The Victorian Government released a Consultation Paper on the Regulation of School Boarding Facilities (Consultation Paper) on 8 July 2019 that outlines important changes to the way that boarding schools in Victoria will be regulated from 2021.
The Consultation Paper is a proposal document which was sent to relevant stakeholders through their representative bodies for feedback on the proposed changes. The Victorian Department of Education and Training has advised that the “relevant stakeholders” are the 35 schools in Victoria that have boarding facilities.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) identified school boarding facilities as high risk environments for child sexual abuse. The Royal Commission found a disproportionate number of incidences of abuse had taken place in school boarding facilities. We wrote about this issue in a previous article.
The Royal Commission’s Recommendation 13.3 stated that:
“[s]chool registration authorities should place particular emphasis on monitoring government and non-government boarding schools to ensure they meet the Child Safe Standards. Policy guidance and practical support should be provided to all boarding schools to meet these standards, including advice on complaint handling.”
The Child Safe Standards are 10 standards listed in the Royal Commission’s Recommendation 6.5 (published in 2017). The Victorian Government also released seven mandatory Child Safe Standards (Victorian Standards) in September 2015. What the Victorian Standards mean in a school context is set out under the Victorian Minister for Education’s Ministerial Order No.870.
The registration guidelines of other states such as New South Wales and Western Australia already specifically contain requirements in relation to boarding.
Changes Proposed in the Consultation Paper
The Consultation Paper states that the rationale for the proposed changes is to address the Royal Commission’s recommendation that school registration authorities place particular emphasis on boarding schools to ensure that they meet the Child Safe Standards and ensure that school boarding facilities are monitored by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA).
Requirement for Boarding Facilities to be Registered
The Victorian Government intends to extend the regulatory oversight of the VRQA to include boarding facilities associated with registered schools.
The proposed changes will require school boarding facilities to be registered separately with the VRQA, to show that they are meeting minimum requirements including the Victorian Standards and be subject to periodic reviews.
The Consultation Paper states that a school boarding facility refers to a facility that provides accommodation and services to students enrolled at a registered school. This includes day boarding services and non-school operators of boarding facilities, where students residing in the facility are enrolled at a registered school.
Registered schools operating school boarding facilities must register both the school and its school boarding facilities with the VRQA. All school boarding facilities will be affected by the proposed regulatory approach.
Non-school operated boarding facilities must also register with the VRQA.
Minimum Requirements for Registration
To be registered, a school boarding facility will be required to meet the Victorian Standards and other minimum requirements outlined in guidelines to be issued by the VRQA.
For registered schools, the requirements for boarding facilities will mirror compliance for school registration. The minimum requirements for registration of school boarding facilities will be adapted from the existing minimum standards for school registration in the Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017 (Vic) (including governance, care, safety and welfare of students, staff employment and infrastructure).
Who is Not Affected
The proposed regulatory approach excludes the following arrangements:
- short-term camps
- home arrangements
- respite care
- providers of English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS)
- any other facilities already regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice and Community and Community Safety.
School boarding facilities can be registered for up to five years at a time and will need to renew their registration every five years. (The VRQA Guidelines to the Minimum Standards and Requirements for School Registration state that a school is reviewed every four to five years.)
To reduce initial administration, all current school boarding facilities will be deemed as VRQA- registered at the start of the proposed change, and must lodge:
- a self-assessment of its school boarding facility, indicating that it meets the Victorian Standards and other minimum requirements for registration
- a statutory declaration that the self-assessment is valid.
It will be an offence to operate a school boarding facility without registration.
How the Changes Will Be Effected
The Victorian Government will amend the Education Training and Reform Act 2006 (Vic) to extend the regulatory oversight of the VRQA to school boarding facilities.
The change is due to start in 2021, which the Consultation Paper states is to allow time for school boarding facilities to prepare.
What Does This Mean for Boarding Facilities in Victoria?
As referred to above, the proposed changes will require boarding schools to comply with the Victorian Standards and some additional “minimum requirements”.
In relation to the Victorian Standards, “school environment” is defined in Ministerial Order No. 870 as meaning:
“any physical or virtual place made available or authorised by the school governing authority for use by a child during or outside school hours, including:
(a) a campus of the school;
(b) online school environments (including email and intranet systems); and
(c) other locations provided by the school for a child's use (including, without limitation, locations used for school camps, sporting events, excursions, competitions, and other events).”
This definition arguably includes boarding schools which means that the Victorian Standards already apply to boarding schools. (The Consultation Paper also states that boarding schools must currently comply with the Victorian Standards.)
In relation to the minimum requirements, the governing bodies and some staff of boarding schools will already be familiar with the VRQA review process in relation to their associated school. However, under the proposed changes, there will be separate registration for boarding facilities, with a separate five-yearly review requiring the production of evidence to show that the minimum requirements and Victorian Standards have been met in relation to the boarding facilities. Notwithstanding that non-school operated boarding facilities are currently required to adhere to the Victorian Standards, the proposed changes in relation to the minimum requirements will impose significant additional compliance obligations on any non-school operated boarding facilities.
It should be noted that a national boarding Standard (AS 5725:2015 Boarding Standard for Australian schools and residences) (Boarding Standard) was published in July 2015. It 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 optional Boarding Standard applies to all boarding schools and residences across Australia, including those run by government and non-government schools.
Compliance with the Boarding Standard is not legally mandated, but rather it establishes a benchmark for best practice in providing a boarding service in Australia. The Boarding Standard may complement the proposed Victorian regime. Victorian schools that are currently complying with the Boarding Standard may already be meeting most (if not all) of the minimum requirements that will be outlined in the guidelines that the VRQA will issue.
Opportunity for Submissions/Feedback
Submissions close (and the opportunity to provide feedback via an online survey ends) on 7 August 2019. See links in the Consultation Paper.