Page 1871 - Week 06 - Wednesday, 8 June 2022

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With regard to expulsion or exclusion, for government schools it is a vexed issue. As a human rights jurisdiction, the ACT has a legal obligation to provide free school education to every child in a government school. Therefore, complete exclusion from a government school is only possible for a child who is not of compulsory education age. Amendments to this bill clarify that these are the only circumstances in which exclusion from the government school system can occur.

The amendments further state that exclusion is only possible where a student has engaged in unsafe or non-compliant behaviour, all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted, the best interests of the student are considered and it is reasonable in all the circumstances. One area where this has been particularly problematic is that relating to students with a disability. Advocates claim that suspension and expulsion powers disproportionately impact children with disabilities. Parents and teachers groups state that the inability to address problematic behaviour unfairly impacts all other participants in the classroom. This bill attempts, as much as possible, to make clear guidelines in this area.

The situation for non-government schools is somewhat different, but the bill still provides guidelines. The amendments clarify the requirements and processes for non-government schools, including the circumstances, processes and considerations that must be followed. I understand that some of the amendments have been developed in consultation with the non-government school sectors and, while these groups have some remaining comments, which I will refer to shortly, the sector was involved during the drafting of the bill and these have been responded to in the development of the amendments. As stated, while this bill does not achieve every goal, it does provide clarity and certainty for all students in the ACT.

The second main area—as I said earlier, there are two main areas—relates to the registration and review of the non-government sector. The current five-year system has been seen as a compliance burden in some cases and inflexible in others. The bill seeks to improve that system, and I will briefly touch on the areas that are generally seen as improvements.

The first is the introduction of non-government school registration standards. The bill introduces a set of registration standards for non-government schools. These were, according to the explanatory statement, developed in consultation with the Association of Independent Schools and the Catholic Education Office for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, as well as other groups. The key areas of the registration standards include governance, educational courses and educational programs, safety and welfare, and a range of other requirements for operation. This has been largely welcomed by the sector.

The next issue is the establishment of a registration standards advisory board to administer the new standards. The board comprises representatives of the Education Directorate, Catholic Education and the Association of Independent Schools of the ACT, alongside an independent chair and members with appropriate expertise, appointed by the minister. This, too, is seen as an improvement.

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