2021 in education: a recap

What an ‘unprecedented’ year! Haven’t we heard that a few times?

While we initially thought 2020 brought all the challenges, 2021 has thrown the education sector its fair share also. As Term 4 draws to an end, we would like to reflect and congratulate schools on all they have handled in 2021. This reflection might also be a handy checklist for you, given the amount of work you have done this year.

A visual timeline of commercial, legal and regulatory considerations for schools in 2021:

Child Information Sharing Scheme

Schools were captured by the Child Information Sharing Scheme (CISS) from 19 April 2021. This means schools have an obligation to respond to information requests made under the CISS and schools can:

  1. Share information proactively to other ISEs
  2. Make a request for information; and
  3. Share information in response to a request from another ISE.

Diversity in schools for pride month

This year we saw a big push to support diversity in schools. Schools can support diversity in many different areas, including bathrooms, uniform and events. When planning your return to school in Term 4 and for 2022, the planning process is an opportunity to imbue your school community with a refreshed commitment to supporting diversity.

From February 2022, practices seeking to change or supress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, known as conversion practices, will be banned in Victoria.

This builds on the prohibition in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) against schools engaging in direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Reforms to parent-principal relationships and powers

One reform to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) that may have been overshadowed by necessary responses to the pandemic is an increase in powers for principals to remove or refuse entry to parents who pose an unacceptable risk of harm to another person, or to parents who cause significant disruption or interfere with the wellbeing, safety or educational opportunities of students.

We explain the details of these new powers for principals in our article Education amendments significantly alter relationship between parents and teaching staff.

New Guidelines to the Minimum Standards on 1 July

The New Guidelines required schools operating an Early Learning Centre (ELC) to amend their governing document; a constitution, rules or trust deed. This prompted many schools to review and refresh their constitution for other reasons, such as:

  1. Compliance with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC);
  2. Including the ACNC Governance Standards; and
  3. Making it more clear, using plain language and introducing technology or COVID-19 clauses for digital meetings.

We have more information about updating your constitution or rules here.

Other key areas in the new Guidelines included a strengthening of not-for-profit requirements, and the new requirement for annual staff training on the offence of grooming.

Budget crunches: fee reductions, salary increases

Balancing competing concerns may have made budgets particularly unwieldy or tight this year. Key areas we identified that schools need to be across when planning for 2022 are:

  1. Employee salaries:
  • The need to continue to meet salaries provided by the state government.
  • The effect of freezes on salaries in 2020.
  • Amendments or negotiations of new enterprise bargaining agreements.
  1. Tuition fees
  • The effect of caps or refunds in 2020 due to remote teaching.
  • Increasing numbers of parents on payment plans.
  • Increased demand for scholarships.
  1. Insurance
  • Reviewing policies for COVID-19 clauses, for example for travel.

Continued remote learning and the mental health dimension

Continued lockdowns shine a light on mental health issues for students. Students that are particularly impacted are secondary students and those who identify as LGBTIQA+, data shows.

Our article on how schools can support students after self-harm or suicide attempts discusses the role of the duty of care in the area of mental health. Tools that can help a school meet this duty of care for students struggling with mental health are:

  1. Safety management plan.
  2. Return to school plan.

Watch this space for more Moores training for schools in this area.

Boarding house Minimum Standards

From 18 June 2021, new minimum standards for boarding premises came into effect in Victoria. The VRQA then published guidelines for these new standards. Schools were given until 18 September 2021 to complete a deeming process for existing boarding schools to maintain compliance, or work toward compliance with the help of the VRQA. A key reform is the requirements for your Boarding House Acceptance Agreement.

New Child Safe Standards

Amendments to the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 (Vic) were passed in June 2021.

The amendments will replace the current 7 Child Safe Standards enforced by the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) with 11 Child Safe Standards.

Importantly for schools, Ministerial Order 870 will also be updated to reflect these new Child Safe Standards. School boards will need to ensure that the school’s documents and processes are updated by mid-year, and that staff and volunteers are trained on the new standards before they come into effect.

Our article on the New Child Safe Standards in Victoria provides further details about the effect of the new standards. For further information, the CCYP has also published an Information Sheet on the new standards and resources about What’s New and What’s Changing.

Under the amendments, the CCYP’s functions and powers will also be broadened, enabling it to:

  • publish guidance notes for sector regulators;
  • collect, analyse and publish information in relation to the Child Safe Standards; and
  • exchange information in relation to child safety and compliance with the Child Safe Standards with sector regulators.

The new Child Safe Standards will commence on 1 July 2022 and we expect further guidance to emerge in the new year.

How we can help

If you would like assistance with any other these topics for your school, our various linked articles can provide a starting point. Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.