According to ABSA, there are over 190 non-government boarding schools in Australia. In addition, there are many government-managed residential colleges both within and outside the metropolitan areas where school aged students from many schools, including non-government schools, may board. The Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) notes that there are 15,800 students in independent boarding schools alone across Australia! With so many students now involved in boarding, the risks associated with boarding schools and boarding in general have grown substantially with many of them being highlighted over the past few years.
The risk of child abuse in institutional settings was identified in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) document, “Assessing the different dimensions and degrees of child sexual abuse in institutions” published in 2017. In a corresponding School Governance article, it was noted that this report identified boarding schools as being what is referred to as “total institutions” and therefore having a combined elevated risk level. Boarding schools were identified as total institutions that present a high cumulative risk of child sexual abuse in terms of both adult-child and child-to-child abuse. More recently, Volume 13 of the Royal Commission’s Final Report stated that almost one in three of the survivors that they spoke with in private sessions (2,186 survivors or 31.8 per cent) said that they were sexually abused in a school setting as a child. Of these survivors, almost one in three (30.4 per cent) said that they were abused in a boarding school setting.
In addition to this, two key strategic risks for schools in 2019 have been identified by CompliSpace in its White Paper“12 Key Risks for School Boards to Consider in 2019” as:
- failure to adequately plan and provide resources to meet future changes to child protection laws and policies and to meet increased community expectations in relation to child protection
- failure to develop, resource and effectively implement strategic objectives associated with the enhancement of child protection measures and the development of a child safe culture at the school that work towards best practice in institutional child protection.
Both risks apply equally to boarding schools. Therefore, the immense value and importance of training the staff who care for the students in these residences simply cannot be underestimated.
The value of boarding staff training was recognised many years ago and was outlined in 1990, long before the outcomes of the Royal Commission. Anjo Tarte, a Lecturer at the Guild Centre Teaching And Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Sydney in his 1990 paper “Training of Residential Staff In Australian and New Zealand Boarding Schools” wrote:
Whatever the structure and criteria for staff recruitment in educational residences, there remains the accountability and range of responsibilities in an ever changing educational environment which supervisory staff have to take on in their positions. The duty of care in the supervision of adolescents is onerous and demanding of residential staff as it is of parents. Legally, the governing body of a school and the principal take on the responsibilities of residence care. However, the implementation of procedures and the process of administration of boarding is most likely to be the direct responsibility of the residential staff, many of whom have had limited training and understanding of the complexities of administering the duty of care in a group residence but, nonetheless, are legally held accountable for their charges. (emphasis added)
ABSA, in its online document “The Warts and All of Working in a Boarding School” notes that: “Whilst you may not have personal experience within a boarding setting many of the ‘lived experiences’ of our boarders can have been experienced in another context.” It also goes on to state: “… it is imperative to have a concise working knowledge of the operational side of the boarding community you are joining. You do not need to see the bigger picture upon commencement of your new position, however in order to best support the boarders you must be clear of the parameters you must set and enforce with those in their care.”
It is apparent that many of the staff in boarding schools are not necessarily trained teachers. They come from all walks of life and may be students studying at TAFE or university, international visitors on limited work permits and so on. A quick search on seek.com of possible boarding positions in Australian schools, brought up 20+ results in the space of a few seconds. One advertisement stated: “Candidates who are studying education, welfare or health science and/or who have attended a boarding school with a strong sense of community are encouraged to apply.”
Very clearly, this means that boarding school staff, who come from many varied walks of life, should be involved in training that is offered to day school staff in relation to child protection, mandatory reporting, anaphylaxis, diabetes, work, health and safety etc. In addition, boarding schools need to look at specific training relevant to the closer levels of supervision required in a boarding school context and the duty of care that the boarding school is required to meet during the ‘other’ 18 hours of each day of the week that boarding staff are responsible for the boarders.
Schools need to provide opportunities for boarding staff training, such as those found in CompliLearn, to ensure that they meet their commitments to their boarding students and their families.
In a nutshell, schools have a moral and, in some jurisdictions, a legal requirement to ensure that their boarding staff are trained to not only deal with the myriad operational risks of boarding residences on a day-to-day basis, but to also be able to identify strategic risks such as child protection and to ensure that they maintain a level of duty of care that corresponds with the expected child safe cultural norm for 2019.