There are currently 189 non-government boarding schools across Australia and the legislative and regulatory requirements for them vary depending on the state or territory in which they are located.
Due to the unique nature of boarding schools, in addition to the common law student duty of care, there is a complex array of legislation and regulations that can potentially apply including in relation to:
- Child Safe Organisations
- Child Protection
- Human Resources/Employment
- Environmental Planning
- Building and Construction
- Food Preparation
- Contract Law
- Overseas Students
- Education Law (Registration).
In relation to Education Law, three states now have legal obligations prescribing how non-government schools should operate their boarding houses: New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania. In the Northern Territory and Queensland, legislation or registration requirements now apply to government schools.
In all other states and territories, or where there are no prescribed obligations applicable to the type of school, schools must comply with general law obligations to ensure the safety and welfare of students.
The publication of AS 5725:2015 Boarding Standard for Australian schools and residences (Standard) in July 2015 has introduced a common national framework that is designed to provide owners, operators, managers and staff of boarding services with guidance on the matters that need to be addressed in order to deliver a safe, healthy and productive environment for boarders.
The Standard applies to all boarding schools and residences across Australia, including those run by government and non-government schools. Compliance with the Standard is not legally mandated, but rather the Standard establishes a benchmark for best practice in providing a boarding service in Australia.
Details regarding the current requirements in all states and territories can be found in the CompliSpace White Paper, AS 5725:2015 Boarding Standard for Australian schools and residences.
Queensland Joins the Ranks
The recently-released procedure document, Safety and wellbeing of students residing at a state school operated residential boarding facility(Procedure) sets July 15, 2019 as the implementation date for all Queensland government schools. The responsibilities and processes outlined in the document are “informed by the Australian standard: 5725: 2015: Boarding standard for Australian schools and residences (Department of Education (DoE) employees only).”
The overview continues with “[t]he responsibilities and processes required to support all students in state school operated residential boarding facilities are focused on the priorities of student protection, safety, health and wellbeing and holistic development. Having collaborative partnerships between parents, families and the school is essential to ensure all students are provided with the support they need for a positive boarding experience. This procedure also provides the registration process for students who wish to reside at a state school operated residential boarding facility.”
In addition, the document also references the 10 Child Safe Standards found in “Practical guidance for implementing the Child Safe Standards”, in Volume 6, Making institutions child safe (pp.413-436) of the Final Report: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
But What is the Real Purpose of the Procedure?
At first glance, the Procedure looks very much like a checklist where the duties and responsibilities of regional directors, principals and strategic school staff, volunteers, boarding students and their parents are clearly spelled out.
It stipulates the duties under a variety of headings including responsibilities, process, operations and definitions.
However, although the Procedure is not structured around the six components of the Standard, it references the Standard in the overview and in the Guidelines, as well as other standards and several government school documents in the appendices.
Interestingly, the Procedure also lists the Australian Board Schools Association (ABSA) in the Supporting Information/Websites section. ABSA’s Richard Stokes was the drafting chair of the Standard and states:
“What the Australian Boarding Standard offers is an evaluative instrument that brings together the best state and territory school boarding standards found throughout Australia. It also adds best practice from boarding schools overseas. Most importantly, the Australian Boarding Standard represents the collective wisdom from a large number of experienced boarding staff and administrators. The result is that the Australian Boarding Standard has great integrity. In essence, it represents standards determined by the boarding profession for the boarding profession.”
This would suggest that the Procedure considers the Standard to be ‘best practice’ for boarding schools.
What Should Non-government Schools Do to Comply with the Standard?
Schools that wish to comply with the Standard will need to upgrade or develop a Boarding Program that is mapped to the six sections of the Standard. They will also need to review and show evidence that they meet the more than 100 points of compliance.
In addition, as many boarding schools enrol full fee paying overseas students (FFPOS), they would also need to reference and develop policies and procedures that address the additional legal and regulatory obligations which apply to overseas boarders living in the boarding house.
For Queensland government boarding schools, their compliance with the Procedure is required to be in place by 15 July 2019. If the Standard is eventually determined to be ‘best practice’, how long will it take non-government boarding schools both in Queensland and in other states and territories , who are currently not using the Standard as their base model, to become compliant?