School Compliance with Victoria’s Child Safe Standards

Tabled: 20 June 2019

2 The regulator's support and guidance to schools

The child safe standards are mandatory, yet are written as broad, flexible statements that each organisation can apply within their operating environment.

To operate in Victoria, schools must also comply with the child safe standards requirements for registration. To register a school, the regulator must be satisfied that the school has developed policies, procedures, measures, and practices in accordance with the ministerial order for managing the risk of child abuse.

The ministerial order sets out what the child safe standards mean in a school environment, specifying 57 requirements that schools must meet. The order purposefully provides schools with scope to take actions that suit their context and operating environment. The requirements aim to capture the many ways in which schools have contact with children, and the range of conduct that constitutes child abuse. Given that the standards and ministerial order requirements are mandatory, it is important that schools understand what is required of them to comply.

The Minister for Education expected the regulator to 'play an important leadership role in informing and educating school system owners and school leaders to understand and implement what is required to meet the objectives of the ministerial order'.

The department also has a role in providing advice to schools on what they can do to improve their approach to child safety to exceed the minimum standards set by the ministerial order.

This Part focuses on how the regulator has educated school system owners and school leaders on understanding and implementing Victoria's child safe standards requirements.

2.1 Conclusion

Although school principals who responded to our survey were positive about the guidance available from the regulator, the department, CECV and other sources, the regulator's guidance has significant gaps.

The regulator has not explained the criteria it uses to assess compliance and therefore what schools must do to comply with each of the 57 ministerial order requirements.

In the absence of clear guidance and without transparency on how their compliance is assessed, schools must make assumptions about what they must do to comply.

Given the ministers' expectations that the regulator will provide leadership in informing and educating school system owners and school leaders to comply with their school registration requirements, the regulator needs to more clearly explain to schools what they need to do to comply with the 57 ministerial order requirements.

The regulator should provide further leadership in challenging areas, such as measuring the extent to which schools have embedded child safe cultures. The regulator also needs to provide, or coordinate with the department, guidance on the four key areas that the minister identified schools would benefit from having guidance on.

Now that the child safe standards are in their third year, it is timely to clarify the ministers' expectations of the regulator's leadership role in providing guidance, and for gaps in the existing guidance to be addressed.

2.2 The regulator's guidance

The regulator's guidance on the child safe standards

Through the regulator's 2018 statement of expectations, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Training and Skills expected the regulator to provide 'clear guidance and support for educational organisations to successfully implement the child safe standards, and to meet the required standards for registration'. The ministers also outlined their expectation that the regulator would 'provide information to regulated entities to improve the transparency of regulatory assessment processes and methodology to reduce non-compliance'.

The ETR Act empowers the regulator to issue guidelines on the prescribed minimum standards. The regulator has developed guidelines for schools, including those offering senior secondary courses, called Guidelines to the Minimum Standards and Requirements for School Registration. Through the guidelines, the regulator provides links to materials on its 'resources' webpage related to the child safe standards.

The regulator's approach is to encourage schools to consider how they meet the child safe standards when preparing for their school compliance assessment. To do this, the regulator has developed information checklists for five of the seven standards. The checklists pose 'questions to consider' and highlight that schools should consider their own circumstances and communities to determine if they meet the standards.

School self-assessment tools

The regulator provides a readiness tool for all schools to use to help them prepare for their school review. The tool details the types of evidence an assessor might consider when determining compliance with all minimum standards.

In relation to managing the risk of child abuse, the tool asks schools to determine whether they are compliant or not. It specifies that evidence requirements include a school's policies, procedures, measures and practices in accordance with the ministerial order. However, the tool does not specify what these policies, procedures or practices must include.

The regulator also makes available a Child Safety Standards compliance self-assessment and action plan on its webpage. This self-assessment tool is a checklist to help schools assess how well they meet the 57 ministerial order requirements and to identify gaps they need to address.

Other sources of guidance for schools on the child safe standards

While the regulator links to multiple sources of guidance, it has not explained to schools the status of the materials and to what extent schools should be guided by them. For example, the regulator's 'resources' webpage links to the department's 'protect' webpage, but the regulator does not explain the purpose of these linked materials to schools. However, the department's 'protect' webpage incorporates a mix of guidance for all Victorian schools, jointly development by the department, CECV and Independent Schools Victoria, as well as guidance that is specific to government schools.

