21 November 2013
Question Without Notice, 13 November 2013, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament - See more at: http://www.alexgreenwich.com/mature_age_workers#sthash.ttc4TW74.dp
(Question Without Notice, 20 November 2013, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
My question is to the Minister for Education. Given that around 30 per cent of gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers attempt suicide each year and that gay, lesbian and transgender students in private schools in New South Wales do not have access to the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales if they are discriminated against, how will the Minister protect these students from discrimination?
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI: I thank the member for Sydney for his question on this important issue. I acknowledge the member for Sydney, the member for Coogee and other members of this House who care deeply about the welfare of all students, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex. I have read the member for Sydney's second reading speech on his private member's bill regarding this topic. No-one could read the students' accounts of their experiences at school and not be moved and concerned. Bullying, harassment, vilification, discriminatory language and a lack of support for any student or group of students have no place in twenty-first Australia. I know that the leaders of government and non-government schools agree wholeheartedly with that statement. However, the member has raised serious questions and, as a result, the New South Wales Government asked the Board of Studies, as the body that registers non-government schools, as to how it ensures the welfare of students in those schools across the State. I seek leave to table a copy of the advice supplied by the President of the Board of Studies.
Student welfare in non-government schools is addressed in the requirements for the registration of non-government schools in section 47 (g) of the Education Act 1990, which states that non-government schools must provide a safe and supportive environment for their students. The criteria are expressed as a series of detailed requirements, with descriptions of the evidence of compliance required in relation to each. The Board of Studies describes a supportive environment as one in which: students are treated with respect and fairness by teachers, other staff and students; members of the community feel valued; positive support and encouragement are provided by members of staff and students; and non-discriminatory language and behavioural practices are defined, modelled and reinforced by members of the school community.
Further, student welfare encompasses the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of the student. Student welfare policies and programs are essential for developing a sense of worth and fostering personal development. Student welfare policies and procedures include programs that the school provides to meet the personal, social and learning needs of the student; early intervention for students at risk; and student, family and community support networks. Schools must provide evidence of compliance with these requirements in a variety of ways, including codes of conduct for members of the school community which make specific reference to rights and responsibilities of students and staff and anti-bullying. The board advises me:
- The Board's requirements cover student welfare for all students including Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex students. If the Board received a complaint in relation to an individual school student's welfare policies not being applied to a particular student or group of students, the Board would investigate the complaint. Complaints in relation to concerns about a school's compliance with the requirements for registration are reported to the Board's Registration and Accreditation Committee and one of that Committee's responsibilities is to review and endorse the findings of any ensuing investigation and any remedial action that may be required.
I assure members that the Board of Studies is broadly representative of all key stakeholders in the education sector and the wider community. It attaches paramount importance to the welfare of students. The board includes representatives from the Independent Education Union, the Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, the Catholic Education Commission, public school principals associations, the New South Wales Teachers Federation, the Association of Independent Schools and others. The New South Wales Government has every confidence in the board and its charter to investigate matters of student welfare. I can inform the House that the board is currently investigating a number of separate and distinct non-government school registration matters with due diligence, fairness, systemic care and scrutiny. I note that the member for Sydney has said in this House that his bill is straightforward and designed simply to project students. [Extension of time granted.]
The Government and I imagine all schools across the State want to ensure the protection of vulnerable students. I urge anyone who has concerns about a school's welfare policy to bring it to the attention of the board or the department where it will be fully investigated. I thank the member for Sydney for bringing this serious matter to the attention of Parliament. He has engaged in a good and thorough consultative process. I hope the airing of this issue in Parliament will draw people's attention to the board's requirement and the opportunity that students and parents have to raise complaints. Bullying, harassment, vilification, discriminatory language and a lack of support for any student or group of students has no place in New South Wales schools. I know all members echo these sentiments.