New VRQA Guidelines from 1 July 2019: Top 5 for Independent & Catholic Schools

New Guidelines will come into force on 1 July 2019 in respect of every School registered in Victoria. 

These set out the new evidence requirements under each Minimum Standard and set out detailed hoops for schools to jump through.

The focus is increased student welfare and outcomes, and more transparency for boards and management.

Whilst some existing requirements have been removed, many requirements are new and specific.

Here are our Top 5:

1. Transparency – Online publication of enrolment agreements

This is a new requirement. The guideline requires the enrolment agreement to be publicly available and include specific clauses, including fees and codes of conduct.

In my experience, many enrolment agreements do not contain these items. Many also contain potentially discriminatory content and (wrongly) form part of enrolment applications.

Unfortunately, the guideline requirement is named “enrolment policy”, but requires publication of the “enrolment agreement”.  These are not the same, and should not be in the same document.

If you have not already separated your enrolment documents into the best practice Moores Enrolment Trifecta, now is the time. 

2. More Scrutiny regarding services to students with a disability

One new requirement is that the school must show evidence that, in respect of lands and buildings, reasonable adjustments have been made. This, along with the new requirements to demonstrate how a school “enacts its philosophy”, suggest that the area of discrimination will be scrutinised. Schools are also advised, in light of the focus on enrolment documentation, to check their enrolment policy is consistent with legal requirements regarding discrimination, including reasonable adjustments. Many schools believe they can rely on exemptions in legislation. These are typically much narrower than is widely believed.

3. Student Behaviour Management and Procedural Fairness

From 1 July 2019, grievance procedures will need to include a statement as to how the school manages “procedural fairness”. Note that policies are required here, as is a statement of the school’s approach to behaviour management. Please also review your parent code of conduct. You will need to include this in the enrolment agreement to be published online. If it does not include procedural fairness, or is used as a “stick” when it is not binding on parents, this will be non-compliant. I’ve seen many parent codes of conduct, and many which are introduced and managed badly. They can be enforced, and can be extremely useful, but need to be correct and compliant.

4. Not for Profit Purpose and Governance

As discussed at many an education law conference last year, and on my school board, new guidelines have been introduced regarding board transparency and relationships with third parties. The VRQA requires, for example, board delegations of authority, and a conflict of interest register, but the largest compliance requirement relates to third party arrangements. Copies of a range of funding and other contracts are required in order to ensure there are no “prohibited arrangements” – ie school funds being applied for purposes not related to the school. Whilst “uncommercial” and “mates” deals are a focus here, religious schools in particular need to carefully consider financial and other relationships with faith bodies which may form part of the school’s community.

5. Overseas Students

The significant evidence requirements relating to international students (including prescribed documents and training) remain in place. These do not form part of these guidelines, but are in separate documentation, including a specific evidence guide and evidence portfolio.

If you are not already familiar with these, it’s important to become familiar as you review these new guidelines. You are probably expected to publish your international student enrolment agreement online, as part of these new requirements. This, therefore, must also be up-to-date. We have Moores guides on these international student requirements.

Please contact Cecelia Irvine-So below if you would like a copy or for more information regarding the new guidelines.

At Moores, we work extensively with schools in the independent and Catholic sectors. If you have any queries about these guidelines, or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.