The department and CECV also provide specific guidance and advice tailored to their schools only. Through our survey, school principals advised that they sourced their guidance from a mix of the regulator, the department and their system administrators.

As the regulator continually reviews and updates its guidance, there is a risk that the materials accessed on CECV's, the department's or other websites will vary and may not incorporate the latest updates. Our survey identified the lack of a single portal to find up-to-date, relevant material as a key challenge faced by schools.

The regulator's guidance on the ministerial order requirements

The ministerial order identifies 57 requirements that schools must comply with for registration. However, the regulator's resources are not tailored to the requirements.

The ministerial order purposefully outlines terms broadly to allow schools flexibility in how they respond to meet the requirements.

In the 2015 letter attached to the ministerial order, the Minister for Education noted that the regulator is expected to 'play an important leadership role in informing and educating school system owners and school leaders to understand and implement what is required'. The minister also identified that schools may require particular support and guidance on:

  • the scope and effect of key definitions
  • the role and expectations of governing authorities
  • the essential elements of an 'appropriate' school response to the child safe standards
  • ways in which strategies, policies, procedures and practices can be inclusive of the needs of all children, particularly students who are vulnerable due to age, family circumstances, abilities, or Indigenous, cultural or linguistic background.

The ministerial expectations in the 2018 statement of expectations are clear that the regulator would 'continue to undertake its core responsibilities, including providing clear guidance and support for educational organisations to successfully implement the child safe standards, and to meet the required standards for registration'.

As discussed below, the regulator has not provided adequate guidance to help school system owners and leaders understand how to achieve the two objectives of the ministerial order—to improve culture or to comply with the requirements for registration. It provides schools with prompts, but does not explain what they must do or how it will determine whether they have complied. It also has not provided adequate guidance on each of the four areas of support that the minister identified.

1. Lack of guidance on objective one—how to embed a school's child safe culture

The test of success of the child safe standards requirements outlined in the ministerial order is whether child abuse has been eliminated in schools. However, as shown through the Victorian Parliament's Inquiry and the Royal Commission's findings, victims may take decades to report offences. It is therefore important that schools monitor and understand whether they have embedded a child safe culture to minimise the risk of child abuse occurring.

Ministerial order requirement 7(1)(e) requires schools to periodically review the effectiveness of the strategies put into practice, and, if appropriate, revise those strategies. As this requirement directly relates to the first objective of the ministerial order—embedding a child safe culture—there is a need for support and guidance in this area.

The regulator has acknowledged the ongoing challenge of embedding a child safe culture that reflects a zero-tolerance approach to child abuse in schools. It also recognises the challenges of measuring how cultures change over time and that this requires ongoing attention. The regulator advises it has recently commenced focus group research into this area.

The regulator currently provides schools with questions to consider in its information checklist on strategies to embed an organisational culture of child safety. It also links to the commission's guide for creating a child safe organisation and DHHS's information sheet on good leadership and governance in child safe organisations.

Measuring culture is challenging in many settings. However, there are methods available that could be applied to schools, which measure both a school's actions and community perceptions about its commitment. When compared, this information can assist schools to identify issues and prioritise actions to drive improvements.

Measurements of actions for child safety may include:

  • the extent to which child safety is sponsored and communicated by schools' leaders
  • the extent to which child safety values and behaviours are reflected in every meeting
  • the extent to which school leaders and school staff measure their own performance on promoting child safety.

Perceptions of students, staff and parents may be measured through surveys of views on:

  • a school's child safety
  • the maturity of the school staff and its leaders on receiving feedback, suggestions and complaints, and responding to them in an open, constructive and transparent way.

The regulator's guidance does not explain to system owners and school leaders how to measure their culture and the effectiveness of their strategies to meet the ministerial order requirements.

Due to the short timeframe between the child safe standards being introduced and the regulator being allocated responsibility for the child safe standards requirements, the regulator was not able to ensure that schools established their own baseline measurement of their culture. Without a baseline, neither schools nor the regulator can determine the extent to which their efforts have improved their culture. The regulator is yet to address this.

