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Legal Education Digest

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Barker, D --- "Law for Educators" [2007] LegEdDig 38; (2007) 15(2) Legal Education Digest 54

Book Review: Law for Educators, J Jackson & S Varnham, LexisNexis Butterworths, 360pp

Professor David Barker AM

[2007] LegEdDig 38; (2007) 15(2) Legal Education Digest 54

This book is an all embracing overview of the law relating to schools and universities in Australia. It brings out the essentials of the legal situation relating to education at all levels, concentrating on those aspects which have been under review by the courts or discussion by policy makers, administrators, academics, teachers, parents, students - in fact most members of the population who are or have been touched at some time in their lives by attending an educational institution.

By virtue of the positions which they hold at their respective Law Schools, the authors are both in close contact with the important issues which are being resolved within the sphere of education, and are therefore able to bring to the attention of their readers the latest aspects of this developing area of the law. Moreover they have not been content with a merely legalistic approach to the subject, but have also considered the theoretical and administrative approach to the many problems which arise out of teaching both at secondary or tertiary level. Because of this, they are able to bring a practical, but nonetheless sympathetic, understanding of the problems involved, and this adds very much to the life and reality of their text.

The volume falls into three parts. In the first, the Institutions, they underline the legal concept of educational institutions, beginning with government and private schools, focusing on the increasing influence of the Federal Government as an indirect regulator by virtue of its funding role through the various forms of the Schools Assistance Legislation. They also deal with all aspects of the management of universities and conclude with an examination of special matters which impact on educational institutions such as discrimination, intellectual property and freedom of information.

The second and longest section of the book, the Students, is concerned with all aspects of students and their relationship to the educational environment, whether in schools or at tertiary level.

The approach by Jackson & Varnham in this part is very much coloured by the intention to incorporate into the text every possible aspect of student life which could contain a legal aspect. This approach in an Australian textbook poses a real challenge to retain the interest of the reader when there is a need to quote all relevant Commonwealth, State and the laws of the Territories when considering every possible situation which could affect students. There is a danger that the text could develop into a manual for use as a reference in respect of any problem which might arise. However, in the opinion of this reviewer, the authors retain the continuity of the subject by their linking of the narrative with a well-expressed introduction and conclusion to each chapter. An excellent example of this approach is Chapter 8, devoted to Special Education, which has become an increasing cognate and essential subject with a particular legal relevance to anyone who has an interest in school administration or management. This introduction contains a comprehensive analysis of the law relating to special educational needs, particularly with regard to the philosophy of ‘inclusion’ in respect of children with disabilities and also the rights of gifted children. This is further encapsulated in a succinct conclusion which stresses the intention of Commonwealth legislation to eliminate all forms of discrimination in the area of education and training.

The concluding two chapters (13 and 14) in this part move back into the combined school and university area by considering specific problems common to students in both the secondary and the tertiary sector. It might have been more helpful to avoid confusion if these two chapters had formed a separate part of the book, with Part II being retained solely for dealing with legal problems arising in the school sector.

The third part, entitled Teachers, contains two chapters, each dealing with matters of employment, Chapter 15 addressing employment issues with respect to schools, the final Chapter 16 examining similar employment issues in universities, with a special emphasis on academic freedom in Australian universities.

It would have been useful if there had been a concluding chapter drawing together those important legal aspects of the topic of education which had arisen throughout the book although it could be argued that the opening introduction already serves this purpose. The authors should be commended for their use of endnotes at the conclusion of each chapter and their generous acknowledgement of their drawing of inspiration from Education and the Law by Ian Ramsay & Ann Shorten.

The foregoing remarks should not detract from the conclusion that this is a publication of importance and value to those engaged in education at whatever level. It is a scholarly, fully-documented treatise on the law relating to education as it stands today and is written by two authors who have mastered the subject. It should be essential reading for anyone who, for theoretical or practical reasons, wishes to deepen their understanding of the legal aspects of education.

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