MEDIA RELEASE: Student Leadership is Vital on Anti-Bullying Policy

This morning the Victorian Liberal Nationals Party announced their ‘Zero Tolerance on School Bullying’ policy. Bullying is an issue that is extremely important to Victorian students and a key advocacy priority for the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC).

We are excited to hear that the policy is based on respect. We fundamentally believe that all students should be respected and empowered and that they must be included in the creation of the “safe environment where [students] can be confident to be themselves” that Shadow Education Minister Tim Smith described as part of the press release. And as Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has said “there has to be a partnership between parents, teachers and students.” VicSRC welcomes the opportunity for further conversation with the Opposition to ensure community and cultural change is driven by those most affected.

“As the peak body for Victorian school-aged students, the VicSRC has historically enjoyed open dialogue with all state governments. We encourage meaningful student engagement in the creation of education policies,” said Nina Laitala, VicSRC Executive Officer

VicSRC feels the issue has been over-simplified, reducing participants to ‘victim’ and ‘bully’ without allowances to consider the different circumstances that can affect each student. This ignores the fact that both students who are bullied and students who bully are likely to feel disconnected from and dislike school, and fails to ask why.

Handing ultimate expulsion power directly to principals unfairly burdens school leadership and is at odds with the recommendations of the 2017 Victorian Ombudsman report on school exclusion. It endangers the futures of students who are excluded and ignores the fact that a disproportionate number of students who face exclusion in schools are students with disabilities, students living in out of home care or students who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

The concept of a ‘zero tolerance’ policy without recourse or any kind of equity provision to ensure that disadvantaged students are not unjustly impacted will only make it more difficult to ensure no student is disenfranchised or left without education an issue that has been highlighted as part of the #strongerschools campaign.

“VicSRC is here to represent students who aren’t always heard and make sure all students have a seat at the table. It’s important that they get to be part of this conversation because this policy will affect them,” said Mia Sherman, VicSRC Executive Student

We call upon all parties to ensure that any anti-bullying policy is equitable and supportive of all students. That the full diversity of the Victorian education system is considered and that the policy takes into account the needs and vulnerabilities of specific communities and identities – for example, the third national study on the health and wellbeing of LGBTI young people found that LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicide and attempted suicide of any population in Australia and 80% of respondents reported abuse at school. Most importantly, the policy must ensure that students are at the centre of the decision making processes that will affect them.

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