Schools should be safe places for everyone in their community. There are many different approaches that schools can use to build a school community that is mutually respectful, inclusive and safe.
National Safe Schools Framework
The revised National Safe Schools Framework provides Australian schools with a vision and guidelines that assist school communities to develop a whole-school approach to implementing effective student safety and wellbeing policies that focus on environments which are free from bullying, harassment, aggression and violence.
The Framework emphasises student wellbeing and child protection and includes the relevant national and state legislation that schools need to take into account when making decisions about policies and procedures. The Framework also looks at cyberbullying.
Mental health refers to a state of wellbeing in which a person can realise their own abilities, engage in learning, cope with the normal stresses of life, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Mental health is a combination of both positive feelings and positive functioning. Schools have a range of strategies in place that that promote healthy minds and positive mental health.
This includes creating safe environments, teaching social and emotional learning and recognising the importance of families.
Schools and early childhood settings promote mental health by providing access to education, a sense of belonging, and the development of social and emotional skills, all of these are protective factors for children and young people’s wellbeing. At the same time, poor attachment, peer rejection, and experiences of bullying and discrimination all contribute to poor mental health.
KidsMatter is a framework to assist Early Learning Centres and Primary Schools to implement evidence-based strategies to support the mental health needs of their community, including:
Each initiative involves the people who have a significant influence on children’s lives – parents, carers, families, child care professionals, teachers and community groups – in making a positive difference to children’s mental health.
MindMatters is a national mental health initiative for secondary school students. MindMatters is a resource and professional learning initiative supporting Australian secondary schools in promoting and protecting the mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing of all the members of school communities.
Better Buddies is an initiative of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation aimed at assisting students entering their first year of primary school to feel safe, valued and connected to their new school community. It involves the school pairing together new primary school students with an older buddy, usually a Year 6 student.
This program is designed to help reduce bullying and create friendly and caring school environments by building strong relationships across the school, and is often an integral part of a school leadership program for the Year 6 students.
Peer Support Programs
Establishing a peer support program can provide students with a supportive learning environment in which to develop the skills, understandings, attitudes and strategies to improve mental wellbeing. It can be included as part of a school leadership program which encourages students to develop their skills in problem solving, assertiveness, resilience and decision making.
This approach is based on the philosophy and practices of restorative justice where the strategy is to look at repairing the harm that has been caused to relationships and people first, rather than assigning blame and punishment. When a situation has occurred, a process is implemented that includes an enquiry, mediation, community conferencing / problem solving and future planning to avoid a repeat of the same situation.
Bullying can happen anywhere and is when people repeatedly and intentionally use words or actions to cause distress to an individual or group. It can be in schools, at home, at work and in online social spaces. Bullying is not the same as a conflict between people, such as a verbal disagreement or disliking someone, even though people might bully each other because of conflict or dislike.
Whatever form the bullying takes, results can be devastating and schools are obliged under their ‘duty of care’ to ensure that bullying, harassment or vilification of any student is addressed in all school practices. Types of Bullying include:
Face to face – verbal abuse, physical aggression
Covert bullying – is not seen by others and conducted out of sight of others
Cyberbullying – using technology to repeatedly intimidate another person.
All students have the right to feel safe and secure at school and be free from any form of bullying or being the target of unacceptable behaviour. This includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.
A school environment should promote respect and celebrate diversity in their approach to student safety and wellbeing. Inclusiveness should be reflected in a school’s curriculum, teaching and learning, organisation and ethos, and in community partnerships.
For further information on students and gender identity, see:
Schools have a responsibility to provide a safe and supportive environment for all their students where the risk of harm is minimised. Cybersafety needs to be addressed as part of a planned whole-school approach which is integrated into all student wellbeing policies.
Every child has the right to be safe. Protecting children is everyone’s responsibility. The National Framework provides the foundation for improving the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children.
Most children are best protected and cared for within their own family; however, when parents, carers or guardians are unwilling or unable to protect their children from significant harm, the protection of the child becomes the responsibility of the wider community and, at times, requires statutory Child Protection intervention. Schools have a responsibility in the prevention and reporting of child abuse and neglect under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 CYFA (Vic.).