In brief - Non-state schools in Queensland should undergo an urgent review of their policies to ensure compliance with legislative requirements.
Non-state schools relying on pro-forma policy and procedure documents, perhaps provided as part of a subscription service or through an "off the shelf" package, may be at risk of failing to meet accreditation criteria set out in the Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Regulation 2017 (Qld) (Regulation).
The Non-State Schools Accreditation Board (NSSAB) has recently expressed its concern around the use of templated written policies and processes. In their view those documents are often incomplete, provide confusing structures and processes, poorly define roles and responsibilities for different parties, lack correct guidance on reporting requirements, and are not consistent with the Regulation and do not reflect the specific circumstances of each school.
As such these documents may be failing to protect students, staff and schools from the risk they are intended to manage.
Safeguarding as an example
Findings presented in the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse suggest that abuse is perpetuated where there is no clear or supportive reporting pathways to disclose acts of harm.
The NSSAB has expressed particular concern for any pro-forma approach to safeguarding. Such documents may fail to meet the minimum requirements of sections 7 and 16 of the Regulation with respect to:
reporting processes for sexual abuse and suspected sexual abuse pursuant to the Education (General Provisions) Act 2006;
reporting of reasonable suspicions that a child has or is at an acceptable risk of suffering significant harm from physical or sexual abuse pursuant to the Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld); and
the requirement in section 16(4) of the Regulation that a governing body ensures that:
the staff, students, parents and guardians of the non-state school are made aware of the written processes and can readily access them;
staff are sufficiently trained to implement the processes; and
the non-state school is actively implementing the processes.
To ensure compliance with sections 7 to 16 of the Regulation, school leaders and boards must review grievance policies, codes of conduct, recruitment and retention policies, contracts of engagement and employment, communication strategies, enrolment and other policies to ensure that they all fit together in a cohesive and clear way, which reflects the particular school environment.
According to the NSSAB, off the shelf products and subscription services may not be serving your school well when it comes to compliance and risk management. Now is the time for your school leaders to consider how you respond to the Regulation and to managing such risk.
The importance of getting it right
Failure to implement appropriate written processes under the Regulation may leave schools in breach of their statutory obligations and may impact on their ability to manage risk.
To ensure that written processes are consistent with regulatory criteria and other legislative requirements, it is important that the governing bodies of non-state schools have the skills necessary to ensure compliance and that they exercise due diligence in their review of their policies and procedures.
The Board encourages governing bodies to work with their relevant peak authority to ensure that accreditation standards are met and that advice is sought from qualified experts to ensure compliance.
This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2022.