Bullying and discrimination

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The law and DET policy protect your child’s right to attend school free from discrimination and bullying and other forms of harassment.

On this page:

The Victorian Government’s Dignity and Respect statement that says:

The Department of Education and Training is committed to providing safe and supportive work environments where diversity is valued and everyone is treated with respect, fairness and dignity.

Discrimination, sexual and other forms of harassment, bullying, violence and threatening behaviour are unacceptable.

All employees, students, parents and visitors in schools and other DET workplaces are expected to act accordingly.

The Department (which includes schools) and school councils, will act to ensure that the safety, security, health and wellbeing of all employees, students, parents and visitors in schools and other DET workplaces are protected.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act (2010) outlaws discrimination, and requires schools to take reasonable steps to eliminate it as much as possible. The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and other anti-discrimination laws also protect your child’s right to attend school free from discrimination and harassment. ‘Harassment’ includes any actions in relation to your child’s disability that is likely to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress them, or you as their family member. Bullying is a form of harassment.

The same laws outlaw victimization, which is when someone is treated unfairly for complaining, or helping others complain, about an incident of discrimination or harassment.

What is bullying?

Bullying can include:

  • Direct physical or verbal bullying, such as name-calling or repeated exclusion of a child from social groups or activities. Bullying also includes nasty jokes, mimicking someone or causing them physical harm.
  • Indirect bullying, carried out behind someone’s back with the intention of humiliating them or hurting their reputation.
  • Cyber-bullying, including direct or indirect bullying or harassment via mobile phone, websites or social media.

Bullying can come from other students, sometimes reinforced by stereotyped attitudes of their family members.

Bullying can also come from staff with stereotyped attitudes, such as a teacher who tells student off for ‘not trying’ without recognising the impact of their disability. Bullying can be reinforced by teachers who do not challenge such behaviour from other students and staff, and do not actively support the inclusion of students with a disability.

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Action on bullying by schools

There are many things that schools can do to prevent discrimination and bullying, and to promote a school culture where everyone’s rights are respected. The Victorian Government provides information and advice for students, families, teachers and school leaders on bullying and harassment on the DET website under ‘Bully Stoppers’.

Many schools have good anti-bullying programs, and yet students with a disability continue to experience high rates of discrimination, exclusion and bullying, according to the federal government’s most recent five-yearly review of the Disability Standards for Education. Bullying on the basis of disability can be combined with other experiences of exclusion, for example for students from Aboriginal or migrant backgrounds, or those who are same-sex attracted or gender questioning. Prevention of bullying is also about positive measures to support the inclusion of all students.

Schools could consider developing specific policies and strategies to prevent and address bullying based on disability, including helping staff to recognise and respond to bullying, challenge stereotyped beliefs about people with a disability and support inclusion of all students.

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Standing up against bullying

You can do a lot to highlight the issue of bullying and exclusion at your child’s school. Ask the school for their anti-bullying policy and suggest ways it can be promoted to the school community. Discuss it with your child’s teachers and support staff, and with other parents and carers. And be sure to make the school aware promptly if your child is experiencing exclusion, discrimination of bullying, including on the basis of their disability.

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Discrimination can take many forms

A student with a disability experiences discrimination if they are excluded from any aspect of the learning experiences offered by schools, without either reasonable adjustments or a comparable alternative. This includes exclusions from activities such as sport, excursions or camps, or physical parts of the school environment.

Discrimination might arise from an adjustment intended to address the student’s needs, but which actually results in their disadvantage, for example if the student has to go to unreasonable lengths to access part of the school facilities.

Discrimination can arise from the actions of a single person or group. It can also be ‘institutional’, arising from the school’s failure to recognise, understand or meet a student’s learning needs.

This discrimination is often not intentional, but a product of limited time and resources. Indeed, many teachers and other staff might not be aware of their legal obligation to meet the learning needs of students with a disability.

  • The National Disability Coordination Officer Programme has produced a website guide to the Disability Standards for Education, which can help people with disabilities, parents and carers, and education provider to understand the most important parts of the Disability Standards for Education.
  • The University of Canberra and all state and territory governments have partnered to produce a suite of e-learning courses for teachers and school staff about these obligations.

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What you can do

Students have the legal right to protection from discrimination on any basis, including disability, race and culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, or family structure.

Students need to feel comfortable and accepted for who they are. Schools should be inclusive, and adapt their teaching practices, support services and environment to the diverse needs of their student population.

  • Aboriginal families can find out more about their children’s rights and resources out there to help from Rock Solid, our resource for Aboriginal families.
  • CALD families can see our information in five community languages (Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, Punjabi and Tagalog), contact services such as ADEC or speak to our parent support team about racism and cultural issues.

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