Page 1601 - Week 06 - Thursday, 23 July 2020

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ACT future of education strategy outlines the ACT government’s vision for the next 10 years for improved education for all ACT students, in all schools, that will build their skills and capabilities and meet the needs and aspirations of our next generation. Members will be aware that this strategy was the product of research and extensive consultation informed by over 5,000 contributions from the Canberra community and an analysis of issues by a range of education and community experts to recognise opportunities where the ACT might be better.

Through the future of education strategy, one of the first actions under the foundation of systems supporting learning is to review and amend the act. This bill is part of a second phase of amendments to the act. The first phase was presented to the ACT Legislative Assembly for consideration through the Education (Child Safety in Schools) Legislation Bill 2018 and passed in February 2019.

These amendments will strengthen the regulation of boarding schools; clarify the framework for fees to be waived for the children of temporary visa holders under certain humanitarian and financial hardship grounds; address an anomaly relating to parent and citizen representation on school boards; and enable enforcement of the attendance of non-ACT residents enrolled in ACT schools. The amendments proposed in the bill have been developed in consultation with key stakeholder groups, including the ACT Association of Independent Schools, the Catholic Education Office of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, education unions, parent and citizen organisations and relevant statutory authorities. These stakeholders are key partners in delivering the reforms proposed by the bill and they, like this government, are committed to ensuring that children who are experiencing vulnerability have access to education.

The regulation of boarding schools addresses recommendation 13.3 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which notes that school registration authorities should place particular emphasis on monitoring government and non-government boarding schools to ensure that 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 Education Act does not currently explicitly address schools with boarding facilities, of which there are currently two in the ACT. The amendments proposed in the bill will require any ACT school with boarding facilities to adhere to the Australian standard, the boarding standard for Australian schools and residents. Whilst the ACT government does not intend to directly provide boarding school services, all ACT schools, both government and non-government, have been included in the scope of this amendment for the sake of completeness and to fully meet the royal commission recommendation.

While further work continues to articulate this streamlined approach to introducing the child-safe standards across the ACT, this amendment provides a reasonable mechanism to ensure that all boarding schools in the ACT are providing appropriate protections and support to children in a vulnerable position, living away from home.

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