Frequently Asked Questions

How is the ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative different from the previous Safe Schools Coalition Australia program delivered in the ACT?

Over the last two years, people in the ACT community will have heard many things in the national media and social media about the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) Program, including a number of allegations that have no foundation in fact.

Almost all Canberrans believe schools must be safe and inclusive environments for students, their families/carers, and staff. But they may disagree on what strategies are most appropriate to address stereotypes and prejudice that can underpin discrimination, harassment and bullying.

This FAQ is written to help the Canberra community understand the differences and similarities between the previous Safe Schools Coalition Australia program delivered in the ACT, and the new ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools (SAIS) Initiative.

What was the Safe Schools Coalition Australia program in the ACT?

In 2014, SHFPACT led a successful collaboration of ACT health and community services in a bid to provide the Safe Schools Coalition Australia program in Canberra. This national program was convened by Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), based in Melbourne, and funded by the Australian Government. Safe Schools Coalition Australia aimed to build on the successful Safe Schools Coalition Victoria program established in 2010 and share this model of school support and engagement nationally.

The collaborating partners were AIDS Action Council, A Gender Agenda (AGA), Belconnen Community Service, Northside Community Service (in their program partnership with Anglicare), headspace Canberra, Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, and Youth Coalition of the ACT. We continue to be proud of our Canberra model that brings together existing and expert community service providers to work with school communities to help them be more inclusive and safe learning environments for same-sex attracted, intersex, and gender-diverse students, staff and families. And we are proud to have worked with colleagues across Australia in the national Safe Schools Coalition Australia program.

The program enjoyed the strong support of ACT Government, and other community and professional groups.

What changed in the ACT?

In early 2016, in response to a significantly increased media and political campaign against the Safe Schools Coalition program, the Australian Government conducted a review of the program and related resources by Prof Bill Louden. Following this review, Commonwealth Minister for Education Simon Birmingham announced a series of changes the Australian Government would require from the Safe Schools Coalition program. During this period of time, the ACT Government made several public announcements and statements of support for the program. The ACT Legislative Assembly passed a motion of support of the program's work in Canberra on 9 March 2016.

In August 2016, after careful consideration of the impact of the changed guidelines on vulnerable young people, member school participation, and the ability of the collaborating partners to successfully assist school communities, SHFPACT and the other collaborating partners reluctantly concluded that the negative impacts on continuing the SSCA program outweighed the benefits. The ACT Government response was to back its public statements of support for the program with a financial commitment.

The SSCA program stopped operating in the ACT in September 2016 and the ACT Government is now funding an ACT-specific initiative to fill the gap that this created. SHFPACT has been working during Terms 1 and 2 of 2017 with the ACT Education Directorate, and consulting with both the original collaborating partners, ACT schools, and a broader range of education, parent and professional organisations, to develop a new model and operating guidelines for the ACT Initiative.

What will the ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools (SAIS) Initiative do that is similar to the previous SSCA program?

We want all schools to be inclusive, welcoming and safe for everyone

The goal of the Initiative is that school and educational programs within the ACT are safe, inclusive environments for all students regardless of their gender presentation/identity, intersex status or sexual orientation.

We will only work with those schools who request support

The SAIS Initiative only works directly with schools who have requested support, information or expertise, and school leaders are able to specify the particular types of assistance that they require.

We will be flexible in the types and ways we provide support to schools

Schools will determine what types of supports and services they need and when they need them. The initiative will work in a flexible way that is responsive to the needs and cultural contexts of particular school environments. 

We will not deliver any direct classroom teaching in schools

The SAIS Initiative is focussed on providing assistance to schools – the focus of this assistance is in working with school leaders and providing professional development for student welfare and teaching staff.

We will support teacher, parent and student leadership activities on request

The SAIS Initiative recognises that teachers, parents and students are all important parts of school communities, and will offer opportunities for leadership development, recognition, and the exchange of ideas and information between schools and school networks. The Initiative will also provide information about its activities to relevant school meetings including P&C organised events.

What are the key features of the SAIS Initiative?

Developed specifically for the ACT

The SAIS Initiative has been developed to respond to a specifically ACT context. This includes existing ACT legislation and social policy frameworks as well as the ACT context of school-based management and school-developed curriculum. 

Helping schools to meet pre-existing requirements and goals

The SAIS Initiative supports schools who seek assistance in meeting their existing legislative and policy based requirements and goals - especially those that are specific to the ACT. There are no additional guidelines or standards that schools are required to meet in order to engage with the Initiative.

Utilising a ‘process driven’ approach

The SAIS Initiative is a ‘process-driven’ rather than ‘content-driven’ model of engagement. The focus will be on guidance for good practice, rather than promoting the idea of any single ‘correct’ approach.

Focus on building expertise within the education sector

The work of the SAIS Initiative is to build expertise and strengthen connections within and outside of the education sector so that in the longer term, all ACT schools are confident and capable of responding to student needs, building and maintaining safe and inclusive environments.

Development of ‘Leading Schools’

To assist in building expertise within the education sector, the concept of ‘Leading Schools’ is being shaped to allow school communities with a demonstrated track record of activity to share their experience and expertise, mentor and support other schools, and embed good inclusive practice within the education sector rather than in an external service. 

Active and ongoing engagement with parent groups

The SAIS Initiative recognises the critical role that parents and carers play in the life and development of their children and their school community. The Initiative encourages school leaders to maintain open communication with their school parents/carer community about school activities and curriculum. The SAIS initiative engages actively with parental representative bodies to guide and inform how supports and information for parents are developed.

What is different in the ACT Safe and Inclusive Schools (SAIS) Initiative from the previous Safe Schools Coalition Australia Program?

SAIS Initiative has no membership requirement

The SAIS Initiative can be accessed by any school or educational program within the ACT, and will also be available to work with the ACT Education Directorate and Canberra-Goulburn Diocese Catholic Education Office at a systemic level. There is no formal membership requirement to be a part of the Initiative or to engage its supports and services.

The SAIS Initiative will not produce or endorse any set curriculum

The SAIS Initiative will instead support professional learning for teachers and school staff on how curriculum can acknowledge and be more inclusive of the diversity of sexual orientation, intersex status, and gender identity/presentation that exists within school communities. 

The SAIS Initiative will not produce or endorse any set resources for in-class teaching

When requested, the SAIS Initiative will support school communities to identify and select, or develop for themselves, appropriate information and teaching/learning resources and materials. These may then be shared with other school communities to use or adapt at their discretion. The Initiative will also develop guidance materials that can be used by schools and teachers to assist in this process.

We welcome and value questions, ideas, concerns or other feedback from parents regarding the specific work being undertaken by the SAIS Initiative. Contact Us.