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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The National Safe Schools Framework

The National Safe Schools Framework has recently been released by the Student Learning and Support Services Taskforce of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA). The Framework reflects the commitment of the Commonwealth, and all State and Territory government and non-government education authorities, to working together to ensure the wellbeing of all Australian students. The Framework is based on the overarching vision that all Australian schools are safe and supportive environments.

A scan of State and Territory government and non-government education authorities, conducted in November 2002, revealed a range of excellent practices that clearly showed that each jurisdiction asserts the rights of all students to be safe and supported.

Typical jurisdictional practices to prevent and respond to bullying, harassment, violence, and child abuse and neglect, are identified in the scan, such as:

  • including child protection education in the school curriculum, as well as content that explores discriminatory behaviours through an understanding of social factors such as gender, race, sexuality, disability and religion
  • providing professional development and training for school staff on, for example, methods of countering bullying and harassment, child protection legislation and procedures (including mandatory reporting), and identifying and understanding child abuse, including the needs of victims
  • providing resources to teachers on helping students to recognise/report abuse, and build protective behaviours, resilience and optimism
  • encouraging schools to empower students by involving them in the decision making and resolution processes through, for example, training in peer mediation or adoption of 'buddy' systems
  • providing specialist support, including for teachers who encounter or report abuse and who work with students who are persistently aggressive, such as behaviour teachers and consultants, anti-harassment officers, school counsellors, psychological consultants and school based police constables
  • conducting police checks on school personnel.
The National Safe Schools Framework incorporates existing good practice and provides an agreed national approach to help schools and their communities address issues of bullying, harassment, violence, and child abuse and neglect.

Promoting and providing a supportive learning environment in which all students can expect to feel safe is an essential function of all schools. Students have a fundamental right to learn in a safe, supportive environment and to be treated with respect. The Australian community rightly expects authorities charged with managing our schools to take all available measures to ensure the safety of students, to support students and to set out clearly, transparently and explicitly the policies and programmes they have in place to fulfil these important responsibilities.

While schools are among the safest places in the community for children and young people, the National Framework identifies strategies that can inform practice which further enhances school safety and students' physical, social and emotional wellbeing. It presents a way of achieving a shared vision of physical and emotional safety and wellbeing for all students in all Australian schools.

The Framework recognises the need for sustained positive approaches that include an appreciation of the ways in which social attitudes and values impact on the behaviour of students in our school communities. Such approaches encourage all members of the school community to:

  • provide guidance and advice to schools in the development of written policies
  • encourage and promote whole-school approaches, including the involvement of parents through workshops, school boards, and associations representing parents, carers and community members
  • value diversity
  • contribute positively to the safety and wellbeing of themselves and others
  • act independently, justly, cooperatively and responsibly in school, work, civic and family relationships
  • contribute to the implementation of appropriate strategies that create and maintain a safe and supportive learning environment.
The Framework is underpinned by a set of guiding principles that schools can put in place to effectively provide a safe and supportive learning environment. The guiding principles are as follows:

Australian schools:
1. affirm the right of all school community members to feel safe at school
2. promote care, respect and cooperation, and value diversity
3. implement policies, programmes and processes to nurture a safe and supportive school environment
4. recognise that quality leadership is an essential element that underpins the creation of a safe and supportive school environment
5. develop and implement policies and programmes through processes that engage the whole school community
6. ensure that roles and responsibilities of all members of the school community in promoting a safe and supportive environment are explicit, clearly understood and disseminated
7. recognise the critical importance of pre-service and ongoing professional development in creating a safe and supportive school environment
8. have a responsibility to provide opportunities for students to learn through the formal curriculum the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed for positive relationships
9. focus on policies that are proactive and oriented towards prevention and intervention
10. regularly monitor and evaluate their policies and programmes so that evidence-based practice supports decisions and improvements
11. take action to protect children from all forms of abuse and neglect.

The Framework also includes a detailed treatment of key elements, stemming from the Guiding Principles, that a school would have in place to effectively prevent and respond to bullying, harassment and violence, and child abuse and neglect. These are accompanied by a range of suggested approaches designed to support schools in providing a safe and supportive environment, and to assist them to reflect on their existing practices and plan for improvement. These approaches are not intended to be exhaustive, but are examples of good practice to guide schools in creating and maintaining safe and supportive learning environments.

This article is adapted from the National Safe Schools Framework. An example of whole-school approaches to the issues outlined in the article can be found in the Bullying. No way! program.

Subject Headings

Conflict management
Curriculum planning
Education management
Education policy
School and community
School buildings
Teacher-student relationships