Safe Schools

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Safe Schools is a formal and public commitment that schools make to create an inclusive and safe environment for their school community, including for LGBTI students, families and teachers. This commitment recognises that creating a safe and inclusive environment is key to tackling bullying, discrimination and harassment at schools, particularly arising from homophobia and transphobia.

All students should be safe from bullying and feel included at school. Students who don’t feel safe or included at school cannot learn effectively.

What is Safe Schools?

The Safe Schools program helps schools foster a safe environment that is supportive and inclusive of LGBTI students.

How this commitment is realised is determined by each school, based on its local context and the needs of its school community.

Safe Schools is not a subject in the curriculum, nor is it prescriptive in any way.

Schools have the discretion to use as many or as few of the resources, training materials, and other support that the program offers to help them deliver their commitment.

Why Safe Schools?

Safe and inclusive schools benefit all students and are key to students achieving excellence.

National and international research shows that positive and inclusive school environments lead to better academic results, increased confidence and better attendance at school.

The Victorian Government wants to create opportunities for every student, in every classroom, in every community. It also wants all students in Victoria to develop high levels of resilience.

For many people, the question of their gender or their sexuality is straightforward, however, for others the journey to self-acceptance and feeling as though they belong is more challenging as they don’t fit neatly into the ‘norm’. It is important for all children and young people to understand that not everyone is the same and to respect this.

Background

In 2010, the Victorian Government established Safe Schools to make sure schools are safe places for all students, including LGBTI students, and are free of homophobia and transphobia.

Safe Schools is now managed and delivered directly by the Department.

The Government has committed to expanding the program to all government secondary schools by the end of 2018. Primary schools and non-government schools can also access support from Safe Schools.

Homophobia and transphobia at school

All young people have a right to feel safe at school but many LGBTI students have negative experiences in Australian schools.

LGBTI young people experience high rates of bullying and the vast majority of this abuse occurs at school.

The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people found that:

  • 61 per cent of LGBTI young people report experiencing verbal homophobic abuse
  • 18 per cent report physical homophobic abuse
  • 69 per cent report other types of homophobia, including exclusion and rumours
  • 80 per cent of respondents experienced the reported abuse at school.

To review and/or download the report, see:

LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicide and attempted suicide of any population in Australia. Suicide attempt rates are six times higher for same sex attracted young people than their heterosexual peers. The average age of a first suicide attempt is 16 years - often when they have come out to themselves but have not told anybody else.[1]

LGBTI young people at schools where protective policies are in place are more likely to feel safe compared with those young people in schools without similar policies (75 per cent compared with 45 per cent). They are almost 50 per cent less likely to be physically abused at school, less likely to suffer other forms of homophobic abuse, less likely to self-harm and less likely to attempt suicide.[2]

If you are in need of immediate support, please contact one of the following services:

  • Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
  • Headspace 1800 650 890
  • QLife 1800 184 527
  • for emergency medical assistance, please call 000.

How does Safe Schools work?

What makes a school a safe school is its public commitment “to building an environment that is safer and more inclusive for the whole school community”.

How this commitment is implemented is at the school’s discretion and therefore looks different for each school.

School principals take into consideration the views of their school community when working with children and young people and determining the best approach to implementing their commitment to being a safe school.

Schools choose from a range of evidence-based and age-appropriate information, resources and professional learning to help them prevent, and respond to, bullying arising from homophobia or transphobia. This could involve a review of school policies and practice, professional development for school staff, and establishing a student led group to organise inclusive events.

Victoria is diverse. Our schools need to reflect the diversity of their communities and cater to the needs of students and staff, and their families.

Myths and facts

From time to time, ill-informed and false information is circulated about the Safe Schools program. Select a myth below to learn the facts:

Myth: The Safe Schools program is a compulsory part of the school curriculum.

Fact: Safe Schools is not part of the Victorian Curriculum – it’s a commitment that schools make to be inclusive places for all students, including LGBTI students. The Department of Education and Training provides information, resources and professional learning that have been developed by experts for school staff to use as they see fit to prevent discrimination against LGBTI students.

