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FAQ

New South Wales

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Hi, my name is Ralph. I am 17 and live in Wollongong. A teacher is bullying me at school. What can I do?

Answer: Hi Ralph,

You have a right to feel safe at school and your teacher and school have a responsibility to look after your well-being. We have given you some information below on how best to deal with your teacher offending you.

Your teacher’s duty of care and legal responsibilities

Your teacher owes you a 'duty of care'. This means that your teacher has a legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to keep you from being harmed by offensive behaviour or bullying.

Your teacher must also follow the NSW Department of Education’s Code of Conduct.This Code says that teachers should be courteous and responsive in dealing with their students, and not harass students or discriminate against them. It also says that teachers have a special responsibility in presenting themselves as appropriate role models for students.

All public schools (and many private schools) in New South Wales have Anti-Bullying Plans in place. While we are not sure if your teacher’s offensive behaviour could be considered a form of bullying, if you feel like your teacher is bullying you, you or your parents can ask your school office for a copy of its Anti-Bullying Plan if you're not sure what it says.

If you go to a public school, it must follow the Department of Education's "Bullying: Preventing and Responding to Student Bullying in Schools Policy" at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/policies/student_serv/discipline/bullying/PD20100415.shtml.

This policy says that your school's Anti-Bullying Plan must include ways to:

  • respond quickly and effectively to incidents of bullying that have been reported to the school,
  • support any student who has been affected by bullying,
  • identify and respond to patterns of bullying, and
  • monitor the effectiveness of the Plan.


It also says that teachers have a responsibility to respect and support students, and to respond in a timely manner to bullying incidents.

 

What can you do if you are being bullied at school?

First, we recommend talking to your school counsellor and your parents about the way your teacher is offending you so they can give you some support.

Second, you or your parents can ask the school office for a copy of its Anti-Bullying Plan. Once you have read through the Plan, you and your parents can set up a meeting with the teacher and/or the principal to talk about what the school needs to do to meet its obligations under the law and the Plan to keep you safe from bullying.

If meeting with the principal doesn't help the situation, you can make a written complaint to the school. If you and your parents aren't satisfied with the school's response, and you believe that the school hasn't followed the policies set about above, you can make a formal complaint to the Department of Education.

For information on how to make a complaint, see:
http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-us/how-we-operate/how-we-handle-complaints/schools.

It's best to record as many details as possible about situations in which your teacher is offending you, by writing them down. When making a complaint, you will have to provide detailed information about the incidents, who you reported the incidents to, and what they did (or didn't do) about it.

Your school’s Anti-Bullying Plan is a useful place for you to start in looking at what your school should do to address bullying. We also encourage you to think about what you would like to see happen (for example, if you want the teacher to assure you that they will not offend you in this way again, if you want to change classes, etc.) so that the school or Department understands what will help you feel safe.

If you have any other questions we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail from www.lawstuff.org.au/lawmail.

Page last updated on 26 June 2015.

This is a question we received from a parents whose daughter was being bullied by a teacher at school.

Question: Hi, my name is Jeanette. I live in NSW. I have a 7 year old daughter called Joanne. She always comes home upset from school because her teachers yell at her in front of the whole class and act aggressively to her. She said they don’t do this to anyone else. What can we do?
 
Answer: Hi Jeanette,

Your daughter’s school has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to provide a safe and healthy school environment, free from bullying and harassment. Teachers also have to follow the Code of Conduct, which includes treating students with respect. The school also has an anti-bullying policy which appears to apply to everyone in the school community.

You have several options to deal with this situation. You can meet with the principal to talk about this, and you can make an informal or formal complaint to the school education director for your school.

You may also be able to take legal action against the school, but you will need to get more in-depth advice about this from a lawyer in your area.

 

The school's duty of care

The school has a general duty of care to take reasonable steps to protect students from harm, including finding ways to prevent and address school bullying. In addition to this general duty, all public schools in NSW must follow the Department of Education's policies and guidelines, including:

1. Code of Conduct
The Department of Education also has a Code of Conduct for school teachers. The Code of Conduct is available at:
http://www.teach.nsw.edu.au/documents/code_guide.pdf. There is also a Statement of Ethics that teachers must follow in NSW. You can find this here: http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/detresources/sofethicsposter_NuFKZPRTnu.pdf.

