This is the second part of a two-part series exploring school curriculums and associated compliance with child safety requirements. Part One highlighted 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 covers the evidentiary expectations of schools with respect to their curriculums, and the relationship between the Child Safe Standards and school registration obligations.
Demonstrating Compliance with the Child Safe Standards
As discussed in Part 1, in the near future it is likely that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will endorse the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (AHRC National Principles), drafted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), as the standards for child safe organisations that will apply across all Australian jurisdictions and across all child-related sectors.
Once the AHRC National Principles are endorsed by COAG it is likely that they will then be referred to the relevant state and territory governments, each of which will then either adopt these principles directly or publish their own sets of contextualised principles based on the AHRC National Principles. As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse (Royal Commission) recommended (recommendation 6.10) that an independent body in each state and territory monitor and enforce the Child Safe Standards (i.e. the 10 Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission and referred to in Part 1) and that this independent body be able to delegate this to sector regulators, it is likely that sector regulators in each state and territory will then issue more detailed statements about how they expect child services organisations in their sector, such as schools, to comply with the AHRC National Principles.
When compliance with the AHRC National Principles becomes mandatory, schools will be required to demonstrate evidence that they are upholding the Child Safe Standards, including those related to the core components for AHRC National Principle 2: that children are informed about their rights, participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously.
Evidentiary guidelines for implementation of AHRC National Principle 2 were identified by the AHRC and the Royal Commission. Compliance would include evidence that:
- the school has programs and resources to educate children and young people about their rights, including their right to safety
- children and young people can identify trusted adults and friends
- children and young people are informed of their roles and responsibilities in helping ensure the safety and wellbeing of their peers
- the school provides children with access and referral to education programs on child protection appropriate to their age, ability and level of understanding.
Curriculum Requirements and School Registration
Schools should be no strangers to the need to maintain evidence demonstrating the curriculums and learning frameworks they have in place. All schools that provide education to primary or secondary students must be registered in order to operate. To be registered and maintain registration, a school is required to meet certain regulatory requirements, which vary by jurisdiction, school sector and school type.
Because registration regimes, and the regulatory obligations they cover, are constantly changing, schools are increasingly expected to demonstrate ‘continuous compliance’ with their requirements. Registration compliance requires ‘big picture’ compliance with many different obligations – registration authorities are essentially making an assessment of whether a school is doing everything it needs to, practically and legally, in order to be a school.
Through the registration process, registration authorities are able to uphold minimum standards for curriculum and operational activities among schools in their jurisdiction. These minimum standards do often vary between the government and non-government education sector, but in some jurisdictions such as South Australia, the same registration requirements are applied to both types of schools.
In most jurisdictions, the registration requirements for schools include policies/procedures that provide evidence of the curriculum in place at the school.
For example, the NSW Registration Manuals require schools to maintain documentation for each calendar year that includes, among other things, an overview of the school’s educational program, indicating the scope and sequence of learning in relation to outcomes of NESA syllabuses, as well as teaching programs that correspond to the scope and sequence of learning. The NT’s Registration of a Non-Government School Guidelines require a school’s curriculum to align with the requirements of the NT Board of Studies; curriculum, assessment and reporting policies that include details of curriculum, classroom teaching and learning and review cycles for curriculum plans are suggested as evidence of compliance.
The Relationship Between Registration, Curriculums and the Child Safe Standards
According to the Royal Commission, school registration authorities should be taking a "responsive approach" to school compliance, consistent with best practice regulation. The Royal Commission quoted Professor Stephen Smallbone, an expert in the nature and prevention of sexual abuse, in his definition of ‘best practice’ as "requiring a striving for continual improvement by keeping abreast of emerging thinking, evidence and practice". Within this context, the Royal Commission's Child Safe Standards are considered to be 'best practice'.
In Volume 13: Schools, the Royal Commission made eight recommendations for how schools can improve child safety and reduce the risk of abuse. Recommendations 13.1 and 13.2 specifically identified school registration authorities as being the entities responsible for implementation, stating that:
- independent oversight authorities responsible for implementing the Child Safe Standards should delegate to school registration authorities the responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the Child Safe Standards in government and non-government schools
- school registration authorities should place particular emphasis on monitoring government and non-government boarding schools to ensure that they meet the Child Safe Standards.
While no school registration authority has yet taken the formal step of revising their registration compliance expectations in response to the Royal Commission, schools should already be considering whether their evidence of compliance relating to child protection would meet a registration requirement relating to implementing the AHRC National Principles.
By providing child safety and respectful relationships education, and by documenting how this education is provided, a school will be taking significant steps to demonstrating that it is relevantly meeting the Child Safe Standards and any future registration requirements associated with them.