Where is the Line – Child Safety and the School Environment

It is common for schools to enter into agreements and arrangements with third party hirers to lease or manage certain parts of the school campus (e.g. performing arts centres, sports grounds next to school campus, swimming pools).

The difficulty schools face is when that third party utilises the campus space during or before / after school hours. It may be unclear for the school to know when its child safety obligations are enlivened and what due diligence needs to be taken.

Child Safety in the school environment

All Victorian primary and secondary schools must comply with Ministerial Order No. 870 – Child Safe Standards – Managing the risk of child abuse in schools (the Order) in order to be registered and remain registered with the VRQA.

To comply with the Order, the school’s governing authorities (Principal, Board of Directors, School Council etc.) need to ensure the school meets the 7 minimum Child Safe Standards.

Under the Order, the definition of ‘school environment’ is broad and includes:

Any physical or virtual place made available or authorised by the school governing authority for use by a child during or outside school hours including:

  • a campus of the school;
  • online school environments; or
  • other locations provided by the school for a child’s use (including, without limitation, locations used for school camps, sporting events, excursions, competitions or other events).

Compliance can become difficult when third party hirers have staff who engage directly with students during or outside of school hours (i.e. sports lessons) in circumstances where the service is provided on campus, or in a separate / isolated facility on the school campus, but which may not be directly authorised by the school (i.e. the student’s caregiver pays for sports lessons directly to the provider).

Schools will need to make an assessment as to:

  • whether the location of the activity is part of the ‘school environment’ for the purposes of the Order; and
  • when / at what times does the location becomes part of the ‘school environment’.

Why is this important?

If a school has a third party hirer providing services to its students which falls within the ‘school environment’ it may be that those external staff are, at certain times:

  • considered to be engaged in ‘child connected work’; and/or
  • are ‘school staff’,

for the purposes of the Order.

This may impact a school’s:

  • strategies, which are needed to embed an organisational culture of child safety and identify, reduce or remove risks of child abuse within the school environment;
  • child safety materials (policies, procedures and codes of conduct); and
  • screening, supervision, training and other human resources practices.

How we can help

Moores has experience working with schools to create child safe practices including within leases, facility hire and services agreements. If you would like to discuss this article with us further, or learn more about our services, please do not hesitate to contact us.