with respect to English, Mathematics and Science. Year-level syllabuses for the other learning areas – including Health and Physical Education - remain broadly consistent with the Australian Curriculum but have been contextualised to make them more suitable for WA students and teachers.
The stage descriptions for Health and Physical Education state that students develop their capacity to initiate and maintain respectful relationships in different contexts.
The KS:CPC is made available to WA independent and Catholic schools, aiming to assist students to recognise abuse and develop ways of protecting themselves from abuse.