Connecting young people to their future
There's a slogan in the youth sector that drives Tanya Rogers' thinking on education: 'Nothing about me without me'.
Tanya is the superintendent in charge of Futures Connect, a radical initiative by the South Australian government, through the Department for Education and Children's Services (DECS), dealing with young people's transitions from school to post-school options. The Futures Connect strategy aims to assist 13-19-year olds to take more confident steps towards success in further education, work and personal development.
Rejecting the silo philosophy that militates against integrating services, Futures Connect promises to connect:
Tanya is passionate about Futures Connect as both a program to aid young people beyond school and as a philosophy of curriculum change. 'What's unique for us is that we're actually adamant that we can't have innovative learning plans shaping curriculum without changing the curriculum design. Schools need to be responsive to the kinds of learning young people need to develop as individuals, citizens and productive members of society.'
Facing rising evidence of students' disengagement from schooling, educators are looking to 'help connect young people with the relevant curriculum,' she says.
Every secondary student in a South Australian government school will have an individual transition plan for moving through school and beyond to a range of post-school options. The transition plan includes a Learning Plan, a Transition Portfolio and an Exit Map.
Students will begin to develop Learning Plans in their middle schooling by setting goals related to vocational learning opportunities and intended pathways after school. The plans will include curriculum choice, recognition of necessary skill development, proposed career pathways, goal setting and strategies for achieving those goals, and can be updated as they move through school. Learning plans will also help schools to identify young people 'at risk' of leaving school early.
Futures Connect will assist schools in developing a 'case management' approach to learning. Students will identify their goals and aspirations and link them to a relevant, engaging and worthwhile curriculum. Schools will work with students to develop plans that encourage young people to connect their strengths and learning with strategies that they can use for planning their future.
'The program is about meeting the needs of individuals. It will focus on what's important for young people,' Tanya says. 'Some may need minimal support; others far more.'
This 'case management' model is not new. A number of the State's schools have been trialling elements of career and transition services for over 12 months. For example, Salisbury East High School in the northern suburbs has developed a Senior School Transition Package. Teachers have developed transition plans, and the school timetable has been changed to incorporate the enhancement of student learning achieved through this case-managed approach. The school's mission statement promises: 'All students leave with an appropriate qualification that will give them access to the next stage of their lives.'
The Futures Connect strategy is intended to help schools and agencies make sure no young person is simply 'passed on' and allowed to slip through the net. A Transition Portfolio will document and showcase skills and abilities students have developed in school, in their workplace and community activities. Developing the plan will engage young people in deliberate reflection and action, as well as providing evidence of their interests and achievements.
Structurally, the strategy creates 17 FoCIS (Focus on Connected, Integrated Services) school clusters across the state, which will be funded relative to local needs. The aim is to improve retention rates, student attendance and participation to improve student learning outcomes and life options.
Clusters will each develop local education and training options, in partnership with industry and agencies in their community, to support all students to complete school or gain industry recognised training and accreditation.
The strategy will also provide additional funding to broker and coordinate services to vulnerable young people at a higher risk of leaving school, including students from low socio-economic areas, Indigenous students and students with disabilities.
DECS says young people will benefit from improved career and transition services, more opportunities to learn about and work in local industry, greater access to community support and increased choices in education and training.
Working with students, schools will ensure their curriculum offerings meet students' needs and connect them with their community to facilitate their aspirations. The program plans to provide young people with all the resources to help them make successful transitions through school, further education, training and employment. They will also be able to access career advice informed by current labour market trends.
When students leave school they will have an Exit Map to 'connect' them to further education, work and personal development, and to the people who can help them on their way. The development of the Exit Map assists students in thinking through their options as they leave school. It outlines where young people plan to go when they leave school and links them to service providers who can assist them in meeting their goals.
A key aspect of the support is the expansion and strengthening of local community partnerships across the state to support schools in developing a range of relevant learning experiences for students. Department Chief Executive, Steve Marshall, says, 'One of the key ways we can invigorate our education system is through increased community partnerships'.
This will include Transition Brokers to link schools, young people and their families to community resources and appropriate support services. Neville Campbell is one of 17 Transition Brokers. Most recently assistant principal at Para Hills High School, where he was appointed to oversee vocational education and training, he sees his first task as mapping the services and facilities available for youth in the area.
In Neville's FoCIS regionthe Adelaide Hills and Murraylandsthere are 12 schools with secondary enrolments. His task is to set up a transition team to look after young people and, while acknowledging the value, experience and diversity of existing organisations, to coordinate and streamline a range of activities.
In the long term, his role includes setting up better processes for tracking students after they leave school and enabling a variety of agencies to share information about students. 'Kids are saying that they're sick of telling their story 17 times to different agencies,' he says. 'I should be able, with their permission, to send their details on to CES and group training organisations.'
The signing of transition information forms is part of an exit map to 'get kids to go through the process of thinking about some contingencies'. Having brought this network of people together, we can coordinate better,' Neville says. In developing these plans, Neville sees an increased role for pastoral sessions in schools. For example, at Salisbury East High School, in the city's industrial Northern suburbs, principal Peter Mader has established pastoral care sessions during which teachers get to know their students and explore their post-school aspirations.
'The aim of the whole strategy is retention of students', Neville emphasises, in line with a strong government priority on retention and every student' s right to 12 years of education. 'Jobs can be seen as a positive outcome, but retaining students and keeping them connected with schooling is really important.'
This article originally appeared in EQ Australia Spring 2003
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling