A circuit-breaking power that allows a child to be moved to a different school for the safety of others is among a raft of changes to education legislation that came into effect in South Australia on 1 July.
The new Education and Children’s Services Act 2019, which replaces the Education Act 1972 and Children’s Services Act 1985, is designed to deliver safer learning environments, more protection for staff, stronger school attendance incentives and greater student support.
“We have delivered the most significant changes to education legislation in a generation, bringing the laws that govern our schools and early childhood facilities into line with community expectations,” said Education Minister John Gardner.
“We have put child and educator safety at the heart of these changes and have introduced a number of support measures which will allow schools and early years providers to get on with the business of teaching and learning.
As well as allowing students responsible for chronic bullying and serious assaults to be moved to a different school, Mr Gardner said it makes it easier for schools and agencies to share information so they can support the safety and wellbeing of students.
“Tougher penalties have been introduced for those who abuse or threaten teachers, principals, preschool directors and other staff, as well as increased penalties for chronic and persistent non-attendance,” he said.
“The commencement of the Act is a significant milestone that supports our vision for delivering a world class education system in South Australia.”
Key changes introduced by the Act include:
Safe learning environments
- The creation of a circuit-breaking power that means a child can be moved to a different school for the health, safety and welfare of them or other students and staff in response to severe bullying or a serious assault.
- New tough penalties for parents / carers who allow a child to be absent from school without reasonable excuse – maximum fine increased from $500 to $5000.
- Parents / carers are legally obliged to take all reasonable steps to ensure their child’s attendance, making it easier to prosecute offences.
- The introduction of family conferences to support families to make voluntary arrangements to address chronic non-attendance.
- Parents/ carers are required by law to provide a reason for a child’s absence within 5 days.
- Increasing the penalty for parents / carers who don’t enrol their child in school or an approved learning program – up from $500 to $5000.
- The introduction of tougher penalties against those who use abusive, threatening or insulting language or behave in an offensive or threatening manner to school staff – maximum fine $2500.
- All schools, preschools and children’s centres can bar individuals for bad behaviour.
- Maximum fine for breaching a barring order will be lifted from $200 to $2500.
- Principals are required to give notice to parents / carers of a religious activity so they can make informed decisions about their child’s involvement.
- Regulations supporting the new Act deliver on the Government’s commitment to make engagement in these activities an opt-out choice for parents, rather than the opt-in mechanism favoured by the former Government.
- Children who don’t participate will be offered an appropriate alternative activity and not suffer any detriment for not participating.
- The Act explicitly confirms that Christmas Carols are an appropriate activity to take place in public schools.
- Enhanced information sharing provisions to ensure the education, health, safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child to support their education journey.
- The Education Department will be able to require parents / carers to provide information, including medical and other details about a child, to help a school or preschool cater to their needs.
- Principals will have the right to request reports from a child’s previous school or preschool to support the education, safety and wellbeing of the student and others.
- The department will be also able to offer special remuneration to attract and retain highly skilled school and preschool leaders and teachers.