Ending Discrimination in Private Schools: Discussion Paper
- Current situation in New South Wales schools
- Discrimination has serious ramifications
- Don’t students and parents sign up to the rules of a school?
- The Bill
- What happens now?
Current situation in New South Wales schools
Australia is a country that promotes tolerance, acceptance and equal opportunity. We recognise the special vulnerability of children and young people.
So it is vital that all students are treated fairly and given the same opportunities regardless of their background, family make-up, sexuality or personal characteristics.
The December 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians agreed to by all Australian Education Ministers has as its first goal that Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence. It requires all Australian governments and all school sectors to provide all students with access to high-quality schooling free from discrimination based on gender, language, sexual orientation, pregnancy, culture, ethnicity, religion, health or disability, socioeconomic background or geographic location.
In New South Wales these principles are enshrined in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 which makes it unlawful to expel, refuse to enrol, limit access to benefits provided by a school, or subject a student to any other detriment based on certain grounds of discrimination. These grounds are race, sex, transgender, marital or domestic status, disability and homosexuality.
However, on all grounds but race, there are exemptions for private schools and other private education institutions, allowing private schools to discriminate or condone discrimination against students in ways that are unlawful for public schools.
For example, students at private schools can legally be refused enrolment if they have a disability, they can be expelled or pressured in to leaving if they are pregnant, or they can be singled out with no assistance against bullying if they are gay. While some schools choose not to allow this discrimination, there is limited legal protection if they do.
Private education institutions including universities, colleges and specialty schools like business schools are also subject to the exemptions. These institutions can also deny entry to or kick out students who are gay/lesbian, transgender, single, too old, or pregnant, or refuse to teach them something in particular such as a medical procedure because of a characteristic.
Students from private schools who suffer from discrimination on these grounds cannot go to the Anti-Discrimination Board.
Discrimination has serious ramifications
School is a vital part of development and should not be a place where children and young people are subject to discrimination, unfair treatment and left exposed to abuse or bullying.
Discrimination at a school can involve being treated unfairly in comparison to other students. It can involve being singled out and targeted, being coerced to leave, or having authorities turn a blind eye to or tolerate bullying or harassment.
Falling victim to discrimination from a child’s school impacts on their self-confidence and worth, and can seriously disrupt their education. It also legitimises vilification and harassment by other students in and outside the playground.
Students suffering from bullying by their peers because of their LGBTI status are less likely to report the matter to teachers if they know they could be expelled. A school that can by law discriminate is less likely to have processes in place to deal with this type of bullying if it is reported.
Girls who become pregnant at school are less likely to graduate, more likely to become welfare dependent and socially and economically disadvantaged, and more likely to end up in an abusive relationship. It is not in their best interests to be expelled or pressured to leave.
The exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act make students of private schools more vulnerable than students of public school and expose them to wider violence and abuse.
Don’t students and parents sign up to the rules of a school?
Australia should not condone discrimination against children.
While parents may choose their child’s school, the State should protect children from discrimination regardless of which school they choose.
Parents who send their children to private schools should not be seen to condone discrimination. There are many reasons why parents choose a private school over a public school including proximity to home, academic record, discipline, and attendance by other family members.
A 2004 Newspoll survey of 650 randomly selected adults in New South Wales and Victoria for the Australia Institute found 89 per cent disagreed that private schools should be able to expel a student for being gay, with 76 per cent strongly disagreeing. The survey found no difference between parents of students in private schools and parents of students in public schools.
Parents may not know when they enrol their child that later down the track their child will come out as lesbian/gay, become pregnant, or have a disability. All parents want a compassionate and supportive school environment for children.
Students who are not subject to discrimination themselves should not be forced to learn in an environment that condones discrimination against their peers.
The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013 will make private schools and private education institutions subject to the same laws that make discrimination unlawful in public schools.
Each section for each ground of discrimination, namely sex (includes pregnancy), transgender, marital or domestic status, homosexuality, age and disability, currently includes a subsection that exempts private schools and private education institutions. The bill would remove these exemptions.
Private education institutions include private universities, colleges and specialty schools like business schools.
Like public schools, private schools would still be able to retain single sex schools, and specify age where the level of education is provided only for students above a particular age.
As with public schools, private schools would still be able to refuse to enrol a student with a disability if, after considering all possibilities, the enrolment would create unjustifiable hardship to the school, staff and/or students over and above any benefit the enrolling student would experience.
Students in private schools should not be treated any less favourably than students in public schools.
What happens now?
Notice of motion to introduce the bill was given on the 28th of August, the bill was set to be tabled and introduced in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly on 29 August.
I am taking submissions on the bill before initiating debate to determine public support, review relevant research and studies and assess whether amendments are needed.
Submissions should be made to:
02 9331 6963
58 Oxford Street Paddington NSW 2021
Submissions should be received no later than Monday 30 September 2013.
Click HERE to view the Bill.