2. Lack of guidance on objective two—what schools must do to comply with the ministerial order requirements

Although school principals who responded to our survey were positive about the available guidance, we found that the regulator has not explained to schools the criteria it uses to determine compliance. In the absence of clear guidance on what schools must do to comply, there is a risk that schools will interpret the available guidance in different ways and will vary in the way they respond—to the extent that they may not meet the requirements. Our survey told us that while some principals clearly understood what was required, others considered that the guidance is not clear. One principal highlighted that 'there is a lot of confusion in schools as to what to do and to what extent to go to in some elements of the requirements'.

The ministerial order requires schools to take 57 actions. However, the requirements are written in a non-prescriptive way to allow schools to meet them within their operating environment. They require schools to take 'appropriate' actions, 'reasonable efforts' and 'take into account' certain factors when putting their actions in place.

Due to the way the ministerial order requirements are written, the regulator must judge whether a school has taken sufficient action to comply. As shown in the example in Figure 2A, the ministerial order requires a school's governing authority to develop and endorse a code of conduct.

Figure 2A
Ministerial order requirement nine—requiring a code of conduct

Requirement nine of the ministerial order requires a school governing authority to develop, endorse, and make publicly available, a code of conduct that:

  • has the objective of promoting child safety in the school environment
  • sets standards about the ways in which school staff are expected to behave with children
  • takes into account the interests of school staff (including other professional or occupational codes of conduct that regulate particular school staff), and the needs of all children
  • is consistent with the school's child safety strategies, policies and procedures as revised from time to time.

Source: Ministerial order.

The regulator needs to determine whether:

  • the school's governing authority has developed and endorsed the code of conduct
  • the code of conduct is publicly available.
  • the code of conduct the school has developed has the objective of promoting child safety in the school environment
  • standards for expected school staff behaviour are adequate
  • the school's actions have adequately taken into account the interests of school staff and the needs of all children
  • the code of conduct's consistency with the school's strategies, policies and procedures relating to child safety is sufficient.

The regulator provides schools with prompts, such as questions, to guide the development of their code of conduct. It also provides an example code of conduct, examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and links to the commission's resource guide on developing a code of conduct. However, the regulator has not established criteria to inform how it will make judgements about the adequacy or sufficiency of a school's code of conduct.

The regulator's guidance simply re-states the intent of 51 of the 57 ministerial order requirements and provides prompting questions. As a result, the regulator has not explained to schools what they must do to comply with the ministerial order requirements or how it will determine compliance.

The lack of clearly documented decision criteria limits the transparency of the regulator's decision-making process, even though the Minister for Education and the Minister for Training and Skills expect the regulator to provide information to schools to improve the transparency of its regulatory assessment processes and methodology. Despite this, the regulator advises that it purposefully omitted what constitutes 'compliance' in its guidance. It has instead prioritised embedding a culture of 'no tolerance' for child abuse, over the compliance requirements. The regulator's view is that if it specifies what a school must do to comply, this would lead to schools focusing on ticking off compliance checklists rather than thinking about what is required to improve their culture.

The consequence of this approach is that schools must make assumptions about what they are required to do to comply, which could lead to unreasonable variance between schools, and irregular performance in this area.

Through our survey, a principal highlighted that 'this is where the primary issue lies: the resources are no better or worse than other resources but the interpretation of what is required in order to comply is problematic'. Other principals explained that compliance assessments relied on the compliance assessor's interpretation, and that opinions differed on what is required to comply, meaning 'that the process has become onerous and is absolutely a tick the box process rather than a process true to the concepts and principles of the order'.

As discussed in Part 3, we found variations in the way the compliance assessors interpret compliance.

3. Four key areas in which schools may benefit from support and guidance

The Minister for Education expected that the regulator would play a leadership role in informing and educating school system owners and leaders to understand and implement what is required.

Neither the ministerial order nor the regulator have defined what is intended by the 'scope' and 'effect' of the key terms. We have interpreted these terms to mean the following:

Scope is the extent to which the term applies at or in relation to a school.

Effect refers to the implications for a school's policies, strategies or practices.

