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NZ Schools blame new Health and Safety Law for preventing school exchanges

 

Schools put school sport exchanges on hold blaming new health and safety laws video

 

AIRFAX NZ

New health and safety laws could jeopardise the age-old billeting tradition during school exchanges.

 

Billeting on school sports and chess club exchanges has been part of every Kiwi's childhood.

But this week, in the wake of tough new health and safety laws coming into force, intermediate schools in New Plymouth and Rotorua have pulled the pin on school sports exchanges.

The cancellation is expected to be the first of many, and experts warn the Health and Safety at Work Act 2016 could be the final nail in the coffin for the much-loved New Zealand institution of billeting.

Palmerston North Girls' High School basketballer Maddi Chrystal and her team are staying in a holiday park during the ...
SIMON O'CONNOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Palmerston North Girls' High School basketballer Maddi Chrystal and her team are staying in a holiday park during the national championship.

 

This is because school boards, nervous that principals could be prosecuted if any harm comes to their pupils while billeting, are setting in place policies to require all parents and older siblings in billet households to be vetted by police

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Devon Intermediate in New Plymouth has put its sports exchange with Rotorua's Mokoia Intermediate on hold for at least a year. 

Jill McCausland from Manukura School, Palmerston North said her school didn't often take part in inter-school sports.
CATHERINE GROENESTEIN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Jill McCausland from Manukura School, Palmerston North said her school didn't often take part in inter-school sports.

 

In a newsletter to parents of children at Devon Intermediate, it said the health and safety act which came into effect in 2015 was to blame.

It read: "The changes meant we could no longer billet students, and the Mokoia staff and students would have to stay elsewhere meaning the cost would be too much."

Mokoia principal Deborah Epp said the decision was made based on the Vulnerable Children Act, which she said goes "hand in hand" with the health and safety act.

Basketball coach Dee Davis from Napier Boys' High School said his students' safety was a priority.
CATHERINE GROENESTEIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Basketball coach Dee Davis from Napier Boys' High School said his students' safety was a priority.

 

"We would have to police vet all the adults and all the older children in the household," she said.

Devon Intermediate would not be able to complete the checks on time, she said, and the school's board had asked for it to be postponed.

Both schools had made the decision to make the police checks standard practice.

"It just seems prudent. There's some disappointment among students but I think the parent's understand."

Some schools have already done away with the age old tradition of billeting, preferring to stay at a marae or holiday parks. 

Jill McCausland, who travelled as a supporter with the junior girls' basketball team from Manukura School in Palmertston North to New Plymouth for the national championships on Saturday, said they did not have many inter-school trips.

"We have a Maori kaupapa so we generally stay on the marae, for the cost factor and because we are comfortable with the marae setting," she said.

"This time around we have a small group and they are staying in the Top 10 holiday Park. We have a large dormitory for all 10 girls and units for the staff."

But Dee Davies, coach of Napier Boys' High School who were also at the tournament, said billeting was still on the cards for future school trips.

"Most times we go on trips, we stay in accommodation, usually on maraes, the only time we don't is for school sports exchanges," he said. 

"That's simply because of the expense, and also has the advantage of all staying together, team building is most important when you are on a trip."

Although he would still allow his team to be billeted, he was careful of their safety.

"It is always on my mind. I usually have a good relationship with the coach (of the other school) and if they assure me the places are safe, I am happy with that."

The team had been on six trips this year, two of which were sports exchanges where they were billeted.

Lynda Stuart, a member of the New Zealand Teachers Council, said there were valid concerns about ensuring the safety of students in school-related situations.

"While the Vulnerable Children Act and Safety at Work legislation do not directly apply to parent volunteers, many schools understandably have a heightened sensitivity to risk because of legislative changes and are taking extra steps to ensure child safety," she said.

Stuart, who is also an executive of the New Zealand Education Institute, said it was not a legal requirement for parents to be police vetted, but some schools were choosing to do it as an added precaution.

"It would be a great loss if schools were to start permanently cancelling camps and exchanges, but it appears that, more often, schools are instead doing extra vetting to ensure the safety of their students."

The Ministry of Education said it encouraged schools to vet all volunteers as best practise, especially when they had contact with students overnight.

WorkSafe, who oversees the health and safety act, said it shouldn't put an end to school trips.

"Schools have previously asked us whether they would have conduct police checks on billets, and we have advised this would be beyond what would be reasonably practicable," general communications manager John Tulloch said.

"The health and safety act does not preclude students being billeted."

He said if a student was injured at a house they were being hosted in it was likely it wouldn't even come under the act, as it wouldn't be a workplace incident.

 - Sunday Star Times

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