(Debate, 11 October 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Education and Teaching Legislation Amendment Bill restructures the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards into a new body which will be known as the NSW Education Standards Authority.
This is important because the board of studies provides an essential function in terms of protecting children from discrimination that must continue after the change.
In 2013, I introduced a bill to remove exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 that allow private schools to discriminate against students on the grounds of sex, transgender, marital or domestic status, disability and homosexuality.
The exemptions enabled a private school in this state to expel a student or treat them differently including in ways that disadvantage their education just for being gay, lesbian, transgender, a teen mum, or having a disability. Even the threat of expulsion and discrimination has a negative impact on what are often vulnerable students and their learning and development.
When I introduced the bill, I told the house of a number of cases of discrimination against private school students which I will recount.
One student told me about being openly gay in years 11 and 12 at an Anglican college in 2008 and 2009. He says he was regularly sent to the counsellor’s office for being ‘‘sick’’ because he was gay. He says he often came home from school and locked himself in his room to cry.
Another student, a lesbian teen from a Catholic Marist college, told me her English teacher told her she was disgusting and a disgrace to the school and the Catholic religion. The student was taken to the coordinator’s office and told she was “skating on thin ice” and might not be let into senior school.
Another private school student reported to me that his school found out he was gay six weeks before the H.S.C. and told him at a meeting with his mother that he could not talk about his sexuality, he would need to see a counsellor and he would be excluded from school events.
These stories appalled the community and there was widespread agreement that something needed to be done. While the Greens and Labor agreed to support my bill, the government instead asked the board of studies to investigate complaints by LGBTI and other vulnerable students and potentially deregister any school not providing a safe and inclusive education environment for all students.
I raise this issue in response to the bill because the new NSW Education Standards Authority must continue this role of investigating complaints about discrimination against vulnerable students, and must deregister schools that refuse to address concerns about discrimination, harassment and bullying.
I note that the bill provides the authority with inspectors and enables the minister to impose conditions of registration with the power to revoke registration due to non-compliance.
All students must have access to a safe and inclusive learning environment free from discrimination regardless of their sex; LGBTI, marital or domestic status; or if they have a disability.
I ask the minister to ensure this is part of the new authority’s role and to address this important matter in his reply.
Go to Hansard for full record of debate HERE.