Letter to Minister Piccoli re Proud Schools

UPDATE (Saturday 8 February): Yesterday, I received a response from the NSW Government to my letter about Proud Schools (below). It was not from the Minister, but rather from the Executive Director, Learning and Engagement, in the Department of Education and Communities.

In short, it appears that the NSW Government has completed its review of Proud Schools and on that basis has decided to abandon the Proud Schools pilot/model. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if the review of the Proud Schools pilot is going to be released.

Equally concerning, while the response talks about a “Wellbeing Framework for Education”, there appears to be very little detail about what this might entail. Given the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination which continues to affect LGBTI students (a fact reinforced by the Growing Up Queer report, released yesterday), there will need to be a lot more information provided about this framework before it could be supported.

As an aside, I find it curious that in a letter about Proud Schools, and replying to a letter about Proud Schools/the needs of LGBTI students, the response does not refer to LGBTI students specifically, instead making generic statements about ‘all students’. Hmmm…

The full text of the letter:

Dear Mr Lawrie

I write in response to your email of 12 January 2014 to the Hon Adrian Piccoli MP, Minister for Education regarding the Proud Schools pilot. The Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf.

The Department of Education and Communities is committed to providing safe and supportive learning environments that respect and value diversity and that are free from all forms of violence, bullying, discrimination, harassment and vilification.

We know that learning outcomes are better where students are happy, safe and supported at school. We also know that when school communities work together real improvements in promoting understanding and reducing discrimination can be made.

From the Proud Schools pilot it has emerged that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not be appropriate for a systemic school system.

Significant work is currently underway on developing a Wellbeing Framework for Education. This framework will provide schools with guidance and evidence informed practice to support all students within the context of their school and in consultation with their school communities. The subsequent development of any wellbeing materials will need to carefully balance the wellbeing of all young people.

Thank you for your email.

Yours sincerely

[NAME WITHHELD]

Executive Director, Learning and Engagement

5 February 2014

ORIGINAL POST Today (Tuesday 28 January) is the first official day of the school year for teachers across NSW. Tomorrow, students return to school for the first time in 2014. And yet, with teachers and students coming back, it is still unclear whether something else is returning to NSW schools this year – the Proud Schools program.

A three-year pilot of Proud Schools – which is designed to help schools include LGBTI students, and protect them from bullying – was due to be completed at the end of 2013. The pilot project was also subject to a formal review last year, to help determine whether it should be expanded, and if so in what form.

But, as far as I can tell, this review has not yet been released, and no announcement appears to have been made about the future of the Proud Schools program. Is the Proud Schools pilot being extended? Is the program being rolled out beyond the initial very small number of schools in which is began? Has Proud Schools been axed? If so, has it been replaced with another program aimed at serving the needs of LGBTI students in NSW?

Concerned about the lack of information, I wrote to the NSW Minister for Education, the Hon Adrian Piccoli, about this subject two weeks ago. Below is my letter to him (dated 12 January). I have yet to receive a response to this, but will update this post if I do.

Dear Minister

PROUD SCHOOLS/PROGRAMS FOR LGBTI STUDENTS

I am writing regarding the Proud Schools program, which has been piloted across a small number of NSW schools over the past three years (2011-2013).

I understand that the Proud Schools pilot was the subject of a review by the NSW Government during 2013, and that, following this review, the NSW Government was to make a decision about the long-term future of Proud Schools.

Has this review been finalised? If so, has a decision been taken by the NSW Government concerning the future of the Proud Schools program? If so, when will this decision, and the review upon which it was based, be made public?

I write because there are only two weeks left until the 2014 school year commences, and believe that it is important for schools, teachers and LGBTI students to have some certainty about the future of this program.

Even if the NSW Government decides not to continue with the specific Proud Schools initiative, it is vital that a program which supports the needs of LGBTI students is rolled out across NSW schools, not just in the small number that were involved in Proud Schools, but across the entire state.

This is because LGBTI students are subject to increased levels of bullying and harassment based on homophobia, bi-phobia, trans*-phobia and anti-intersex prejudice, experience higher rates of mental illness as a result of this discrimination, and are at risk of not receiving education that is inclusive of their needs.

I seek your assurance that you are giving this issue priority, and will have a program in place in NSW schools from the beginning of the 2014 school year.

I look forward to your response to this letter.

Yours sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

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