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Significant Amendments to the Education Act 2004 (ACT) - A Summary of the New Requirements for ACT Schools

12/05/22
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ACT

The Education Amendment Bill 2022 (ACT) (Bill) was presented to the Legislative Assembly on 7 April 2022. If passed, the Bill would significantly amend the Education Act 2004 (ACT) (Education Act) and Education Regulation 2005 (ACT) (Education Regulation) to introduce significant changes regarding student movement from 1 July 2022 and a major overhaul of the registration process from 1 January 2023. This article summarises the proposed amendments to the Education Act and Education Regulation and explains how they will affect schools.

 

What Is the Education Act 2004 (ACT)?

The Education Act and Education Regulation provide the legal framework for the provision of school education services in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

The Education Act aims to ensure that every child in the ACT is afforded the right to a high-quality education. It also sets out the principles and values on which education in the ACT are based, the circumstances in which school attendance is not required, including providing for suspension and exclusion from school, and provides for the operation and governance of government schools and the registration of non-government schools and home education.

 

Why Is the Education Act Being Amended?

The Bill forms part of the ACT Government’s The Future of Education Strategy, which outlines the plan for education in the ACT over the next several years. Specifically, the Bill is part of the Strategy’s aim to review and amend the Education Act in order to “strengthen equity, student agency, access and inclusion”.

The amendments to the Education Act were also driven by recommendations made by the ACT Human Rights Commission (Commission) last year. The Commission’s recommendations prompted the ACT Education Directorate to undertake a complete review of the non-government schools' registration, review and compliance processes.

The coronial inquest into the tragic death of nine-year-old Bradyn Stuart Dillon has also led to more robust reporting requirements in order to keep track of vulnerable students.

 

What Amendments Are Being Proposed?

The key amendments to the Education Act are:

  1. A revised registration process – the Bill proposes to move the registration process for non-government schools from a five-year registration period to ongoing registration. To accompany ongoing registration, the Bill also proposes regular reviews of non-government schools.
  2. New registration standards – in response to a recommendation made by the Commission, the Bill will replace the existing registration conditions currently in the Education Act with new registration standards for non-government schools. The standards relate to the four key areas of governance, educational courses and programs, safety and welfare, and other requirements for operation. The standards aim to provide greater clarity on the obligations and compliance requirements for non-government school principals and proprietors.
  3. Clarification of several key terms - the Bill clarifies the terms “suspension”, “transfer’” “exclusion” and the new term “expulsion” and provides guidance on how these actions can be taken to prevent their misuse.
  4. Strengthened reporting requirements – following the coronial inquest into the death of Bradyn Stuart Dillon, the Bill will require principals to report transfers, expulsions, exclusions, unenrolments, and terminations of contract of students in a student movement register within five days in order to identify risks to vulnerable students.
  5. Creation of the Registration Standards Advisory Board – the Bill creates the new Registration Standards Advisory Board to assist with the oversight of the new registration process.
  6. New regulatory actions a broader range of regulatory actions have been developed to support non-government schools to meet compliance requirements. Previously, the only current power available in the Education Act in instances of non-compliance is for the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Minister) to cancel a non-government school’s registration.

 

When Will the Amendments Commence?

The sections of the Bill relating to suspension, transfer, expulsion and exclusion, as well as the new Student Movement Register, will come into effect on 1 July 2022.

The rest of the amendments are set to commence on 1 January 2023.

 

How Will This Affect Schools?

From 1 July 2022, principals will need to ensure that they have procedures in place to record the information relating to transfers, expulsions, exclusions, unenrolments and contract terminations that is set out in the Education Regulation. This information will need to be recorded within five days after the event occurs through the Student Movement Register in line with the Director-General’s procedures for recording information in the register.

Schools will also need to understand and comply with the new requirements relating to the suspension, transfer, expulsion and exclusion of students. For example, schools should follow the procedures for suspending a student as set out in the Education Act and only suspend a student for “the purpose of ensuring a safe and effective learning environment at the school” and if the other criteria outlined in the Education Act have been met.

From 1 January 2023, non-government schools will need to be aware of the new process for registration. Schools will no longer need to re-apply for registration after a period of five years. Instead of their registration expiring on the day stated in their old registration, their registration will now continue until it is either surrendered or cancelled. A school’s registration will also be conditional on their compliance with the new registration standards. The Registrar of non-government schools (Registrar), in consultation with the non-government sector and the Registration Standards Advisory Board, may make guidelines to assist registered schools to comply with these standards.

In addition to this ongoing registration, there will also be regular reviews of non-government schools. Before the end of each year, the Registrar, in consultation with the Registration Standards Advisory Board, will prepare a program that outlines the registered schools that the Registrar intends to review during the following year and the areas of focus for registration reviews. A review might also be conducted after a concern is raised with the Registrar about a school’s non-compliance with the Education Act.

If on completing a review the Registrar deems the school to be non-complaint with the Education Act, the Registrar, following advice from the Registration Standards Advisory Board, may give the proprietor of the school a compliance direction. This direction will set out the action required to be taken by the school and how long a school has to undertake the action. The issue of a compliance direction will generally only occur in instances of low to medium risk on non-compliance. If the school still fails to comply with the compliance direction, or in medium to high-risk cases of non-compliance, the Minister may instead choose to take more serious regulatory action such as to impose or amend a registration condition for the school or cancel the school’s registration.

 

Further Resources                                                                          

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About the Author

Filip Manganaro

Filip Manganaro is a Legal Research Associate at CompliSpace. He recently completed his law degree at the University of New South Wales.

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