The popular Adelaide Botanic High School opened earlier this year. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Laila Ferrier)
Education authorities will have the power to remove students from popular schools, if they are found to have faked their way into the school zone, under the biggest shake-up of South Australia’s education laws in nearly 50 years.
- The Education Minister says the changes have been two decades in the making
- The changes include a crackdown on bullying and student truancy
- They are also designed to give greater protections to teachers from unruly behaviour
The rewrite of the Education Act, which passed State Parliament yesterday, also gives greater protections to teachers from unruly or inappropriate behaviour on school grounds.
There will also be harsher penalties for abusive behaviour by parents and those who allow their children to be truant, with a rise in the maximum penalty from $500 to $5,000.
A view inside of the popular Adelaide Botanic High School. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Laila Ferrier)
Education Minister John Gardner told the ABC families who gave false housing details to get into popular school zones could face tougher action under the new powers.
It comes as the ABC revealed last week that 47 per cent of students at the state’s zoned public high schools lived outside school zone boundaries.
The popularity of the new Adelaide Botanic High School, which was opened in the Adelaide CBD earlier this year, has showcased the increasing pressure on being in the right school zone.
The bill states that a child enrolled in a specified government school be instead enrolled in another government school if the original enrolment was on the basis of false or misleading information.
“The chief executive [of the education department] does now have the capacity to move a child to a different school if their enrolment has been found to have been falsified,” Mr Gardner told the ABC.
“We would like to give people as much choice as possible in relation to where their kids go to school but we must ensure that there is room in schools for all the children who are within their school zone to attend their schools.
“Unfortunately, there are some instances where people have been falsifying information to get into that zone, making sure that the chief executive can take action in those circumstances is an important measure to remove the incentive for anybody to do that.”
Crackdown on school truancy
Parents will also face harsher penalties for abusive behaviour and for allowing children to not attend school continuously.
Mr Gardner said the department had implemented a much stronger financial penalty for families whose children were chronic truants.
Penalties have been increased for parents of chronically truant students. (Unsplash: Steinar Engeland, CC0)
He said in some cases, families may be prosecuted against, with the maximum penalty rising from $500 to $5,000.
“These offences are only applied in a case where a child is very seriously [a] truant and where the parent is refusing to engage, and the minister in policy has to sign-off on any prosecution,” he said.
“In 2017, with our support, the former government did find two cases that were appropriate for prosecution … in that circumstance, the parent was refusing to engage with the department.
“Only in the circumstance where a family is refusing to engage and not making any effort to get their child back to school, would we seek to take it to court.”
Bullies can also be removed from schools
As part of the sweeping changes, the State Government is also taking stronger action against school bullying.
The changes will allow the department to remove bullies from a school. (ABC News: Niki Burnside)
Mr Gardner said the department had to act after hearing too many stories of victims having to leave a school due to bullying, rather than the bully themselves.
“One of the really tragic stories that we’ve heard too many times is where a family has decided they have to move a child from a school for fear of continual bullying,” he said.
“When the victim has to leave, that is something that families are very, very upset about.
“We now have the capacity for the chief executive to move the bully so that the victim can stay in place.
“This, again, should only happen in the most limited of circumstances but it’s an important power and an important tool.”
Mr Gardner said the change to the Education Act was its first “substantial modernisation” in 47 years — the current act has been in place since 1972.
He said the development of the act had been nearly two decades in the making.
“The bill includes substantial improvements to the way schools and families are able to operate,” he said.
“It puts into place some good modernisations, it enhances the capacity for parents to be engaged in schooling.
“But at the same time provides some important new protections for teachers and principals for unruly and inappropriate behaviours on school grounds.”