1. The scope and effect of key definitions

The minister noted that schools may benefit from support and guidance on the scope and effect of key definitions used in the ministerial order. While it did not specify the definitions, the ministerial order highlighted that they included 'child abuse' and 'child-connected work'. We identified nine terms in the definitions section of the ministerial order.

The minister purposefully provided a broad definition of 'child-connected work'—requiring it to be broader than the definition of 'child-related work' used in the Working with Children Act 2005. The minister also required the definition for 'child abuse' to go beyond child sexual abuse.

It is important that schools understand these terms and what they mean for a their responsibilities, and how they manage the risk of child abuse within their school grounds and during external activities relating to the school.

The regulator advises that based on their interpretation of the letter accompanying the ministerial order, providing guidance on these terms is not their sole responsibility and is instead shared with the department and the commission as the state's lead child safety regulator.

Despite the minister's expectations that the regulator would play a leadership role, the regulator has not acted to clarify the intent of the minister's letter, and in particular who is responsible for providing this guidance to schools.

As shown in Figure 2B, while the regulator's guidance does explain the scope of eight of the nine terms listed in the definitions section of the ministerial order, it has not explained the scope of the term 'minister of religion'. We found that the regulator has also not provided guidance to schools on the effect of all nine terms.

As a result, each school must interpret the ministerial order and consider the limits of their responsibilities and what the terms mean for their policies, strategies and practices. As discussed in Part 3, we found variation in the evidence schools provided to their compliance assessor for each of the ministerial order requirements, and variation in the way the assessors interpreted the requirements.

Figure 2B
The regulator's guidance on the scope of key terms

Ministerial order terms

The regulator's guidance on the scope

Child

A child enrolled as a student at the school.

Child-connected work

Work authorised by the school governing authority and performed by an adult in a school environment while children are present or reasonably expected to be present.

Child abuse

Includes any act committed against a child involving:

  • a sexual offence
  • a grooming offence; or
  • the infliction on a child of physical violence, serious emotional or psychological harm or serious neglect.

Child safety

Encompasses matters related to protecting all children from child abuse, managing the risk of child abuse, providing support to a child at risk of child abuse, and responding to incidents or allegations of child abuse.

Minister of religion

No definition.

Proprietor

Proprietor in relation to a school, means:

a) a person, body, or institution who establishes, owns or controls one or more registered schools; or

b) any person or body that is specified in the registration of the school as the proprietor of the school.

School environment

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 campus of the school
  • online school environments (including email and intranet systems)
  • 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).

School governing authority

Means:

  • the proprietor of a school, including a person authorised to act for or on behalf of the proprietor; or
  • the governing body for a school (however described), as authorised by the proprietor of a school or the ETR Act; or
  • the principal, as authorised by the proprietor of a school, the school governing body, or the ETR Act.

Explanatory note: There is a wide variety of school governance arrangements. Depending on the way a school is constituted and operated, the governing body for a school may be the school board, the school council, or some other person or entity. The school governing authorities may share or assign responsibility for discharging the requirements imposed by this Order, in accordance with the school's internal governance arrangements.

School staff

In a government school, an individual working in a school environment who is:

  • employed under Part 2.4 of the ETR Act in the government teaching service; or
  • employed under a contract of service by the council of the school under Part 2.3 of the ETR Act; or
  • volunteer or a contracted service provider (whether or not a body corporate or any other person is an intermediary).

In a non-government school, an individual working in a school environment who is:

  • directly engaged or employed by a school governing authority
  • a volunteer or a contracted service provider (whether or not a body corporate or any other person is an intermediary); or
  • a minister of religion.

Source: VAGO, based on the regulator's guidance.

The need for clarity on the effect of the terms for child abuse and child safety is significant, as demonstrated in the case studies in Figure 2C.

Figure 2C
Case studies: The implication of key definitions for 'child abuse' and 'child safety'

Child abuse

The need for clarity on the effect of the 'child abuse' term is significant, given the government's 2015 statement that set 'zero tolerance' for child abuse in Victorian schools.

The Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 defines 'child abuse' to include sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological abuse caused by an adult to a child and between children. The regulator's website refers to the department's 'protect' webpage, which explains what the critical signs of child abuse are, and the various forms of abuse. It explains that physical child abuse can consist of any non-accidental infliction of physical violence on a child by any person. It also explains what schools must do to respond to suspected child abuse.

