Federation is calling on NSW Premier Mike Baird and Education Minister Adrian Piccoli to follow the lead of the Victorian and ACT governments and fund the Safe Schools program in order to preserve the full program for students in NSW.
This follows the federal government’s decision to severely restrict the content and delivery of the anti-bullying program, which it has funded since 2014. Mr Baird last Tuesday said the federal government’s move was “sensible and reasonable” and suggested school counsellors be involved in LBGTIQ care issues.
The Turnbull Government’s recent announcements in relation to the program go far beyond the findings and recommendations of the review of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia program. The government is capitulating to the extreme right wing of the government and failing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) students, teachers and their families.
General findings of the review of the program’s resources were that the official resources are consistent with the intent and objectives of the program in that they aim to reduce homophobic and transphobic behaviour and intersex prejudice, and increase support for same sex-attracted and gender-diverse students.
The review found the teaching resources to be educationally sound, appropriate for age, and aligned to the Australian Curriculum, but that the resources created for young people were most appropriate for older students.
In response, the federal government has chosen to limit the distribution of the program to secondary schools only. Additionally, the resources for young people will be more difficult to access as they will only be available through “key qualified staff”.
Federation recognises that teachers and principals are the most qualified, experienced and best placed people to determine the teaching resources that will best support their students’ learning experiences, whether that is to address academic outcomes or achievement of values and attitudes within their units of learning. This concept was reiterated in the review, when it stated: “Teachers could reasonably be expected to make up their own minds about whether the activity was appropriate for their class.” The government nevertheless seeks to dictate to schools how to teach content on supporting some of our most vulnerable young people.
The review also considered the adequacy of parental consultation about the use of Safe Schools Coalition resources and found that this was appropriate. The review findings suggested, however, that guidelines could be developed to outline expectations for parent consultation, and additional guidance for parents of LGBTIQ students should be considered.
The government has used this finding to justify further restricting student access to the program, announcing a requirement for parent bodies to agree to school participation in the program and parental consent for student participation in program lessons.
This is in direct contrast to current practice whereby the school has a responsibility to inform parents, prior to the occasion, of the specific details of a program so that parents have time to exercise their rights of withdrawing their child from a particular session they might find controversial. The policy change represents an unprecedented move to give parents the power of veto over teachers’ professional judgement and choice of suitable curriculum materials. Federation utterly rejects and condemns any move to override teacher professionalism in determining what resources best meet the needs of their students.
The requirement for parental consent to student participation also makes significant assumptions about the relationships of students and their parents and undermines the elements of the program that are intended to help students come out to family and friends. The federal government’s move not only restricts access to the program but potentially jeopardises the wellbeing of young people who are struggling to deal with issues of sexuality.
To protect young people from bullying and harassment, the NSW government must commit to funding the full Safe Schools program.
Maurie Mulheron is Federation President and Mel Smith is the Officer attached to the LQBTIQ Restricted Committee.
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