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How will the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability affect independent schools?

Ben Tallboys & Audrey Capasso
On Friday 5 April 2019, the Prime Minister formally announced the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Royal Commission).

What is the Royal Commission?

The Royal Commission has been primarily established to identify what governments, institutions (including schools) and the community should do to prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The Royal Commission is scheduled to operate for at least three years, and will initially be allocated a $527 million budget.

Does the Royal Commission apply to schools?

In the Prime Minister’s announcement on 5 April 2019, it was noted that the Royal Commission would be examining conditions and experiences “in all settings” including, relevantly, schools.

This is not surprising. Independent schools provide education to many students with disability, and also employ staff with disability.

What issues in schools will be covered by the Royal Commission?

The Royal Commission’s terms of reference primarily concern physical violence, psychological abuse and neglect involving persons with disability. 

However, royal commissions do tend to broadly interpret their roles, and interest groups have already begun advocating for the Royal Commission to adopt a broad focus on disability in education. 

It is therefore possible that the Royal Commission will examine the way schools interact more generally with staff and students with disability, including with regard to:

  • school enrolment, behavioural and learning supports, and disciplinary practices for students with disability; and
  • the current state of anti-discrimination legislation in relation to employment in schools.

Preparing for the Royal Commission

It almost goes without saying that starting to prepare for a Royal Commission after receiving a summons to produce documents, let alone give evidence in person, is hardly ideal.

However, for every Royal Commission we still find a number of organisations taking that approach (even if they are likely targets for the Royal Commission’s examinations and case studies).  This ultimately places greater strain on the organisation when required to participate, resulting in additional time, cost and uncertainty overall for all involved.

Organisations often underestimate the amount of work involved in answering queries from the Royal Commission, including in terms of:

  • collating and reviewing documents that may be relevant to a summons to produce, and then deciding which documents will be produced;
  • answering requests for written responses;
  • identifying areas of concern; and
  • where called upon to do so, preparing to give evidence.

In this regard, it is important to note that royal commissions often impose very short timeframes on participating organisations. 

Schools are therefore encouraged to consider earlier rather than later whether their own experiences may be relevant to the Royal Commission’s inquiries.  

 

For advice about the relevance of the Royal Commission to your school, please contact Principal Ben Tallboys on (03) 8640 2360.

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