However, neither the regulator's nor the linked departmental guidance provide clarity on the effect of the 'child abuse' term.

Schools that may need to physically intervene to manage unsafe student behaviours would particularly benefit from such guidance. These schools may need to prevent, restrict, or subdue a student's movement and may use strategies that can involve seclusion and physical restraint.

While many forms of physical contact can be entirely appropriate, without clear guidance on how zero tolerance for child abuse applies to these cases, it is not clear how schools would know if their policies, strategies and actions meet the regulator's ministerial order compliance requirements. This may result in inconsistent application of the requirements between schools and has the potential to create conflict between the parents and guardians and their children's school.

The regulator has consulted with specialist schools from all sectors through its specialist schools project. It has also amended its Guidelines to the Minimum Standards and Requirements for School Registration to include a requirement that schools have evidence of policies and procedures relating to when it may be necessary to use restrictive interventions to protect the safety of a student and members of the school community. The requirement applied to all new applications for school registration from 1 January 2019 and existing schools from 1 July 2019. The regulator must ensure that individual government school policies and procedures are consistent with the department's Restraint of Students policy.

Government schools, however, have more direction than Catholic and independent schools on managing unsafe student behaviours. Section 25 of the Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017 allows a staff member of a government school authority to 'take any reasonable action that is immediately required to restrain a student of the school from acts or behaviour that are dangerous to the member of staff, the student, or any other person'. The department also provides to government schools a policy on how to prevent the need for restraint or seclusion and how to intervene in an incident when the need arises. It is also working on developing guidance to government school staff on how to protect themselves by minimising the need for intervention.

Child safety

The need for clarity on the effect of the 'child safe' term is significant given the many situations in which a child could be at risk in a school or school-connected environment.

The Family and Community Development Committee highlighted in its Betrayal of Trust Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations report that managing the risk of child abuse involves managing situational risks of children being exposed to abuse by employees and others associated with organisations.

The report gave an example of where and how organisations could manage risks by minimising opportunities for staff to be alone with children. Such scenarios could include where teachers, specialists, nurses and counsellors are alone with a child.

In its information sheet to inform schools developing their codes of conduct, the regulator states that all staff, volunteers, and board/school council members are responsible for supporting the safety of children by ensuring as far as practicable that adults are not alone with a child.

However, the regulator has not provided guidance to schools on the effect of the 'child safety' term, including how schools can work towards 'designing out' their risks of child abuse in their schools such as through their design and use of infrastructure, school policies, strategies and practices.

For example, the department provides guidance for the building of its government schools through its 2018 Building Quality Standards Handbook. It explains that to comply with the ministerial order, project consultants must create environments that promote inclusiveness, participation and child empowerment, and that mitigate risks to safety, especially through poor lines of sight in design.

Source: VAGO.

2. Role and expectations of governing authorities

The ministerial order places accountability for managing the risk of child abuse with school governing authorities, which includes the proprietor, the governing body and the principal. The minister's aim was for schools, through their school governing authorities, to have appropriate arrangements—including clear and comprehensive policies, procedures and accountability mechanisms—to regulate the conduct and decisions of school staff for the benefit of its students. The ministerial order allows school governing authorities to share or assign responsibility for discharging the ministerial order requirements, in accordance with the school's internal governance arrangements.

The regulator supplies guidance to governing authorities in its Guidelines to the Minimum Standards and Requirements for School Registration, which explains that schools must have developed policies, procedures, measures and practices in accordance with the ministerial order. This document explains that meeting the requirements is the direct responsibility of the school governing body and the school principal.

The regulator also supplies guidance to school boards and councils in its Child safe standards: an overview for new school board/council members, which specifies that the school governing authority is responsible for developing and endorsing the school's child safety policies and practices. It also explains that the governing authority must ensure that the school is taking the necessary steps to embed an organisational culture of child safety.

However, the regulator has not provided clear guidance to educate governing authorities on implementing each of the ministerial order requirements. This includes the types of policies that the governing authorities should ensure their schools have, their contents, and the actions to be put into practice. It also includes the type of oversight arrangements and accountability mechanisms school governing authorities may use to assure themselves that their schools are managing the risk of child abuse.

