The following information explains the legal rights of volunteer school workers and the responsibility of schools in selecting, screening, supervising and managing volunteers.
Schools must develop and implement school level policies and procedures for the recruitment, screening and management of volunteers, consistent with the requirements of Ministerial Order 870: Child Safe Standards.
Definition of volunteer
A volunteer school worker is a person who voluntarily engages in school work or approved community work, without payment or reward. School work means:
- carrying out the functions of a school council
- any activity carried out for the welfare of a school, by the school council, any parents’ club or association or any other body organised to promote the welfare of the school
- any activity carried out for the welfare of the school at the request of the principal or school council
- providing any assistance in the work of any school or kindergarten
- attending meetings in relation to government schools convened by any organisation which receives government financial support.
This is a broad definition, and means that volunteers who participate in school community activities, such fundraising and assisting with excursions, are well protected from legal action by others.
Volunteer school workers are not liable in any civil proceedings for anything done, or not done, in good faith in providing a community service.
People who perform unpaid work in schools under the “Work for the Dole” program and “Community Work” programs administered by Centrelink have insurance cover provided by the Federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and may perform work in schools.
Other Centrelink benefit recipients involved in “voluntary” work in order to fulfill their recipient obligations are not covered by an Australian Government insurance scheme. Schools may however accept this group of Centrelink benefit recipients to work as volunteers in Victorian government schools and note that they are insured by the Department.
Assessing volunteer suitability
Schools must assess and verify the suitability of volunteers, see: Suitability Checks for School Volunteers and Visitors
The principal has the discretion as to the ongoing suitability of a volunteer working in their school and may determine at any time whether a person is suitable to volunteer at the school.
A volunteer is expected to comply with any reasonable direction of a Principal (or their nominee). This will include the requirement to agree and abide by the school’s Child Safety Policy / Statement of Commitment to Child Safety and the school’s Child Safety Code of Conduct.
Volunteers should be inducted, trained and supervised according to the school’s procedures for staff / volunteer induction and management. This includes being familiar with school level procedures for identifying and reporting suspected child abuse.
Reportable Conduct Scheme
Principals should notify the Employee Conduct Branch as soon as possible after becoming aware of a reportable allegation involving a volunteer, so that the Employee Conduct Branch can assess the allegations and report them to the CCYP, if appropriate. See: Reportable Conduct Scheme
Failure to Protect
Any staff member in a position of authority (Principals, Assistant Principals, and Campus Principals), who becomes aware that an adult associated with their organisation (such as an employee, contractor, volunteer or visitor) poses a risk of sexual abuse to a child under the care, authority or supervision of the organisation, must take all reasonable steps to remove or reduce that risk. This may include, for example, removing the adult from child-related work pending investigation. If a staff member in a position of authority fails to take reasonable steps in these circumstances, this may amount to a criminal offence.
Compensation for personal injury or property damage
Volunteer school workers are covered by the Department’s Workers Compensation policy if they suffer personal injury in the course of engaging in school work.
If a volunteer school worker suffers damage to their property in the course of carrying out school work, the Minister may authorise such compensation as the Minister thinks reasonable in the circumstances. Claims of this nature are to be directed to:
People and Executive Services Group
Department of Education and Training
2 Treasury Place
East Melbourne 3002
Education and Training Reform Act 2006 - sections 5.6.2, 5.6.3
Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013
Wrongs Act 1958 – section 37(1)