The ACT Education Directorate last updated the Registration of Non-government Schools in the ACT Manual (2015 ACT Manual) in June 2015, four years ago. The 2015 ACT Manual replaced a 2014 version. Although the release of the 2014 and 2015 Manuals suggests that the ACT is committed to an annual review of the registration requirements, such a suggestion is inaccurate given the lack of review since then. Instead, the 2015 ACT Manual contains outdated concepts due to its requirements not reflecting a changed legal and regulatory compliance environment.
What Has Changed?
The Education Act 2004 (Act) (the Act) and Education Regulation 2005 (ACT) (the Regulation) establish the conditions for the registration of non-government schools in the ACT. Both the Act and the Regulation have been updated since 2015 to include:
- a new requirement for a non-government school seeking registration renewal to, through a representative of the Association of Independent Schools ACT or the Catholic Education Dioceses of Canberra and Goulburn, work with the Minister to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission requirement) (s 97(6)(h) of the Act)
- a new information sharing scheme in Part 6.1A of the Act (directly applicable to the Director General of Education in the ACT and indirectly applicable to non-government schools).
The Royal Commission requirement and information sharing scheme were introduced through the Education (Child Safety in Schools) Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (ACT). The Explanatory Memorandum to that Act explains that "[t]he current criteria and conditions do not provide non-government schools or proposed non-government schools with sufficient clarity on what is required for registration, or which matters must be addressed in their policies and procedures, such as the Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission." Despite this statement the 2015 ACT Manual has not been updated to reflect the Royal Commission requirement.
Related changes to the Teacher Quality Institute Act 2010 (ACT) impose new requirements on ''employers'' - including schools - to inform the Institute in writing if a teacher’s WWVP lapses, is made subject to a condition, is suspended or cancelled, or is surrendered. The only reference to WWVP in the 2015 ACT Manual is in Appendix 1, where the Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act 2011 (ACT) is listed as a piece of ''relevant legislation.''
The NSSF No Longer Exists
The 2015 ACT Manual includes a requirement that ''policies, programs, procedures and guidelines that relate to the safety and welfare of students should have regard to the National Safe Schools Framework (NSSF) or its equivalent or alternative framework or set of policies agreed to by the Registrar of Non-Government Schools." The NSSF no longer exists. Instead, the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework is the current Federal standard for school communities. Although the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework was launched in October 2018, it has yet to be recognised by the ACT Registrar in the 2015 ACT Manual as being an “equivalent or alternative framework” for non-government schools to use instead of the NSSF.
The Statement of Assurance - a Dangerous Catch All?
As explained in our Briefing Paper the 2015 ACT Manual included a new Part 5: Statement of Assurance. School principals must make an annual statement of assurance regarding the school's compliance with legislative matters that relate to schooling in the ACT. As explained in the Briefing Paper, schools should not underestimate the significance of making such a statement because in order to legitimately give that assurance schools are required to have a system of risk assessment and compliance in place.
It is unknown how effective the annual Statement of Assurance is in terms of encouraging schools to stay abreast of the legal and legislative changes that affect their schools. The ACT Education Directorate could refer to the Statement of Assurance requirement as a reason why the 2015 ACT Manual has not needed updating. This is because:
- the evidentiary requirements in the 2015 ACT Manual are drafted very broadly allowing them to potentially capture any legal and regulatory change since 2015
- the Statement places an onus on school principals to maintain legislative and regulatory compliance - irrespective of whether the Registration Manual is up to date.
While the ACT Education Directorate would not be wrong in making such arguments, it does not distract from the fact that by not updating the 2015 ACT Registration Manual, the ACT Education Directorate is not playing a proactive and helpful role in telling schools about what the law requires and how they should comply with new requirements.
Unlike other states and territories, the ACT does not review its Registration Manual regularly and the Manual itself is not detailed in its evidentiary requirements. Despite the new Royal Commission requirement in the Act, there is no publicly available information about when the ACT Education Directorate will next review the 2015 ACT Manual. In the meantime, it is assumed that principals who are providing their annual Statement of Assurance are aware of any new requirements that apply to them and their school.