Without clear guidance on what is required to comply with the ministerial order requirements, each school's governing authority must make their own interpretations. The effectiveness of risk management strategies in schools therefore may depend on how they interpret the requirements and the experience and capabilities of their governing authorities in managing risk.

3. Essential elements of an 'appropriate' school response

The minister noted that schools may benefit from particular support and guidance on the essential elements of an 'appropriate' school response to the standards. As shown in Figure 2D, the ministerial order requires an appropriate response for 13 requirements.

Figure 2D
Ministerial order requirements for schools to take 'appropriate' actions

Ministerial order requirement number

Ministerial order requirements

7

(1)(e)

Periodically review the effectiveness of the strategies put into practice and, if considered appropriate, revise those strategies

10

(6)(a)

The school must ensure that appropriate supervision or support arrangements are in place in relation to the induction of new school staff into the school's policies, codes, practices, and procedures governing child safety and child-connected work

(6)(b)

The school must ensure that appropriate supervision or support arrangements are in place in relation to monitoring and assessing a job occupant's continuing suitability for child-connected work

(7)

The school must implement practices that enable the school governing authority to be satisfied that people engaged in child-connected work perform appropriately in relation to child safety

Explanatory note: To be 'satisfied', it is not necessary that the school governing authority make each decision about the selection and supervision of school staff engaged in child-connected work. The school governing authority needs to be satisfied about the appropriateness of the school's arrangements that would regulate or guide other people who make such decisions for or on behalf of the school about child safety matters and child-connected work

11

(3)(c)(ii)

The procedure must identify the positions of the person or people who are responsible for responding appropriately to a child who makes or is affected by an allegation of child abuse

(3)(e)(i)

The procedure must clearly describe the actions the school will take to respond to an allegation of child abuse, including actions to inform appropriate authorities about the allegation (including but not limited to mandatory reporting)

12

(5)(a)

At least annually, the school governing authority must ensure that appropriate guidance and training is provided to the individual members of the school governing authority and school staff about individual and collective obligations and responsibilities for managing the risk of child abuse

(5)(b)

At least annually, the school governing authority must ensure that appropriate guidance and training is provided to the individual members of the school governing authority and school staff about child abuse risks in the school environment

(5)(c)

At least annually, the school governing authority must ensure that appropriate guidance and training is provided to the individual members of the school governing authority and school staff about the school's current child safety standards

13

(1)(a)

The school governing authority must develop strategies to deliver appropriate education about standards of behaviour for students attending the school

(1)(b)

The school governing authority must develop strategies to deliver appropriate education about: healthy and respectful relationships (including sexuality)

(1)(c)

The school governing authority must develop strategies to deliver appropriate education about: resilience

(1)(d)

The school governing authority must develop strategies to deliver appropriate education about: child abuse awareness and prevention

Source: Ministerial order.

The regulator supplies guidance on what 'appropriate' means for only two of the 13 requirements that require an 'appropriate' response. Both requirements—3(c)(ii) and 3(e)(i)—relate to requirement 11, which outlines the school governing authority's requirement to have a clear set of procedures for responding to and reporting allegations of suspected child abuse. For both requirements, the regulator provides a resource authored by the department, which details guidance explaining allegations and how to respond appropriately to a child who makes or is affected by an allegation of child abuse.

For the remaining 11 requirements that require an 'appropriate' response, the regulator asks schools to make their own judgement about their compliance when preparing for a school compliance assessment.

Without clear guidance on the essential elements of an 'appropriate' response for all the ministerial order requirements, schools are required to individually interpret the ministerial order and make assumptions about how the regulator will determine whether their actions are sufficient.

4. Inclusiveness of strategies, policies, procedures, and practices

The minister noted that schools may benefit from guidance about ways in which their strategies, policies, procedures, and practices can be inclusive of the needs of all children, particularly students who are vulnerable due to age, family circumstances, abilities, or Indigenous, cultural, or linguistic background.

The minister noted that while the department would provide guidance on these matters, they anticipated that the regulator would play an important role in helping schools consider their students' circumstances.

