New Education Bill Introduced into Parliament

  • Wyatt Creech

The Government has introduced new legislation into Parliament which contains measures to guide schools when suspending students and to help overcrowded schools when enrolling students.

Education Minister Wyatt Creech introduced the Education Legislation Amendment Bill today.

"The planned legislation includes a raft of measures to make the processes contained in the Education Act fairer and easier to implement," Mr Creech said. "It meets a number of undertakings made in the Coalition Agreement.

"While the Government will not interfere in a school's right to sanction students, we have an obligation to give schools more ways of dealing effectively with discipline problems while making certain that the process is fair to all concerned."

Mr Creech said the fair processes introduced by the new Bill recognised a student's right to natural justice, in particular the student's right to speak and to be represented.

"The planned law change would also give principals and boards more flexibility in their responses to student discipline problems. The Bill introduces two new concepts to the suspension process; stand-down and exclusion.

"The new "stand-down" for periods totalling a maximum of ten days in any one year would act as a shot across the bow of a student warning them about their unacceptable behaviour."

The suspension sanction will continue with additional flexibility to allow schools to attach conditions to the suspension. For example a student may be required to attend anger management or drug counselling.

"At the extreme end, a school will be able to exclude a student in very serious situations. The "exclusion" from a school would be teamed up with a requirement to get the student into another school."

Mr Creech said the planned legislation also introduced procedures and criteria for overcrowded schools when developing and putting in place enrolment schemes.

Currently full schools can adopt enrolment schemes to limit the number of students in their schools. They do not need approval from the Ministry of Education for the details of their schemes.

"The Bill will see greater co-ordination of enrolment schemes. One of the criteria in any school's scheme will see schools giving a priority for enrolment for students in the general locality of the school.

"This is not a return to old style zoning when parents had no choice as to what school they sent their children to. Only overcrowded schools will be involved. Enrolment schemes must take into account whether a student is able to attend a reasonably convenient neighbourhood school."

When schools develop enrolment schemes they will have to consult with the local community and neighbouring schools. The scheme will also have to be approved by the Secretary for Education.

"The new Education Bill contains provisions to tighten up on truancy. It gives the Secretary for Education power to make rules designed to keep a track of students throughout the school system," Mr Creech said.

"A new mandatory and nationally consistent enrolment record will be created which can be transferred wherever the student goes."

Mr Creech said the Bill contains measures to crack down on student fraud. It gives the Ministry of Education power to investigate fraud by past holders of student allowances. It includes a new offence for failing to provide information or notify a change of circumstances.

The Bill contains provisions that will enhance ministerial discretion to decline applications for integration.

At present proprietors of integrated schools are required to own the land and buildings which constitute the premises of the school. Integrated schools are funded by the taxpayer for their day to day running. The Bill will allow integrated schools to use leased land or premises.

The Bill clarifies the powers of the Education Review Office to review home schools.

The Bill will give greater flexibility and remove the duplication contained in the consultation process currently in place when schools are established, merged or disestablished.
The Bill contains a range of other amendments mainly of technical nature which have been identified as priorities. There has been no major Education legislation since 1993 and the Bill amends provisions which have proved outdated or inadequate in practical situations.