This policy is current as at 27/05/2018 10:05pm, AEST. Please refer to policy library website (https://education.nsw.gov.au/policy-library) for an updated version.

Controversial Issues in Schools

Direction for the management of controversial issues in schools

1. Policy statement

1.1 The study of controversial issues is acceptable for educational purposes consistent with the delivery of curriculum and provision of school programs and activities.

1.2 School staff will manage controversial issues that may arise in the curriculum, school programs and activities, including in material used in the school or on excursions. This includes the views expressed by or the actions of teachers, external providers and visitors (including speakers and officials), audio-visual materials or live performances.

1.3 Controversial issues are managed in accordance with the following principles:

1.3.1 Schools are neutral places for rational discourse and objective study.

1.3.2 Discussion of controversial issues in schools should allow students to explore a range of viewpoints and not advance the interest of any particular group.

1.3.3 Material presented to students as part of school programs and school activities should be:

  • age appropriate
  • sensitive to student needs
  • relevant to the curriculum
  • relevant to the school’s purpose and goals
  • consistent with the core values outlined in Values in NSW Public Schools policy.

1.3.4 School visits by official visitors are welcome although these visits may be controversial. Visits are to be conducted in accordance with protocols for particular occasions.

1.3.5 Contemporary material of an overtly political nature must not be distributed to students unless the material is for study purposes and is relevant to the delivery of the curriculum. The study of formerly published political and industrial material in an historical context and as part of the curriculum is not prevented by this policy.

1.3.6 Material which discriminates or promotes discriminatory behaviour must not be distributed to students unless the material is for study purposes and is relevant to the delivery of the curriculum. The study of formerly published material in an historical context and as part of the curriculum is not prevented by this policy.

1.3.7 Where outlined in the procedures, parents and carers should be informed about the participation of their children in delivery of curriculum, events, excursions, school programs or activities addressing controversial issues.

1.3.8 Parents, carers and students may hold different views. These views should be treated in a respectful manner. Expressing a view which may result in harassment, vilification and/or discrimination is not a right.

1.4 School facilities are not to be used at any time for activities that are illegal or inconsistent with the values of public education or the school’s purpose and goals.

2. Audience and applicability

2.1 This policy applies to all New South Wales government schools including staff and students, as well as contractors, visitors, external providers and volunteers involved in activities with students.

2.2 This policy applies to visitors and external providers including approved special religious education providers or ethics education providers, conducting activities outside the provisions in the Religious Education Policy and Special Education in Ethics Policy.

2.3 For externally funded allied health and disability therapy providers acting under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the requirement to provide a signed agreement to abide by this policy and procedures is at the discretion of the principal.

3. Context

3.1 The study of controversial issues provides valuable and significant learning experiences when managed appropriately.

3.2 Schools are places where students are preparing for active informed and reasoned involvement in community life through the co-operative study of social issues.

3.3 Schools are not places for proselytising, persuading or recruiting students or staff into partisan groups.

3.4 Principals, teachers, external providers and visitors are in a privileged position to influence students. All staff therefore have a responsibility to address controversial issues including the study of controversial issues in accordance with this policy.

3.5 This policy should be read in conjunction with the department’s:

4. Responsibilities and delegations

Principals:

4.1 identify and manage controversial issues in the school.

4.2 ensure all members of staff, volunteers, contractors and external providers as per section 2 of this policy understand the Controversial Issues in Schools policy and procedures.

4.3 are responsible for delivery of curriculum, school programs and activities, including the study of controversial issues.

4.4 ensure balanced and reasonable consideration of various viewpoints occurs in the delivery of curriculum, school programs and activities, in presentations to students by visitors, staff, contractors or external providers and on school excursions.

4.5 identify controversial issues as they arise in the delivery of curriculum, school programs and activities, presentations to students and any materials whether delivered by teachers, visitors, staff, contractors, volunteers, external providers or on excursions.

4.6 explain the policy and procedures and provide a copy of or link to the policy and procedures to external providers and visiting speakers who may be addressing controversial issues, and obtain their written agreement to abide by the policy and procedures.

4.7 ensure that presentations and activities by external providers and visiting speakers covered under this policy (see 2.2) are supervised at all times by members of the teaching staff.

4.8 ensure that, where appropriate, parents or carers are notified of the participation of students in the delivery of curriculum, school programs and activities, presentations or other events that address controversial issues.

4.9 provide the option for parents or carers to withdraw their child from activities addressing controversial issues where appropriate in accordance with their professional judgement.

4.10 ensure that records related to visits to the school by departmental officials and other dignitaries, representatives of external providers and members of the public are collected and retained (as per FA387).

4.11 ensure that all records related to controversial issues are retained (as per FA387).

4.12 where breaches of this policy occur may:

  • request the presenter to move on immediately to another topic
  • if any questions or comments are made by students on inappropriate issues, state that the matters will be dealt with in a more appropriate forum
  • halt the presentation or activity (if necessary)
  • explain to students why the presentation has been halted.

4.13 report breaches of this policy occurring in their schools to the Director, Public Schools NSW, consistent with the department’s policy on reporting workplace incidents.

Teachers, other school staff, contractors and volunteers:

4.14 assist principals in identifying and managing controversial issues.

4.15 ensure that the delivery of curriculum, school programs and activities, presentations and activities by external providers or other events involving students are age appropriate, relevant to curriculum aims and objectives and consistent with the values of public education and the school’s purpose and goals.

4.16 maintain objectivity, avoiding distortion of discussion and acknowledge the rights of students, parents and carers to hold different viewpoints.

4.17 inform the principal of any upcoming activities, curriculum content, school programs, presentations, events or visitors addressing controversial issues.

4.18 supervise presentations and activities conducted by visitors and external providers, ensuring that objectivity is maintained and the rights of students to express differing viewpoints are respected.

4.19 where possible, view presentations and materials used by visitors and external providers prior to the event to determine appropriateness and advise the principal on the content.

4.20 supervise all activities formally organised by students to ensure that the principles of this policy and the procedures are adhered to.

4.21 where breaches of this policy occur, teachers may:

  • request the presenter to move on immediately to another topic
  • if any questions or comments are made by students on inappropriate issues, state that the matters will be dealt with in a more appropriate forum
  • halt the presentation or activity (if necessary)
  • explain to students why the presentation has been halted.

4.22 promptly inform the principal of any incidents that occur regarding controversial issues.

Directors, Public Schools NSW:

4.23 respond to breaches of this policy when escalated to them.

4.24 support principals to respond to incidents and breaches of the policy by external providers, visiting speakers or officials in consultation with the Executive Director, Public Schools NSW.

5. Monitoring, evaluation and reporting requirements

5.1 Directors, Public Schools NSW are required to monitor the compliance of  schools with this policy.

5.2 Directors, Public Schools NSW are required to report to the Executive Director, Public Schools NSW incidents and if individuals (including teachers) or organisations breach the policy on the presentation of controversial issues in schools.

5.3 This policy will be reviewed by School Policy and Information Management every three years or as necessary.

6. Contact

Director, School Policy and Information Management (02) 9244 5070

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