Many of the department's resources on its 'protect' webpage incorporate guidance on inclusivity. The department also has a range of strategies and initiatives focused on support and inclusion for vulnerable children and children from diverse backgrounds. Due to the ministerial expectation of the regulator's leadership role in assisting schools to consider their circumstances, we have focused our assessment on the regulator's guidance.

The regulator's guidance for schools on the inclusion principles focuses on raising awareness rather than informing schools on how to apply the principles when addressing the seven child safe standards. The regulator provides such information on the principles of inclusion for children that are vulnerable due to ability, Indigenous, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. We found no evidence that the regulator provides similar information on how schools can apply the principles of inclusion for children vulnerable due to age and family circumstances.

2.3 The regulator's information sessions for schools

In the letter attached to the ministerial order, the Minister for Education states that the regulator would play an important lead role in informing and educating school system owners and leaders to understand how to implement what is required. In 2016, the minister asked the regulator to assist and support schools to prepare to achieve compliance with the new child safe standards.

While the regulator has not provided training to schools on how to comply with the ministerial order, it has presented at information sessions to raise awareness of the child safe standards requirements. During 2016, the regulator organised and presented at 12 information sessions for all schools, along with the department, CECV, and Independent Schools Victoria. The sessions provided a high-level overview of the child safe standards. The sessions also provided participants an opportunity to discuss activities on 'building a child safe culture' and 'creating a child safe school'.

As shown in Figure 2E, 30 per cent of schools attended these sessions—666 of the total 2 243 Victorian schools. While about half of independent schools attended, only 23 per cent of government schools and 41 per cent of Catholic schools attended.

Figure 2E
Attendance rates for the regulator's information sessions per sector in 2016

Sector

No of schools represented at sessions

Number of registered schools

Per cent of schools attended per sector

Government

350

1 538

23%

Catholic

204

493

41%

Independent

112

212

53%

Total

666

2 243

30%

Source: The regulator.

The regulator continues to raise awareness of the child safe standards to schools through information sessions that Independent Schools Victoria, the department and CECV arrange.

The regulator invited 465 education providers (including schools and other registered training organisations) to respond to its 2018 client stakeholder feedback survey. It found that of the 158 schools that responded, 73 per cent fully or mostly agreed that the regulator's events (including seminars, information briefings, or workshops) kept them up to date. This was an increase from 69 per cent the previous year.

Through our survey of school principals (discussed in section 2.4), 22 per cent of principals that responded stated that they have been in the role for under two years. The regulator has identified the need to continually raise awareness of the child safe standards due to the high turnover of senior leaders and the routine turnover of individuals on governing authorities.

However, the lack of access to routine training on what schools need to do to achieve compliance for all 57 ministerial order requirements compounds the lack of adequate guidance to schools.

Those schools with more stable and experienced leadership and membership on their governing authorities will be better placed to understand their obligations and manage risks to their students.

During our audit, the regulator advised that it was preparing an information pack for all new principals of Victorian schools to help them understand the regulatory context for the minimum standards.

2.4 Schools' understanding of their compliance obligations

As detailed in Appendix D, we conducted a survey of school principals to seek their views on the guidance available to them.

Principals who responded to our survey questions were positive about the clarity of the available guidance on the child safe standards and ministerial order requirements. However, of the principals who responded to our open-ended questions about how the guidelines could be improved, some highlighted challenges with the guidelines that they face.

As discussed in Part 3, the regulator has found that around 30 per cent of schools do not comply with all the requirements. This non-compliance rate raises uncertainty about principals' understanding of the requirements.

Responses on available guidance

We asked school principals about where they source their guidance from. As shown in Figure 2F, respondents sourced their guidance from the regulator's and department's websites, and from their system administrators. For example, 97 per cent of Catholic school respondents sourced their guidance from CECV, 88 per cent from the regulator and 76 per cent from the department. For government school respondents, 95 per cent sourced their guidance from the department, while 85 per cent sourced it from the regulator. Almost all independent school respondents (99 per cent) sourced guidance from the regulator.

Respondents from all sectors also obtained their guidance from other sources that we were not able to identify.

