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ACT Schools are getting safer: launch of the ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative

By Rebecca Vassarotti 22 March 2018 7
youth with laptops

SAIS: An important step towards creating inclusive environments in ACT schools.

The launch of the new ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools initiative (SAIS) last week demonstrates that sometimes great things come out of unfortunate events. It also shows that despite our size, the ACT can show leadership and promote ways to encourage inclusion, safety and respect. It’s a great example of what happens when community organisations, experts, schools, and parents and carers come together in good faith and with a shared commitment to ensuring that all our young people in schools are supported to feel safe and included.

SAIS is the replacement program in the Canberra community for the Safe Schools Coalition Program, the national program that despite initial cross-party support in 2016 became the subject of a media and political campaign against it which resulted in major changes to the program and the ceasing of the program in the ACT.

The original program had been running in the ACT for some time, and was supported by a coalition of ACT health and community agencies including Sexual Health and Family Planning (SHPACT), the AIDS Action Council, A Gender Agenda, Belconnen Community Service, Northside Community Service (in their program partnership with Anglicare), Headspace Canberra, and Youth Coalition of the ACT. This program enjoyed the strong support of Government and was a welcome initiative in the schools’ community.

The campaign against the national Safe Schools program resulted in the Australian Government conducting a review of the program and related resources. While there were no major concerns identified through the review, the Federal Minister for Education announced a series of changes that the Australian Government would require of the program. The ACT did not continue under those arrangements from late 2016, and all funding for the national program ceased in 2017.

During 2017, the ACT Government showed leadership and backed the development of a program that better reflected the ACT context, and developed a model of working with school staff, students, parents and carers to co-design the program. Last week that work culminated in the launch of the new Safe and Inclusive School Initiative.

This type of program is vitally important. We know that schools are not particularly safe places for all students, especially if you are different to most other kids. There are real concerns in particular for the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) young people, given research that has found that 75% of LGBTIQ young people experience abuse and discrimination, and 80% of these young people experience this at school.

So it’s great news to know that ACT schools can once again access support to enhance safety and inclusion within their schools. And with the work that supporting organisations have been undertaking, means that this is an even better approach.

Unlike the previous program, the Initiative does not have a membership model, and school communities can engage support in whatever form best meets their needs. Rather than focusing on developing classroom teaching resources – there are already many available –  it works with schools to respond to their specific needs in supporting the professional learning of teachers, assistance in supporting individual student needs, and identifying existing teaching materials suitable for the school community and student needs. It has been developed with the close involvement of representative parents and carers organisations, which has seen the program receive strong endorsement from the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, the peak body for public school parents.

I think we need to support more of these types of initiatives moving forward and commend all parties who have worked to develop the ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative that will make our schools safer places. What do you think?

More information about SAIS can be accessed via the program’s website or via SHFPACT.

If you or someone you care about needs support, there are places you can go for help. They include LIFELINE 13 11 14, KIDS HELPLINE 1800 551 800 and QLIFE 1800 184 527


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7 Responses to
ACT Schools are getting safer: launch of the ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative
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wildturkeycanoe 9:49 pm 06 Apr 18

If what my kids witnessed in school today was anything to do with this programme, we have a long way to go before addressing bullying.
Apparently the advice given by whomever was presenting the “anti bullying” message, told the kids that bullies are scared and we need to “be nice to them”.
What utter garbage! I can bet confidently my next week’s pay cheque that bullies will NOT stop because you turn the other cheek. Also, the associated “interprative dance” routine left them confused as to what the whole message was about. No doubt the people involved are getting a nice government grant for their efforts. I just wish their message was clearer.

Deref 6:04 pm 29 Mar 18

Sounds like a good program. Nice to know that they get something right every now and then.

Brett Olzen 11:20 am 22 Mar 18

Why has inclusiveness been re-framed to only be about sexual orientation? I'm glad it is being addressed but why are we not including any other minorities anymore?

    Rebecca Vassarotti 5:43 pm 22 Mar 18

    Hi Brett. Totally agree that inclusiveness across a range of areas is important. This program is just one of a range of programs/ initiatives run in schools. This week many schools celebrated Harmony Day. A key reason for this particular focus for this specific area is the evidence around the negative experiences of children and young people who may identify differently to their peers, and the impacts of this (particularly around young people's mental health). I think one of the great things about this new version of the program is that it is school led and really tailors to the needs of particular schools.

    Paul Leins 9:15 am 25 Mar 18

    Inclusiveness in general is highly valued by all schools, and as Rebecca said, there are programs already in place that celebrate other types of diversity. The need for a gender and sexuality driven inclusiveness program is in part due to the connection between gender/sexuality issues, bullying and teen suicides. It is evidence driven, rather than someone's pet project.

    Kata Klayton 3:15 pm 27 Mar 18

    Except the evidence doesn't show bullying of LGBTQI is an issue in schools particularly when compared to other forms of bullying or that this retraining of attitudes and values has any impact on teen or lgbtqi suicide rates (Vic Gov report last year)... nor does it back a focused whole school approach to sexuality and gender education (both being individual to a child's psychological and physical development)... in fact there is very little science or fact involved in this virtue signalling excercise. In fact the FACT is our academic standards are going through the floor while posing politicians pick up cheap points and we waste time teaching children, they and their parents are hateful if they don't "actively celebrate" diversity. There is a significant amount of damage being done to our children's psycho-sexual & social development through forcing adult, sexuality &/or medical concepts/problems on them before they have learned their 5times tables.

    Justin Watson 10:08 pm 27 Mar 18

    Kata Klayton Very little facts supporting your view, while the numbers of LGBTI teens committing suicide is higher percentage than straight teens. Heaps of reports detailing that, so there is a problem. They don't have to actively celebrate diversity. They just have to tolerant of the fact that everyone is different and don't be an arsehole to them because they are different. It is really simple for most of us. I don't go and abuse people who are religious for example. I'd like to, but because I'm a decent human being, I let them pray in peace as long as they don't overstep the mark and try to tell others what to do. It's not a fact if the word fact is in capitals, by the way. Australian school standards are still very high, ironically in the ACT they are the best in the country and its also the territory that embraces diversity and tolerance the most. Amazing!

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