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School Hostels: Ministry Seeks Public Comment

Media Release


School Hostels: Education Ministry Seeks Public Comment on Student Safety and Boarding Bursaries

The Ministry of Education announced today that it is calling for public input into the development of new regulations designed to ensure the safety of the 10,000 school students who board in more than 100 hostels throughout New Zealand.

"Most hostels accommodating school students are well run and provide a safe environment for students," Claire Douglas Senior Manager said.

"However, there is a concern that the environment in some hostels could harm students' physical and emotional development and their ability to learn.

"At present the government has few powers to intervene when safety issues arise and a hostel operator is unwilling or unable to effectively address those issues and that's why we're considering new regulations."

Claire Douglas said a discussion document Ensuring the Safety of School-student Boarders: The development of proposals for Education (Hostel) Regulations is being sent to known hostels, boarding schools, local authorities and interested government agencies next week.

The discussion document presents information about regulations under the Education Act 1989 that would enable:

- better checking and monitoring of people who operate a hostel

- setting of clear minimum standards for hostel premises and management practices

- better intervention options where unsafe hostels are identified.

"The Ministry encourages all hostels and boarding schools to inform boarders, parents and guardians and others who may have an interest about the consultation and the opportunity for them to contribute," Claire Douglas said.

"This move is in addition to the 17 percent ($350) per annum increase in government boarding bursaries, announced earlier this year, and a further thorough review to improve the overall effectiveness of bursaries in helping students to stay in education.

"The boarding bursaries review, also being carried out by the Ministry of Education, involves consultation with key groups in the rural and education sectors.

"At the hostel safety consultation meetings there will also be an opportunity to discuss some specific review questions," Claire Douglas said.

Additional copies of the discussion document, a shorter summary and information about consultation meetings and workshops (being held in eight locations from Invercargill to Whangarei) is available on the Ministry of Education website:

The published discussion document indicates a closing date for written submissions of Friday 27 August 2004, but submissions will be accepted up to Friday 10 September 2004 to give everyone who wants to comment the opportunity.

Background information follows:

Background: Hostel safety in New Zealand today

The Education Act 1989 ("the Education Act") defines "hostels' as "boarding establishments used mainly or solely for the accommodation of students enrolled at a registered school". There are 109 school hostels in New Zealand accommodating approximately 10,000 students . An unknown number of other privately operated hostels make up an assumed national total of around 150 hostels.

Recent information suggests that most hostels are well run and provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students. However, every year, safety concerns are identified in some hostels including reports of bullying, sexual abuse, harassment and physical assault.

More than 20 percent of hostels reviewed by the Education Review Office (ERO) typically required improvements in terms of:

- policies to guide the operations of the hostel

- appropriate work appraisal for hostel staff

- accountability and reporting mechanisms (to parents and to boards of trustees/proprietors)

- clear disciplinary procedures for boarders

- relationships between hostels and parents.

A range of legislation already covers aspects of physical safety (for example, the Building Act 1991). The safety of international student boarders is already substantially addressed through the administration of the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students and supporting guidelines. ERO reviews, which will occur on average once every three years by 2006, also encourage and inform good practice in hostels. However, there are gaps in existing legislation in terms of:

- minimum standards for hostel management practices (including for pastoral care) relating to domestic student boarders

- enforcement mechanisms (and incentives to report poor operators) that enable direct intervention where serious safety concerns are identified

- coverage of an unknown number of private hostels of unknown standards.

The development of proposals for Education (Hostel) Regulations

Beyond safety "bottom lines', hostel regulations are unlikely to influence the nature or content of service agreements between hostels and their clients. However, consultation will include discussions with stakeholders about how best to manage impacts on boarders and their families. The following summarises key elements of the proposals outlined in the discussion document.

A licensing system for hostels

The discussion document proposes that:

- the Ministry of Education would act as a central licensing body to enable clear and consistent guidance and direction for licensees, and to undertake active enforcement of the regulations

- there would be three different classes of licence that may be subject to conditions:

- 12-month transitional licences for existing hostels

- full (3-year) licences

- provisional licences to assist with dealing with issues of non-compliance or complaint investigation

- in specified circumstances, the licensing body could suspend or cancel a licence

- the licensing body would collect licence fees to recover costs of paper-based assessment activities, ongoing database management, a limited amount of ongoing training/resources for authorised persons, and any hostel visits/reports for licensing and enforcement purposes

- related review and assurance activities would be undertaken by ERO as part of its regular cycle of reviews and, as appropriate, in response to information indicating that there are serious concerns for a safe physical and emotional environment that supports learning for students accommodated in the hostel.

Requirements for hostel premises, facilities and management practice

The discussion document proposes "minimum standards that apply to hostel premises and facilities' (the physical environment) and a "code of practice relating to the management of hostels' (which includes the emotional environment). This would clarify safety issues hostel licensees must address, and inform the development of licence conditions - while providing sufficient flexibility to accommodate many different hostel circumstances and operating styles. Matters covered would include:

- requirements for spaces, facilities, and equipment

- fire protection and other emergency arrangements

- requirements for written policies and standard operating procedures, including about matters such as boarder behaviour, ill-treatment of boarders, leave of absence, and hostel excursions

- record keeping

- staffing, security, and supervision of boarders and visitors to hostels

- health protection

- food safety and nutrition

- general safety

- related licensing body directions.

Other possible provisions

The discussion document also sets out proposals for other possible regulatory provisions, including:

- parents' and guardians' rights of access

- a complaints procedure for boarders, parents, and guardians in respect of matters covered by hostel regulations

- a prohibition on payment of a government boarding bursary or subsidy in respect of students boarding at an unlicensed hostel

- offences.

Public consultation during August 2004

Consultation meetings are planned for the following locations and dates.

- Wellington Wednesday 4 August

- Wanganui Thursday 5 August

- Whangarei Tuesday 10 August

- Auckland Wednesday 11 August

- Napier Thursday 12 August

- Invercargill Tuesday 17 August

- Dunedin Wednesday 18 August

- Christchurch Thursday 19 August


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