FEDERAL GOVERNMENT UNVEILS CHANGES TO ‘SAFE SCHOOLS’ PROGRAM


Education Minister Simon Birmingham

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has unveiled the changes the federal government will make to the Safe Schools program.

The voluntary anti-bullying program, run by the Safe Schools Coalition Australia, was developed in response to schools’ requests for resources and assistance with promoting acceptance of LGBTI students.

A review of the program was ordered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month after conservative MPs complained about its content.

Senator Birmingham (pictured) released the review, which he said found that a number of the resources had content that was not necessarily appropriate for all children.

Changes the government will make to the program include limiting the program to high schools only; removing some of the program’s content including gender diversity role playing activities; a ban on the program’s resources being used for political advocacy; and removing logos and links to third party organisations except government-funded mental health or counselling services.

Some Safe Schools resources, including the booklet “OMG I’m Queer”, will only be available to students in one-on-one discussions between them and “key qualified staff.”

The program will now also require parental consent in order for students to participate, while “maintaining the rights of all students to seek counselling services,” Senator Birmingham said.

“The actions we’re taking I think are strong but measured to make sure we get the welfare of students right,” Senator Birmingham said.

Senator Birmingham said the Safe Schools program’s funding will finish in 2017 but the resources will “live on, on the Safe School hub website.”

The Safe Schools Coalition said they “will work through the proposed changes with the Department and the Minister.”

“The review … has found that the official resources are consistent with the intent and objectives of the program and are appropriate for use in schools,” the Coalition said in a statement.

In a statement, the Human Rights Commission welcomed measures to improve and enhance the Safe Schools resources and to ensure the age-appropriateness of materials for children and young people but urged caution of the proposed parental consent measures.

“While we recognise the rights of parents to be informed and engaged in their child’s education, it is important to ensure children who have not yet ‘come out’ to their family can still access the program and its resources,” HRC’s National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell said.