For a non-government school to become and stay registered it must comply with Part 4 of the School Education Act 1999 (WA) (Education Act). Section 159 of the Education Act allows the Minister of Education and Training to determine standards for non-government schools (Standards) in relation to the matters listed in that section and prescribed by the School Education Regulations 2000 (WA). Non-government schools are therefore required to comply with the Standards as updated from time to time
The Western Australian Minister for Education and Training has recently determined updated Standards that will apply to all non-government schools on and from 1 January 2020.
The Western Australian Department of Education website advises that although non-government schools must be compliant with the Standards from the start of the 2020 school year, in relation to non-government schools applying for registration renewal:
- non-government schools whose registration expires on or before 30 June 2020 will have their renewal applications assessed against the 2018-19 Standards
- non-government schools whose registration expires on or after 1 July 2020 will have their renewal applications assessed against the 2020 Standards.
New Guide to be Issued
The Western Australian Department of Education website states that a new “Guide to the registration and other requirements” (Guide) will shortly be produced and published providing more details about the 2020 Standards and other requirements. The Guide is being prepared in consultation with the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia (AISWA) and Catholic Education WA (CEWA).
The 2020 Standards contain a number of significant changes including some new key requirements. Some of the Standards have also been combined and re-ordered so that there are 15 Standards in the 2020 Standards. The 2018-19 Standards contain 17 Standards. There are also many new definitions.
The main changes are discussed below.
Standard 3: Days and Hours of Instruction
There are some new requirements in Standard 3. Standard 3.1 now specifies that the requirement for a non-government school to provide at least the minimum hours of instruction prescribed for government schools applies to each year level from Kindergarten to and including Year 10. There is a new Standard 3.2 that, broadly, requires that students in Pre-Primary who are undertaking an “alternative curriculum” (which is newly defined) must have at least 15 hours of instruction per week. There is a new Standard 3.4 that, broadly, sets out that the hours of instruction for Year 11 and 12 students are as required by the School Curriculum and Standards Authority or other qualification-awarding authority.
Standard 4: Staff
The previous Standard 4.2 (d) (which deals with keeping records of the person responsible for each class/working with students) has become Standard 4.3 and has been re-worded.
The previous Standard 4.3 and Standard 4.4 have been combined to create an updated Standard 4.4. Some of the wording of the previous Standard 4.3 (which provides some detail about what the Code of Conduct must contain) has been added to the updated Standard 4.4 although e.g. the specific reference to grooming has not been included and instead more general wording is used. Grooming is now referred to in the definition of “reportable incidents” (discussed below). The updated Standard 4.4 also contains the words “at least” when referring to what the school must do in relation to an induction. Code of Conduct is no longer a defined term in the 2020 Standards but Example Code of Conduct is used in the definitions.
Standard 5: Premises and Facilities
The previous Standard 5: Premises and Standard 6: Facilities have been combined into a new Standard 5: Premises and Facilities. There are no material changes.
Standard 7: Critical and Emergency Incidents
Standard 9: Critical and Emergency Incidents has been moved up to be Standard 7. The previous Standard 9.1 has been re-written as part of the move to Standard 7.1. “Reportable incidents”, which is a newly defined term, must now be included in a school’s critical and emergency incidents policy and procedures. “Reportable incidents” include the receipt of a complaint or allegation of recent or past child abuse including sexual abuse committed against a student by a staff member, another student or another person or a formal warning to cease or actually ceasing the employment of a staff member for a breach of the Code of Conduct in relation to grooming.
Standard 8: Boarding
Standard 10: Boarding has been moved up to be Standard 8. There is a new requirement (Standard 8.4) that boarders be consulted on all matters affecting their accommodation, recreation, support services, code of conduct, safety and wellbeing.
Standard 9: Complaints
Standard 11: Complaints has been moved up to be Standard 9 and has been completely changed. It has a new key requirement for schools to implement a complaints handling system that satisfies each of the key action areas of Principles 6 and 9 of the National Child Safe Organisations Principles. (Principle 6 is “processes to respond to complaints and concerns are child focused”. Principle 9 is “implementation of the national child safe principles is regularly reviewed and improved”.)
The updated Standard 9 also requires the school’s complaints handling system to conform to the rules of procedural fairness and include a system for review. The school is also required to publish information to the school community about the role of the Director General of the Department of Education in monitoring the school’s compliance with the Standards including Standards 9.1. and 9.2 and her authority to respond to instances of non-compliance.
Standard 10: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse
Standard 12: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse has been moved up to be Standard 10. This Standard has also completely changed and, significantly, now refers to the National Child Safe Organisations Principles. For example, Standard 10.1 states that "The school implements the National Child Safe Organisations Principles" and Standard 10.4 requires that the school implements a Code of Conduct that is consistent with the National Child Safe Organisations Principles.
Standard 10.3 also requires the school to co-operate in the Multi-Agency Protocol for Education Options for Young People Charged with Harmful Sexual Behaviours and implement a risk assessment and management plan for any such young person enrolled at the school. The Multi--Agency Protocol for Education Options for Young People Charged with Harmful Sexual Behaviours isn’t publicly available so it’s unclear what it contains. It is hoped that once the Guide is released more information about this will be available.
There are a number of other requirements in this Standard that seek to make schools child safe including that that there be “learning opportunities” for staff, governing body members and regular volunteers at least annually in relation to child safe matters, that all students receive a “protective behaviours and sexual abuse prevention education” that meets specifically outlined criteria, that parents and guardians are informed about the school’s codes of conduct and that the school responds to complaints and allegations of grooming and child abuse in accordance with particular stated requirements.
As mentioned above there are a number of new and updated definitions. For example, the definition of child abuse has been updated and expanded and a definition of Example Code of Conduct (that is consistent with the National Child Safe Organisations Principles) has been added (although it is not used in the 2020 Standards).
The definition of child abuse in the 2020 Standards refers to there being four forms of child abuse covered by WA Law and defined by the Department of Communities. There are in fact “five types of child abuse and neglect” listed and defined on the Department of Communities website. The Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA) doesn’t define “child abuse” but refers to and/or defines physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. The terms that are defined in the Act (i.e. sexual abuse and emotional abuse) however have different definitions to those set out on the Department of Communities website. While there is overlap among these terms and definitions and in practice there may not be much doubt as to what is meant by child abuse hopefully the Guide will clarify these discrepancies.
What Does This Mean for Schools?
Schools should start to familiarise themselves with the 2020 Standards while they wait for further guidance in the updated Guide.
Schools whose registration expires on or after 1 July 2020 will need to be prepared to have their registration compliance assessed against the more onerous 2020 Standards.