Safe Schools Compromised

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21 March 2016

The Turnbull Government’s changes to the Safe Schools anti-bullying program will remove educators’ control over how the program is used, and could make it harder for schools to support LGBTI students.

Pressure from right-wing members of the Coalition, who have been running a campaign of misinformation against the program, led first to an independent Review and then to Education Minister Simon Birmingham last Friday announcing a string of restrictions on the program.

Minister Birmingham announced he would remove some content from the Safe Schools program and only allow schools to use it if they had permission from their parent bodies, such as P&Cs.

The Safe Schools program was started in 2014 and has been used in schools across Australia without incident to educate students about sexuality and create a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that Safe Schools had been successful in helping schools reduce bullying and become more welcoming of LGBTI students.

“All students deserve to be educated in a safe environment that is free from prejudice and abuse, regardless of their sexuality. Safe Schools is a vital program which is saving lives in schools.”

“Educators are using this material in ways that are appropriate for their students, and we need to trust them to handle these issues.

“Schools should not be required to get parent body consent before running the Safe Schools program. Educators should be able to make the decision based on their own expertise and knowledge of their schools.

“The Government’s own review of Safe Schools has found that its lesson plans were “suitable, educationally sound and age-appropriate” so why should educators require consent from parent bodies before teaching them?

“This is an unreasonable interference in the professional judgment of educators.”

The changes will also restrict Safe Schools to secondary schools and allow parents to remove their children from the program.

Safe Schools has always been a voluntary program and schools retain discretion over which of its materials they use.

Research shows that a majority of LGBTI students experience bullying at school, and many suffer long-term effects as a result.

The AEU will continue to support Safe Schools because it recognises the importance of ensuring all students feel safe at school.

On the positive side, funding for Safe Schools will be maintained next year as planned, but there is still no long-term certainty about the future of the program.

The Victorian Government has said it will continue its support of the program, promising it will replace any lost federal government funding so the program can continue.