Myth: The Safe Schools program is teaching sex education and/or sexual practices to students, including material that is not age-appropriate.

Fact: Safe Schools is not a sex education program, nor does it teach sexual practices. The Safe Schools program simply seeks to create safe and inclusive environments for LGBTI students. Resources provided by the Department of Education and Training to help deliver the program are developed by experts and carefully selected to ensure they are appropriate for the ages of students using them.

Myth: The Safe Schools program encourages students to question or change their gender or sexuality.

Fact: Nothing about the Safe Schools program encourages students to question or change their gender or sexuality.

Myth: The Safe Schools program teaches radical gender theory.

Fact: Safe Schools does not teach radical gender theory. It is simply a program to help schools and students understand and respect that people should not be discriminated against for any reason - including gender and sexual diversity.

Myth: The Safe Schools program teaches there are 63 different genders.

Fact: The Safe Schools program does not teach this.

Myth: The Safe Schools program encourages use of props.

Fact: The Department of Education and Training provides evidence-based information, written resources and professional learning for school staff to use as they see fit to support schools to prevent, and respond to, discrimination against LGBTI students. These resources do not include props.

Myth:The Safe Schools program asks students to role play same-sex relationships.

Fact: There are no role playing or acting exercises in the optional Safe Schools teaching resources. Rather, one interactive exercise invites students to imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes. This exercise is designed to build empathy and understanding of others. Resources provided by the Department of Education and Training are developed by experts and carefully selected to ensure they are age appropriate.

Myth: The Safe Schools program isn’t a real anti-bullying program.

Fact: It is a sad reality that LGBTI young people are more likely to be bullied at school than elsewhere and this has a major impact on their educational outcomes. Safe Schools provides information and resources to schools to raise understanding and awareness of sexual and gender diversity. The program assists schools to have conversations with students about mutual respect and understanding towards each other despite differences in their culture, beliefs, sexuality or gender. By doing so, young people feel safer at school and are provided with an environment where they can be happy, confident and resilient.

Myth: All government and non-government schools are forced to join the program.

Fact: The Victorian Government has committed to expand the Safe Schools program to all government secondary schools by the end of 2018. These schools are free to implement the program in a way that best suits their students and community. Other schools, including primary schools and non-government schools, are able to access the Safe Schools information and resources as they see fit and request support where they need it.

Myth: Parents are not given an opportunity to consent to their child’s participation and the program disregards the wishes of parents who do not want their children to participate.

Fact: Individual schools decide how to implement the Safe Schools program at their school, based on their local context and the needs of their school community. This is often done in consultation with students, school council and the broader school community. The program does not impose specific requirements for student participation but does ask all school community members to demonstrate the school’s values. The Department of Education and Training encourages parents to discuss any concerns directly with the school principal. Within any school community there is always a diversity of views represented and schools take those views into account when working with children and families.

Myth: Students are told not to discuss the content of the Safe Schools program with people outside of school, including their parents.

Fact: This is not true. Students are encouraged to discuss what they learn at school with their families and parents. Schools are encouraged to engage families and the broader school community in their implementation of the Safe Schools program.

Myth: The program promotes and teaches children to undertake behaviour such as chest-binding and cross-dressing.

Fact: The program does not promote chest-binding or cross-dressing. The program provides information and resources to schools to raise understanding and awareness of sexual and gender diversity. Many LGBTI students feel uncomfortable about seeking support or affirming their identity and providing guidance and advice about these processes can reduce fear and anxiety in dealing with this. For many people, the question of their gender or their sexuality is straightforward; however, for some it is more contested as they don’t fit neatly into the ‘norm’. The Safe Schools program is solely aimed at helping children and young people understand that not everyone is the same and to respect this.

Myth: The Safe Schools program promotes cross dressing.