Figure 2F
Percentage breakdown of where respondents sourced guidance per sector

School sector

Independent

Catholic

Government

Guidance source

The regulator

99%

88%

85%

The department

51%

76%

95%

CECV

7%

97%

6%

Other

38%

21%

9%

Source: VAGO survey of school principals regarding the child safe standards.

We asked school principals about the available guidance and whether it clearly explains what schools must do to comply with the seven standards.

As shown in Figure 2G, the large majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the available guidance material clearly explains what schools must do to comply with the child safe standards and each of the ministerial order requirements. Respondents reported that the guidance provided greatest clarity in relation to standard 5—procedures for responding to and reporting suspected child abuse—with 94 per cent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing. The guidance that provided the least clarity was related to standard 7—strategies to promote child participation and empowerment—with 78 per cent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that guidance clearly explained what schools must do to comply.

Figure 2G
Respondent views on whether guidance material clearly explains what schools must do to comply

Respondent views on whether guidance material clearly explains what schools must do to comply

Source: VAGO survey of school principals regarding the child safe standards.

We also asked principals about their schools' clarity on what evidence is required to demonstrate compliance with the child safe standards and ministerial order requirements.

As shown in Figure 2H, the majority of survey respondents believed they had clarity on the evidence required for schools to demonstrate compliance with the standards and ministerial order requirements. As in the findings on guidance material, respondents had most clarity on standard 5—procedures for responding to and reporting suspected child abuse—with 92 per cent of respondents strongly agreeing or agreeing. Respondents had least clarity on standard 7—strategies to promote child empowerment and participation—with 80 per cent strongly agreeing or agreeing that they were clear on what evidence was required for their school to demonstrate compliance with this standard.

Figure 2H
Respondent views on clarity of what evidence is required to demonstrate compliance

Respondent views on clarity of what evidence is required to demonstrate compliance

Source: VAGO survey of school principals regarding the child safe standards.

Responses on training

We asked school principals whether they received training on how to comply with the child safe standards and ministerial order requirements and to identify where from. Despite the regulator not establishing a training program, almost 35 per cent of respondents reported that they received training from the department, and 18 per cent from the regulator and CECV each, as shown in Figure 2I. Some 33 per cent of respondents reported they had received no training from either the regulator, department or CECV, and 14 per cent had sourced training elsewhere.

Figure 2I
Percentage breakdown of uptake of training

Percentage breakdown of uptake of training

Source: VAGO survey of school principals regarding the child safe standards.

Responses on compliance regulation

We asked principals whether their school had been identified as non-compliant in any of the ministerial order requirements since they came into effect. Over 80 per cent of respondents in each sector reported they had been compliant, as shown in Figure 2J.

Figure 2J
Respondent views on whether their school had been identified as non-compliant since the ministerial order came into effect

Respondent views on whether their school had been identified as non-compliant since the ministerial order came into effect

Source: VAGO survey of school principals regarding the child safe standards.

We also asked whether schools had been assessed since the standards were introduced, excluding any self-assessments. Not all school principals that responded believed that they had been assessed yet, and around 10 per cent were not sure, as shown in Figure 2K. We note that due to the frequency of reviews, it is likely some schools will not have been assessed yet.

Figure 2K
Respondent understanding of whether their school had been assessed for compliance with the child safe standards since they were introduced

Respondent understanding of whether their school had been assessed for compliance with the child safe standards since they were introduced

Source: VAGO survey of school principals regarding the child safe standards.

Open-text responses

We invited respondents to provide open-text responses on how the documented guidance material could better help them understand how to comply with the child safe standards and ministerial order requirements. We received 673 responses, which highlighted challenges that principals faced, as outlined in Figure 2L.

Figure 2L
Challenges identified by school principals who responded to our open-text question

Challenge

Number of open-text responses

Need for templates to reduce administrative burden

76

Need for simplified guidance

45

Lack of a single portal for up-to-date, relevant material

27

Significant investment in time trying to understand what is required

16

Need for clarity on what schools must do to comply

11

Limited availability of guidance materials when the standards were first introduced

10

Lack of clarity on the role of government school councils

9

Need for guidance on measuring and embedding child safe cultures

7

Source: VAGO survey of school principals regarding the child safe standards.

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