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Statement from the Secretary, Department of Education

An apology to the victim-survivors of child sexual abuse in Victoria's government schools on behalf of the Department of Education.

Jenny Atta, Secretary, Department of Education, provided a witness statement to the Board of Inquiry into historical child sexual abuse in Beaumaris Primary School and certain other government schools on Friday 17 November 2023.


I want to say on behalf of the department, to victim-survivors of child sexual abuse in Victoria's government schools, that I am profoundly sorry for the shocking abuse and injury inflicted on you.

Abuse and injury that should never have occurred anywhere, but especially in a place where you were not only entitled to feel safe, but where you should have been safest.

I understand, and acknowledge, that harm is not just caused by the abuser, but harm is also caused, and is compounded, by a lack of an appropriate response by those in authority. I acknowledge and deeply regret the catastrophic failings of the government school system and the Department of Education over the period of time being examined by this Board of Inquiry.

Our schools and the department failed to protect you at a time when you were most vulnerable, when you were a child. I acknowledge this without qualification and genuinely believe that institutions, particularly public institutions, must own and be accountable for their history.

I have heard how many victim survivors felt unable to disclose their abuse. The education system did not arm them, as children, with the knowledge to know the abuse was wrong, or the language or processes to assist them in disclosing. It did not arm teachers with the skills to recognise the signs to identify and intervene to prevent further abuse. For those children who disclosed to an adult, they were often not believed. If they were believed, the response was woefully inadequate or inappropriate. The response left the victims and those seeking to protect them powerless, and enabled the abuse of children to continue and spread.

The failings of the system are many. They include the following.

  • There were no policies or processes to prevent abuse or guidance on how to respond to allegations when they were made.
  • There was no training of teachers to be able to identify the warning signs of child sexual abuse.
  • While there were processes that could have been used to remove the perpetrator from the teaching service, those processes were not/rarely used.
  • Teachers were able to remain in their role or transfer to other schools and continue the abuse.

It is utterly unacceptable that a child should suffer sexual abuse while they are under the care and supervision of a Victorian government school.

In relation to Beaumaris Primary School, and other schools examined through this inquiry, I want to say that it is profoundly troubling that multiple students were sexually abused at a similar time.

These were not one-off incidents. Between the department’s records and those of Victoria Police, we now know of at least 44 victim-survivors of 4 perpetrators across multiple schools. I understand that more have come forward to this Board of Inquiry and there are likely to be more still. Some will have lived their whole lives in silence, dealing with the trauma of what happened to them on their own.

I am deeply sorry for the psychological trauma and injury suffered by former students of our schools as a consequence of this abuse, and the deep impact and harm that this has caused victim-survivors throughout their lives.

I want to acknowledge the far-reaching impacts of this abuse on parents, spouses, partners, children and other family members, which is significant, enduring and often unacknowledged.

And I recognise the strength and courage of the victim-survivors who have come forward to advocate on behalf of other victim-survivors, and the bravery and resilience required of any victim-survivor to come forward.

And finally, in making these acknowledgements and offering my genuine apology on behalf of the Department of Education, I am acutely conscious of the calls from victim-survivors for not only apology, but for a commitment to action. I am aware of the evidence already before this Board of Inquiry that goes to this point, that without a commitment and follow-through on a course of action, there is risk of further harm, and an ongoing loss of trust.

There have been many changes to prevent the abuse of children in schools, to ensure child safety is a priority. We have taken steps not only to change the way in which we respond to allegations of abuse, but also to prevent it from happening in the first place. I hope to be able to talk about some of those today.

As Secretary of the Department of Education I genuinely welcome the establishment of this Board of Inquiry. On behalf of the department, I commit to fully engaging with the findings, conclusions and recommendations so that they can inform tangible steps and actions for the department, and across government, to ensure that there are effective supports and services available to victims of historical sexual abuse in government schools – and to inform our continued work to ensure that the safety of children in our schools is our highest priority.

Jenny Atta


Department of Education