The Code says that teachers "are expected to always behave in ways that promote the safety, welfare and well-being of children and young people. You must actively seek to prevent harm to children and young people, and to support those who have been harmed."

The Code of Conduct also says that teachers must not discriminate against, harass or bully their students. The Code is clear that teachers must never use physical punishment on a student or verbally abuse, vilify or belittle students.

2. Anti-bullying policies
All public schools in NSW must follow the “Bullying: Preventing and Responding to Student Bullying in Schools” policy. The policy states that "school staff have a responsibility to respect and support students".

You can find out more about the policy here:
https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/policies/student_serv/discipline/bullying/PD20100415.shtml?level.

All schools in NSW must also have an anti-bullying plan. You may be able to find this on Joanne’s school website or you can contact the school to get a copy of it.

 

What can you do?

  • Meet with the principal and explain the school's duties
We recommend that you arrange a meeting with the principal and take along a copy of the Code of Conduct and the school’s anti-bullying plan. You can use these documents to show how Joanne’s right to a safe environment is not being respected. You can also show how the school is not following their stated policies and responsibilities.

You may wish to attend the meeting with someone else, including a relative or friend, for support.

  • Make a complaint

If you are not satisfied with the principal's response, you can make an informal complaint about the principal to the school education director in your area. You can find the name and number of the school education director from the school office.

You can also make a formal written complaint to the school education director using the form at this website:
https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/about-us/how-we-operate/how-we-handle-complaints/schools/complaint-form.pdf.

For more information on this process, see:
http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-us/how-we-operate/how-we-handle-complaints/schools.

If you are not happy with the way that the director and the Department of Education handle your complaint, you can bring the complaint to the NSW Ombudsman. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about public agencies:

NSW Ombudsman
Phone: 02 9286 1000
Website: www.ombo.nsw.gov.au

Please note that most complaints have to be made to the Ombudsman within one year.

  • Contact the Parents & Citizens Association

Your school’s Parents & Citizens Association may be able to provide you with some support in your dealings with the school. You may be able to find their contact details on the school website or you can ask the school for their details.

 

Where can Joanne get some support?

If you would like to talk to someone about what's going on, we recommend that you get in touch with your school counsellor. You can also speak to a counsellor at Kids Helpline on 1800 55 100. They are trained to provide counselling to children from the age of 5 up.


Question: Hi, my name is Daniel and I’m 16. I was recently suspended from my local public high school because they thought I hacked into the school’s system. The school confiscated and searched my phone and computer even though I didn’t give them permission. Can they do this? 

Answer: Hi Daniel,

A school can confiscate your things if you are using them inappropriately.

There are no set rules for what 'inappropriate use' means. But generally this will include:

  1. If use of the property is against school rules,
  2. If use of the property is disruptive to other students and the learning environment,
  3. If the property is a risk to the safety or wellbeing of other students, staff or other people,
  4. If a teacher gives you a reasonable direction about using the property and you don't do what the teacher has said, or
  5. If use of the property is illegal or dangerous.


However even if the school can confiscate your things, they may not be allowed to search them, especially without your consent.

Your school can ASK to look through your things, including electronic devices, if they reasonably believe:

  • that they have been used to break school rules or the law or
  • that they contain material that is illegal, offensive or inappropriate.

However, your school generally cannot search you and your devices without your permission. The only time they can force a search is when they have reason to believe that someone's safety is urgently at risk. From what you’ve told us, we don’t think this applies to your situation.

To learn more about searches and the use of technology in public schools, see the following Legal Issues Bulletins from the Department of Education and Communities:

 

BYOD POLICY

If you bring your laptop to school as part of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program, you may have been asked to sign a Student Agreement. It would have outlined rules you need to follow and your responsibilities while using your computer at school. These guidelines may give them permission to confiscate and search your laptop and phone. You would have been required to have signed a document saying that you agree to your school’s BYOD policy.  

