What is a Student Engagement Policy?
Every school is required to have a Student Engagement Policy that articulates the expectations and aspirations of the school community in relation to student engagement, including strategies to address bullying, school attendance and behaviour.
Given that students have varied needs and vulnerabilities a high quality Student Engagement Policy should incorporate a range of universal (school-wide), targeted (population-specific) and individual (student-specific) strategies needed to positively engage students in learning and engage them in the school community.
A high quality policy should also be built on the knowledge that student engagement is influenced by a wide range of factors.
While it is not necessary to detail specific teaching and learning strategies within a Student Engagement Policy, it is good practice to highlight the role that effective individualised teaching, and learning practices play in improving engagement.
A high quality Student Engagement Policy will become a pivotal reference document when discussing school-wide improvement strategies or tailoring individual student-based interventions.
“The more closely the goals of teachers, learners and educational systems are matched, the more effective the learning will be” (Understanding the Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science, OECD, 2007)
Why do schools need a Student Engagement Policy?
Research shows that a vibrant and positive school culture with a shared enthusiasm for learning is key to successful student outcomes. Intentional design and creative and thoughtful planning are essential to achieving this.
A high quality Student Engagement Policy that reflects the school community’s aspirations and the unique local context of the school is critical to developing a positive school culture and supporting a school council’s strategic aims.
Developing a Student Engagement policy can support schools to address their legal obligations under relevant legislation including:
- The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) which prohibits discrimination on the basis of protected attributes (characteristics) including race, religion, disability, sex, age, gender identity and sexual orientation.
- The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic), which requires public authorities, including government schools and their employees, to act compatibly with human rights and to consider human rights when making decisions and delivering services. Charter decisions in schools include decisions around enrolment, attendance, responding to behaviour concerns (including preventing the escalation of behaviours), the making of adjustments for students with disabilities, preventing and responding to bullying, use of restrictive practices including restraint, and decisions to suspend or expel a student. Rights protected by the Charter include the protection of families and children (including promoting the best interests of the child), the right to equality, and cultural and religious rights.
- The Disability Standards for Education 2005, which clarify and make more explicit the obligations on schools and the rights of students under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). The standards cover enrolment, participation, curriculum development, student support services, and harassment and victimisation.
- The Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic), which states that all Victorians, irrespective of the education and training institution they attend, where they live or their social or economic status, should have access to a high quality education that—
(i) realises their learning potential and maximises their education and training achievement;
(ii) promotes enthusiasm for lifelong learning;
(iii) allows parents to take an active part in their child's education and training.
To ensure schools meet the requirements of the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, a Student Engagement Policy must include:
- details in relation to monitoring the daily attendance of each student enrolled at the school
- policies and procedures that ensure that the care, safety and welfare of students is in accordance with any applicable State and Commonwealth law (including student welfare and bullying, cyberbullying and harassment)
- policies relating to the discipline of students that are based on principles of procedural fairness and include an explicit statement that corporal punishment is not permitted.
For more information about these requirements see: Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.
For additional information and sample policies to assist in meeting these requirements see: Registration Requirements for Schools
What process should be used to develop a Student Engagement Policy?
The table below outlines a suggested good practice process for developing a collaborative and high quality local Student Engagement Policy.
||Analyse existing data to identify strengths and areas for improvement|
||Develop creative, evidence based strategies to address engagement|
||Develop an implementation plan and monitoring and evaluation processes |
||Implement new strategies (including monitoring and evaluation)|
||Review success of strategies and progress towards vision |
As with most school-based policies, a Student Engagement Policy should be developed in close consultation with the school community, including school leaders, teachers, students and parents. This will help ensure the Student Engagement Policy matches the community’s expectations and aspirations and will also provide an opportunity to encourage student participation and proactively engage with parents, guardians and carers.
Research shows that intervening early with targeted and individual strategies is key to preventing disengagement and addressing challenging behaviours before they escalate. In reflecting on their engagement strategies and developing or reviewing their Student Engagement Policy, schools should consider the following :
- do school leadership and staff promote a culture of respect, fairness and equality, and foster respectful relationships?
- is the school environment inclusive and empowering, valuing the positive contributions of students and creating a sense of belonging and connectedness that are conducive to positive behaviours and effective engagement in learning?
- are there multiple opportunities for students to take responsibility and be involved in decision-making?
- are there school-wide and classroom processes to identify vulnerable students and those at risk of disengagement from school?
- are there school-wide and classroom processes for ongoing collection and use of data for decision-making?
- is there social/emotional and educational support for at risk and vulnerable students?
- are the school-wide and classroom expectations and consequences for problem behaviour clear?
- are there multiple opportunities for students to take responsibility and be involved in decision-making?
- has the creation of physical environments that are conducive to positive behaviours and effective engagement in learning been considered?
- are the strategies backed by a solid evidence base?
Who should be involved in developing and reviewing the policy?
A Student Engagement Policy is best developed with input from representatives from all areas of the school community, including:
- school leaders and staff, as they have the primary responsibility to communicate, implement and monitor the policy
- school council, which has a key role in ensuring the policy reflects the shared expectations of the whole school community and that the policy is well communicated and monitored, and its effectiveness evaluated
- students, whose voice (e.g. through Student Representative Councils) can assist in building relationships, shared expectations and supporting policy implementation. Research shows that when students are engaged in setting their own behavioural expectations they are much more likely to commit to them. This also helps to build an inclusive and respectful school culture, where all members of the school community feel empowered to contribute to influencing the culture and practice.
- parents and the broader community play a vital role in supporting successful learning experiences and outcomes for our children. This framework is about schools engaging with parents and communities to work together to maximise student engagement and learning outcomes.
A process which elicits meaningful contributions from across the school community reflects the shared responsibility for student engagement and can be a powerful tool to build a shared commitment to the Student Engagement Policy.
“We now know that educators will not greatly improve a child’s academic progress unless they find ways of getting the school and home into harmony.” (Hedley Beare, VICCSO online, 2013)
How can school data be used to inform the Student Engagement Policy?
A successful Student Engagement Policy will need to respond to the needs of the local school community, so using data about a school to inform a Student Engagement Policy is critical. Schools can draw on a variety of data sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of the diversity of the school community and the engagement and wellbeing needs of students.
Before developing or reviewing a Student Engagement Policy it would be helpful for schools to gather data from:
- monitor levels of student engagement and wellbeing
- compare school level data on engagement with statewide benchmarks
- stimulate discussion within the school community about how to improve engagement
- assist in the identification of areas for improvement and professional development needs in the
How should the Student Engagement Policy be used?
A school’s Student Engagement Policy should be a foundation reference document that supports or links with other school plans such as school-wide improvement strategies.
It can also be a helpful reference when tailoring individual student-based interventions, or to aid effective communication about the rights and responsibilities about all school community members when dealing with someone who is not meeting the behavioural expectations.
A Student Engagement Policy should be a living document that is reviewed and refreshed in response to progress and changing school context.
To ensure that a school community is familiar with and committed to the Student Engagement Policy it can be promoted by:
- making it a prominent feature on the school website
- highlighting excerpts on posters to remind people of their shared commitment to a safe and supportive school
- giving copies to parents when they enrol their children.