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Victoria’s public schools will be forced to allow their female students to wear shorts or pants instead of dresses and skirts, following changes from the state government.
Secondary students in schools across Victoria will soon receive instruction to look for signs they are being groomed for sex, with recently released figures revealing 258 suspected cases of sexual abuse in the state in 2015.
The Age reports that new guidelines, published by the Education Department, will warn students of the signs that someone is grooming them, saying a perpetrator could be ‘someone who you like and trust’.
Behaviour that could constitute grooming, the resource states, may include gift giving in the form of phone credit, money, clothes or even added attention.
The resource also covers online grooming, with reference to the sending of sexually explicit images or the soliciting of such images online.
The number of sexual abuse cases reported by schools in Victoria has almost doubled since 2006, growing from 132 to 258 last year, with cases ranging from the use of sexualised language to allegations of abuse.
Education Minister James Merlino said the resource is intended to “help parents, school staff and students to identify, prevent and respond to child abuse”.
The new resources are designed to help schools adopt Child Safe Standards, which were introduced in response to an inquiry into child abuse earlier this year.
The President of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Judy Crowe has said Child Safe Standards will increase the administrative burden on schools, but that it’s nonetheless critical for schools to be aware of these requirements.
“We need to make sure that the people working in our schools aren’t overly burdened by these requirements, and that this doesn’t detract from their ability to get on with their core business,” she said.
The payment guidelines for Victoria’s public school system has been revised based on findings that some parents may have been overcharged by some schools.
An internal government review, commissioned by the Department of Education and conducted by PTR Consulting, found some schools were charging for some things that should have been free, while others didn’t have hardship policies for struggling parents.
The review also revealed the education department had received 705 complaints by parents relating to school payments over an eight-month period.
According to ABC News, Education Minister James Merlino described the new guidelines as bringing ‘clarity and consistency’ to what schools could charge for.
“What we found is that schools had been applying the parent payment policy inconsistently,” he said. “Schools have been informed of the new policy and the new policy will be enforced.”
This inconsistency is further highlighted by an analysis of MySchool data, as undertaken by Fairfax Media, which found some schools charging as much as $3243 per student over the course of 2014.
In contrast, schools in economically worse-off areas were found to be charging as little as $92 – the result of hardship policies implemented to ensure children are not disadvantaged regardless of their parents’ ability to pay fees.
See more on the new parent payment policies, and the review document, via the Department of Education website.
The anti-violence education program, Respectful Relationships is generating concerns that it may introduce sexualised content to children too young to be exposed to it.
The program, which was initially designed for high school students is expected to be extended to primary classes in Victoria has part of an ongoing push to stamp out domestic violence.
It has since been reported that children as young as 12 would be taught about the objectification of women in the media by displaying ‘raunchy music videos’ and ‘explicit advertising’, creating concerns for parents regarding the trend towards the hypersexualisation of children.
The issue was first raised by State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy last week, who said he wanted his kids “to be kids”.
“I want them to act like kids, I want them to think like kids,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino defended the program, saying that its continued roll out comes in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and justifying the position by highlighting the access young children already have to sexualised content.
He said the program for younger children would be specifically developed.
“If we really want to tackle this scourge, and tackle it over a generation, then we need to engage with our kids at school,” he told 3AW. “We can’t as a society, stick our heads in the sand and think our kids aren’t exposed to this.”
He also said that teachers will have the freedom to exercise professional judgement in selecting the specific examples they use to teach the children.