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Every school is required to have a student engagement policy. The policy:
- describes the expectations and aspirations of the school community in relation to student engagement
- includes strategies to address bullying, school attendance and behaviour.
Steps to develop a policy
This is a good practice process for creating a high quality student engagement policy. Each step should be completed in partnership with the school community, including students.
- 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.
What to include
A high quality student engagement policy will include:
A description of the school profile
To help members of the school community understand the needs of the school, the school profile statement should detail the diversity of the student population and school community.
Including school data and referencing community aspirations for the school can help to identify strengths and areas for improvement.
School values, philosophy and vision
The policy could include a global statement about the philosophy of the school before moving on to more specific statements relating to the school community. Two examples of global statements are:
- every member of the school community has a right to fully participate in an educational environment that is safe, supportive and inclusive
- everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
Information about a school’s values, philosophy and vision will set the tone and direction of the policy. This information should include:
- any engagement and wellbeing goals and targets related to school improvement strategies and actions identified through the school’s strategic and annual implementation planning process
- a specific statement outlining the school’s commitment to addressing bullying, including cyberbullying
- a statement about the rights and responsibilities of all students, teachers and parents/carers within the school community.
The Education Training and Reform Act (2006) prohibits the use of corporal punishment in any Victorian Government school.
The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority’s Minimum Standards for School Registration requires that each school has a policy that explicitly states that corporal punishment is not permitted at the school. This should be written explicitly into a school's Student Engagement Policy.
Principles for health and wellbeing
You may wish to include reference to the principles for health and wellbeing. The principles are a reminder of good practice when working with children and young people and are intended to promote, nurture and support the health and wellbeing of Victorian children and young people.
Principle 1: Maximise access and inclusion. Quality education and support for all, with extra effort directed to ensuring education and support is accessible and inclusive to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Principle 2: Focus on outcomes. A focus on health, learning, development and wellbeing outcomes is upheld when designing, delivering, evaluating and improving education and support services.
Principle 3: Evidence-informed and reflective practice. Policy and practice is informed by current and relevant evidence, known to be effective in improving outcomes. Research and evaluation is undertaken to grow the evidence base and enable effective and reflective practice.
Principle 4: Holistic approach. Educators and support staff work collaboratively and professionals use multidisciplinary approaches and focus on the range of goals, aspirations and needs of children, young people and families.
Principle 5: Person-centred and family sensitive practice. Successful schools see people in the context of their families and environment, and seek to support and empower people to lead and sustain healthy lives.
Principle 6: Partnerships with families and communities. Ensuring children and young people have good health and wellbeing is the collective responsibility of families, schools, the community and government; requiring shared commitment and action.
Principle 7: Cultural competence. To effectively meet the needs of all children, young people, requires an ability to understand and effectively communicate with people across cultures and recognise one’s own world view.
Principle 8: Commitment to excellence. Education providers and services have high expectations for those they work with, and continually assess their own work practices to find opportunities for improvement.
A policy should outline a range of evidence-based strategies that a school will use to positively engage students in learning and intervene early when problems arise.
Research shows that engagement strategies work best when they extend beyond wellbeing and disciplinary approaches. You may like to also reference teaching, learning and assessment strategies, with a focus on personalised learning and the use of technology.
Engagement strategies can be categorised and presented in the policy as:
universal (school-wide) engagement strategies that create safe, inclusive and empowering environments that foster an enthusiasm for learning and support student wellbeing
targeted (population-specific) engagement strategies that meet the varied needs of vulnerable cohorts, including both prevention and intervention strategies
individual (student-specific) engagement strategies for students at risk, including strategies to identify and respond to individual student circumstances when regular attendance is not consistent or positive behaviours are not demonstrated.
In addition to universal strategies, schools still need processes in place to identify and intervene early when an individual or group of students are at risk of disengaging.
Behavioural expectations and responses to challenging behaviour
An engagement policy should detail the shared school community expectations for behaviour and the consequences and sections to be taken when these are not met. These actions should include support measures and disciplinary measures.
Disciplinary measures should be considered as part of a staged response to
challenging behaviour and used in combination with other engagement and support strategies to address the range of factors that may have contributed to the student's behaviour.
Disciplinary measures should retain the dignity of the student and measures that exclude a student from learning should be avoided where possible.
The process to evaluate and update the policy
An engagement policy should be treated as a living document.
Regularly review the policy in conjunction with your school's annual self-evaluation.
Giving staff members the role of leading the evaluation of the policy can be effective.
To ensure that the policy continues to reflect the school community’s expectations and aspirations schools should report on its effectiveness to their community.
Questions to consider
When creating or reviewing your policy, you 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 is involved
An engagement policy is best developed with input from representatives from all areas of the school community, including:
- school principals, as they have the primary responsibility to develop, communicate, implement and monitor the policy
- school community, which has a key role in ensuring the policy reflects shared expectations 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)
Using school data
Using data about a school to inform the engagement policy is important. Schools can draw on a variety of data sources to gain an understanding of the diversity of the school community and the engagement and wellbeing needs of students.
Before developing or reviewing an engagement policy it would be helpful for schools to gather data from:
The School Information Portal provides principals with a single point of entry to current and historical school data and allows data to be sorted to best suit their needs.
The Attitudes to School Survey data can be used to:
- 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 school.
Using the policy
The 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.
An 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 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.
If you have questions about engagement policies, you can:
- talk to other schools in their networks about their approaches to student engagement and successful strategies they have tried.
- talk to your closest regional office
- discuss any concerns about the wellbeing and engagement of an individual or group of students with a student support service officer or other student wellbeing professional.
The need for an engagement policy (legal obligations and research)
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.
Developing a policy can support schools to address their legal obligations under relevant legislation including:
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.
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.
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:
- realises their learning potential and maximises their education and training achievement
- promotes enthusiasm for lifelong learning
- allows parents to take an active part in their child's education and training.