From 18 June 2021, new minimum standards for boarding premises come into effect in Victoria. They have broad application beyond the traditional boarding house, and include a number of core school offerings including outdoor education sites, day boarding and some homestay arrangements.
The new regulations require schools and other organisations that either own school boarding premises or provide school boarding services to meet new minimum standards.
The application of the new minimum standards is broad. The regime captures ‘premises’, not organisations. Regardless of who owns or runs the boarding ‘premises’, there is a requirement to be registered and comply.
The guidelines to the minimum standards informs schools with existing boarding houses whether there is sufficient alignment with existing policies and procedures to satisfy the new minimum standards.
There is only moderate alignment between the requirement for an Acceptance Agreement and existing policies and procedures. Schools may either adapt their existing policies and procedures to address the new requirement for their boarding premises or may choose to develop a stand-alone Acceptance Agreement.
What is an Acceptance Agreement?
The Acceptance Agreement is a written acceptance agreement with parents or guardians which complies with all State and Commonwealth laws, including the Australian Consumer Law. The agreement must be publicly available and cover, at a minimum:
- codes of conduct for students, and parents and guardians;
- boarding services and facilities provided, for example linens or a computer;
- fees, with a clear explanation of the service(s) that fees are payable for and other incidental fees that may become payable; and
- the grounds on which the agreement may be terminated by the provider or the student.
Clear policies and procedures regarding who is eligible for acceptance as a boarding student are also required.
Some of the matters required in the Acceptance Agreement will already be addressed by other policies. But have you considered the following:
- Does your boarding house have a COVID-19 safety plan?
- How do you cater for the emotional wellbeing of students living away from home during a pandemic?
- How clearly are the facilities that are provided described?
- What services are not provided? For example, who takes the children to the hospital when they need immediate care and there are lengthy waits for an ambulance? Is this an expense covered by the boarding house fees, or is it an additional expense?
- Are the methods of termination clearly stated?
Many of these matters are specific to the boarding house and a stand-alone Acceptance Agreement is recommended as best practice.
The new minimum standards are in effect now. The deeming period expires on 18 September. Existing school boarding premises have until 18 September to complete their assessment and statutory declaration in relation to the new registration requirements.
How we can help
The Acceptance Agreement is an integral part of complying with the new minimum standards.
Due to Moores having extensive experience in education governance and regulation, as well as child safety we can help navigate this new area of governance for your school.
Please do not hesitate to contact us.