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Teachers and other staff in a school have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to protect students from risks of injury, including those that may be encountered within the online learning environment. Teachers must understand their Duty of Care responsibilities and other school-based policies that work to support it such as the Student Engagement Policy and Acceptable Use Agreements.
Teachers are required to supervise all learning environments; the school grounds, the classroom and excursions - online spaces are also considered a learning environment. Therefore as part of that duty, teachers are required to adequately supervise students who are working in these spaces. This duty also requires protection from risks that could arise (that is, those that the teacher should reasonably have foreseen) and against which preventive measures could be taken.
Schools can demonstrate their duty of care by developing school-based policies including:
Student Engagement Policy that outlines:
- every student’s right to feel safe at school (including broader learning situations such as digital learning environments)
- that bullying or inappropriate behaviour including cyberbullying will not be tolerated
- the school’s holistic approach to promoting respectful relationships including school culture, policies and procedures, curriculum, programs and partnerships with families and community organisations
- initiatives and strategies that have been implemented to prevent and respond to bullying and inappropriate behaviour, including cyberbullying, and
- explicitly how the behaviours and strategies in place relate to the safe and responsible use of digital technologies.
Schools must review their Student Engagement Policy at least annually to ensure its implementation and ongoing relevance to the changing views and issues faced by the school community.
Acceptable Use Agreements that are developed in collaboration with teachers, students and their families. The agreements should identify expected standards of behaviour for students, the consequences for breaching these standards, and information for parents describing spaces which will be available in a student’s home such as the Global 2.
An obvious focus on teaching and learning for life:
- Classroom programs that clearly establish the educational purpose for the activity, the appropriate tools, online spaces, search engines etc which support the activity’s educational purpose and additional support that is available for students who may need assistance.
- Whole-school programs that support quality relationships between people, for example bystander training, restorative practices, school-wide positive behaviour support.
- Professional learning programs for teachers to develop and refresh skills to collaboratively create and maintain safe, respectful, caring and supportive school cultures.
It is not reasonable to expect a teacher or principal to inspect every site that will be presented in a search result or to expect them to supervise a space 24 hours a day. The nature of the internet means that there can be no guarantee against inappropriate content or changing circumstances in websites. However, it is reasonable to expect a teacher to respond to an online incident as soon as they have knowledge of its occurrence.
For more information, see:
Duty of care
Further information explaining the nature of the legal duties owed by teachers and school staff towards students, including their duty of care responsibility in online spaces can be found in the School Policy and Advisory Guide (formerly known as the Victorian Government Schools Reference Guide). The SPAG provides Victorian government schools with quick and easy access to governance and operational policies and advice.
For more information, see:
School Policy and Advisory Guide - Duty of Care