The Department of Education and Communities has a template for BYOD policies and agreements online. You can find them here:
https://online.det.nsw.edu.au/policiesinter/category/search.do;jsessionid=xji5xvCW5sQxxdUIkgGThzGP.pu0000jbos1002:wis-302?level=Schools&categories=Schools|computers+%26+internet|student+mobile+device+policy

Under the template policy, principals are allowed to confiscate student devices if they have a reasonable belief or suspicion that a student has breached the BYOD policy and agreement. The sample Student Agreement says: “I will not hack or bypass any hardware and software security implemented by the department or my school.”

 

What can you do?

  • Discuss with your school

If you feel that your teachers are not following any of the rules we’ve outlined, you can ask to meet with the principal to discuss your concerns. It’s a good idea to bring a parent or other trusted adult along to support you.

You can also make a written complaint to the school. You may want to get your parents to help you write this, and you should always keep a copy of anything you send to the school.

  • Make a complaint

If you are unable to resolve the issue with the school, you can make a complaint to the Department of Education and Communities. If you and your parents would like to make a complaint you will need to fill in this form: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/about-us/how-we-operate/how-we-handle-complaints/schools/complaint-form.pdf

You can read about making a complaint here: http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-us/how-we-operate/how-we-handle-complaints/schools


**Bear in mind that you will generally have to lodge the complaint within 6 months of the conduct that you are complaining about**

If you have any other questions, please send us a Lawmail.

Page last Updated 17 May 2015.


Question: Hi my name is Ben and I live in Bourke. I’m in year 9 and I’m not enjoying school at the moment. I want to drop out before year 10. Can I do this?

Answer: Hi Ben,

The law in NSW says that you have to go to school until you finish Year 10 or turn 17. You can only leave school before this if you get special permission to do so. There are also rules about what you have to do if you leave school after you finish year 10 but before you turn 17.

 

When can you leave school?

Under NSW law, you have to go to school until you either complete Year 10 or turn 17 (whichever happens first). Your parents can get in trouble if you don't attend.

If you finish Year 10 before you turn 17, you have to either stay at school OR you can leave school to do full-time work (at least 25 hours a week), complete approved training (like an apprenticeship), continue your education (for example, at TAFE) or do a combination of these, until you turn 17.

The only way to leave school before you complete Year 10 or turn 17 is to get permission from the Minister for Education. Permission will only be granted if you and your parents can clearly show that it is in your best interests to leave school.

You and your parents can have a look at these guidelines on getting permission to leave: https://www.aisnsw.edu.au/Services/GovtRegs/Attendance/Documents/DEC%20Exemption%20Guidelines.pdf


What can you do?

  • Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

A good first step is to try to speak to your parents about how you're feeling and why you would like to leave school. If you don't feel comfortable talking to them alone, you can ask a family member, friend or go back to your school's counsellor to help out.

You can also check out these pages for some tips:


It's a good idea to think about the specific reasons why you’re not enjoying school at the moment. For example, is someone at school making you feel uncomfortable? Is there a particular course that you're struggling with? If you let your parents and your school counsellor know what's going on, they should be able to take steps to resolve any issues you're facing and make you feel better about going to school.

  • Start thinking about what you'd like to do after school


If you're considering leaving school, it's a good idea to start thinking about what else you might want to do - for example, an apprenticeship, training, working, etc. It's important not to leave school until you have a plan about what you want to do and the support of those who care about you.

Please keep in mind that there are options that would let you complete your school studies while spending part of your time doing practical training - for example, school-based apprenticeships.

For more information about school, training and career options for students, check out these websites:


If you are thinking about leaving school in order to work, and would like more information about the laws that apply to young workers, you can check out our Lawstuff page on employment in NSW here: http://www.lawstuff.org.au/nsw_law/topics/employment

  • Who else can you talk to?

There are lots of services which offer free and confidential counselling for young people.

If you would like talk to someone about how you're feeling, you can call a counsellor from Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or visit their website here: http://www.kidshelp.com.au/

You can also call headspace on 1800 650 890, or if you would prefer to chat online you can go to: https://www.eheadspace.org.au/.