Fact: The Safe Schools program does not promote cross-dressing. The Safe Schools program seeks to ensure all children and young people feel safe, happy and comfortable at school.

Myth: Schools are overstepping their role by participating in the Safe Schools program.

Fact: Making sure our school environments are safe and free from discrimination and harassment is a requirement under Australian and Victorian anti-discrimination laws. The role of a school is to equip its students to lead healthy and productive lives, to not only achieve academically but also to be happy, healthy and resilient. Social and emotional learning is a key aspect of development for young people.

Myth: The proposal to change the law to give same-sex couples the right to marry is linked to the Safe Schools program.

Fact: There is no connection between the postal survey asking whether the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to get married and programs run in schools, such as Safe Schools. In 2010, the Victorian Government established Safe Schools to make sure schools are safe places for all students, including LGBTI students.

Myth: Respectful Relationships and the Safe Schools program are the same.

Fact: Respectful Relationships and Safe Schools are two very different initiatives. The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended Respectful Relationships be introduced to all government schools (Recommendation 189). The Respectful Relationships initiative takes a whole of school approach, looking at practices and policies to build a culture of respect and equality. It also looks at topics like coping with stress and problem solving, helping students excel at school.

How does my school become a safe school?

The Safe Schools Unit can work together with your school to build safer and more inclusive environments for your whole school community.

To start this process, schools can contact the Safe Schools Unit or download: 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing the program and the most effective safe schools are created when tailored to suit individual school environments.

The Guide to make your school safe and inclusive for LGBTI students provides different ideas and actions schools can use in creating a safe school. See:

To view the schools that signed up to the program prior to 16 March 2017, when the program transferred to direct delivery by the Department of Education and Training, see:

These schools made a pledge to "build an environment that is safer and more inclusive for the whole school community.

In line with the Government's election commitment, the Department of Education and Training will expand the program to all government secondary schools by the end of 2018 and all Victorian schools will continue to be able to access the resources and support provided by the program.

The Government expects schools across Victoria to ensure the safety and inclusion of all students in their care, including LGBTI students, and is providing support through the Department of Education and Training - including through ongoing delivery of the Safe Schools program - to enable them to do so.

For more information, you can contact Safe Schools via email: safe.schools@edumail.vic.gov.au

You may also wish to contact your local school directly to discuss their approach to LGBTI inclusion and support.

Safe Schools resources

Staff at safe schools may access support and advice on matters like how to:

  • satisfy the Department's Gender and Sexual Diversity Policy and Victorian and Australian anti-discrimination legislation
  • prevent bullying of LGBTI students
  • respond to bullying incidents, especially incidents of homophobia or transphobia
  • adopt a whole-school approach to preventing discrimination, harassment and bullying
  • create supportive and inclusive school policies
  • train staff on creating supportive spaces for LGBTI students
  • set up and developing student-led activities to create positive, inclusive change, and
  • equip other staff and students with skills and ideas to create inclusive environments.

As part of their efforts to establish a safe and more inclusive environment, schools determine what their needs are, what resources they should use, and how best to support their community. School staff use their own professional judgement on how and when to use these materials and how to communicate their content to students.

The Department of Education and Training has developed the following resource to build schools’ understanding of the Safe Schools program and to guide their efforts to support LGBTI inclusion in their community:

The following resources further support delivery of the Safe Schools program in Victorian schools:

None of these materials are compulsory – they are available to help schools create safe and welcoming places for all members of a school community, free of transphobic and homophobic bullying.

For accessible versions of these documents, email: safe.schools@edumail.vic.gov.au

Schools may also wish to access additional resources that have been developed by other organisations for both students and educators that also support the creation of safe and inclusive school environments:

For accessible versions of these documents, contact: safe.schools@edumail.vic.gov.au

Contact us

For more information, contact the Safe Schools Unit via email or phone on:

References

[1] Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney, p. 3.

[2] T Jones and Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission (2012), A report about
discrimination and bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Western Australian education, p 11.