If you have any other questions we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail from www.lawstuff.org.au/lawmail.

Page last updated on 26 June 2015.

Question: Hi my name is Nick, I’m 13 and live in Newcastle and I am being constantly bullied in school. I’ve talked to the school but they aren’t doing much. Can anyone else help me?

Answer: Hi Nick,

We’re sorry to hear you’ve been getting bullied. Everyone has the right to feel safe at school!

Your school has a responsibility to keep you safe from harm, including bullying. We recommend you and your parents meet with the principal to discuss how the school can work with you to make sure the bullying stops. If you are not happy with the Principal’s response there are a number of things you can do, which we explain below.

 

What responsibilities does your school have?

All schools have a responsibility to keep students safe. You have a right not to be bullied at school. Your school should have an anti-bullying policy or school safety policy. The teachers and Principal at your school should be looking out for you so that they can help prevent and stop bullying.

  • If you go to a public school


Public schools have a policy that says no student should be bullied in school. It also says what schools have to do to try to prevent and stop bullying.

 You can find this policy at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/policies/student_serv/discipline/bullying/PD20100415.shtml

 

  • If you go to a private school

Private schools have their own policy which should be made available to you. If you go to your school office you can get a copy and read it.

Based on what you've told us, it seems that your school’s policies are not working or are not being followed. If the school is not providing a safe environment for you, this can be a serious problem and can even mean your school is breaking the law.

 

What can you do?

  • Meet with the Principal

You said that you've already told your school about the bullying. If you're comfortable involving your parents, we encourage you to ask them to make a meeting to talk to your Principal as soon as possible. It's also a good idea to have another adult like a teacher or school counsellor at the meeting so everyone is informed.

At the meeting, we encourage you and your parents to ask the principal about what the school is doing to make sure the anti-bullying policies are working. Your parents can ask why the policy isn’t working and what other options can be done.

One solution may be to have the Principal or your parents talk to the other student and their parents. Another solution is to ask the Principal to make sure that all teachers are aware of the bullying situation and should stop the bullying if they see it happening.

You can also tell your Principal how you are feeling, especially if you are not feeling safe at school. It is your Principal’s responsibility to give you support if you have experienced bullying.

 

  • Make a complaint

If you're not happy with what your school is doing you can make a complaint.

If you go to a public school

You can make a complaint to the NSW Department of Education & Communities. There are a number of steps to follow:

  1. Contact the school education director in your area. You can ask at your school office for this person’s details. Or you can call the Department on 1300 679 332.
  2. Write a letter explaining what's going on at school, how you've tried to deal with the bullying by speaking to your Principal, why this hasn't worked out, and what kind of help you want from the Department.


You can get more information on making a complaint here: http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-us/how-we-operate/how-we-handle-complaints/schools

*If you are not happy with the response of the school education director, you can ask for your complaint to be reviewed again.


Where else can you get help?

  • NSW Ombudsman

If you are still unhappy with the Department’s response after asking for a review, your parents may want to contact the NSW Ombudsman who can review your complaint process. They can contact the NSW Ombudsman on 1800 451 524 or visit www.ombo.nsw.gov.au.

  • Community Justice Centres

Another option is to contact Community Justice Centres NSW. They provide free services to help people who are having trouble resolving an issue. Your family and the other student’s family can use this as a way to solve the issue. You can contact them on 1800 990 777 or at www.cjc.nsw.gov.au.

  • Counsellors


If you are scared to go to school or are feeling upset, it’s important that you share these feelings with other people, like your school counsellor or another trusted adult.

There are also lots of services which offer free and confidential counselling for young people.

If you would like talk to someone about how you're feeling, you can call a counsellor from Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or visit their website here:  http://www.kidshelp.com.au/

You can also call headspace on 1800 650 890, or if you would prefer to chat online you can go to: https://www.eheadspace.org.au/.

If you have any other questions we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail from www.lawstuff.org.au/lawmail.

Page last updated on 26 June 2015. 

   
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