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Alternative education pathways

Have you considered that school is not for everyone? If so, we offer you a little support thanks to a parent who has been through this process with her son. It takes a village and so, those who have walked before us offer back a smidgen of the wisdom they have learnt along the way. Here is Jeni's story.

How and when did you know that school was not working for your son/daughter?

My son was always a natural leader and charismatic throughout primary school. His learning style was kinaesthetic, so the absence of movement in a classroom setting was difficult for him. We sent him to a private high school that offered a sports stream in classroom learning, but they changed this pedigogy the year he started Year 7 preferring an open plan and project based learning style that didn’t work for him either. After a year of feeling that he was being scrutinised over situations that we considered ‘storms in a teacup’ moved him to the local high school.

Year 8 was a good year but his mood started to change considerably in Year 9. We attributed this to his experiences at school, and also the funky year 14/15 year old boys experience during rapid brain development. Early Year 9 he was offered a place in an alternative learning course, quite simply a teacher walked into the classroom and said some students who were being referred had dropped out, was anyone interested. Our son came home asking if he could do it, but we felt at the time he wasn’t mature enough to manage the diversity and influence of a different learning environment so said no, but parked the idea and his motivation around this at the back of my mind.

By the end of Year 9 my son was becoming more reluctant to complete school work at home and complained daily about going to school. He was particularly getting behind in his maths.

Year 10 started and we at this point did support and encourage the referral to the alternate learning program which he attended 2 days/week. Facilitated by youth workers, educators and tradesmen, his engagement improved immediately. He only missed one day out of the 5 months he did the course there. Meanwhile the other days at school continued to be a struggle and having 2 days out of school each week meant it was easier for him to become avoidant around his responsibilities to complete and submit school work.

It came to a head when I was at school for another event and spoke to his English teacher. She advised that it was likely that on this trajectory he would be issued N awards and would likely have to repeat if he didn’t complete tasks for the core subjects that were included in his ROSA. This was the end of Semester 1 in Year 10 and so knew it was crunch time. 

How did you approach the conversation with your young person or did they have the conversation with you first?

I spoke to my son about my conversation with his English teacher, acknowledged that he was finding school hard & arduous, and that I had seen a change in mood, avoidance and risk taking as a result, but reinforced that his plan to get an apprenticeship in the future was going to be more difficult if he didn’t achieve his ROSA or Cert 2 equivalent through TAFE or another RTO. I explained to him that I would happily advocate a different pathway to school if he was on board, but he needed to understand that the legal requirement as he was under 17 was that he was engaged in a demonstrated 25 hours/ week in vocational pathway (study, traineeship, apprenticeship, etc).  I spoke to TAFE about the Semester 2 Construction pathways course, and contacted an extended family member and asked them to give my son 2 weeks of work experience in his company, so that we could enhance his resume and then seek a trade assistant job to make up the rest of the 25 hours as the course was only 2 days/ week. He did so well with the work experience that they treated it as a job trial instead and then offered him work. On this basis I contacted school and put a proposal of signing him out of school and into the Cert 2 Construction Pathways Course for Semester 2 Year 10 so that he could achieve a Year 10 equivalent qualification. Part of my advocacy here, was telling them that by doing so he was more likely to achieve an apprenticeship. 

Were you worried about how it would work out?

Definitely. The timing was crucial. He needed approval from the principal who needed to confirm this with the DET regional office and also the TAFE campus director, to sign out of school and into TAFE. The reason this was complex was that he had only just turned 16. We also need to demonstrate that he had 25 hours in a vocational pathway. So, I assisted him to start applying for trade assistant positions. It helped that he had some experience on tools at the alternative learning program, and that I could approach someone that I knew about some work experience, as this enhanced his employability skills and job readiness. There was always the risk that he would become overwhelmed moving into adult work and learning environments, so we made sure that he was actively part of the decision-making process. Often this included texting him the info so he could sit with it for a few hours before I needed an answer, so it was less confrontational.

Did everyone have an opinion?

Advocating for your child to be an early school leaver is definitely not something most people expect of you as a parent. So I think that there must have been a few of my friends and family who didn’t quite understand, but I’m a real believer in early intervention, and wanted my child to be doing activity that he enjoyed and that he was respected for, and at the time that just wasn’t the case at school.

How did the school respond?

His school was fantastic! The key here is not to treat schools as your adversary when it comes to communication and advocacy, but as co-collaborators. Do as much research as you can personally into the options and pathways for your child – ring local youth services who are a wealth of info, school and TAFE careers advisors. When you come across as passionate about your child’s future, and also provide school with much of the information about the pathway your child is pursuing as possible (because they are super busy), they are likely to be supportive.

How has it worked out?

Best thing we ever did. My son has now been employed in his trade of choice for 18 months and has completed all of his theory for his apprenticeship at TAFE. 100% and competent in all TAFE subjects so far. He has his licence, a new car, and saves his money to purchase all of the tools of his trade. We marvel at how he has applied himself: 5:30am alarm goes off Mon – Thurs to go to work, TAFE Mon & Wed nights and Fridays. He goes to the gym most days after work with his colleagues, and is considering applying to do the Diploma in his trade at the completion of his apprenticeship. We couldn’t be more proud, but the greatest joy we get is seeing how proud he is of himself. If he had stayed at school he would have been in Year 12 this year. There has been no wasted time - he will complete TAFE this July and be a qualified tradesman at the end of next year.

What advice would you give parents considering the same plan?

  • Don’t leave it until your child is significantly disengaged from school to look for options. Speak with someone in the executive of the school about your plan to look for other options, ask to access career advisor, student engagement teacher, etc, and ask them if the school can recommend any local youth services that might help with info/ ideas.

  • If your child looks like they aren’t going to require an ATAR for university entrance, challenge the mindset that completing Year 12 is necessary. Why not support them to get a head start in what is a competitive job market. Education is a pathway to employment, careers and meaningful activity, but education can be accessed in a variety of settings.

  • Contact your local TAFE’s and ask to speak with the Under 17’s Co-ordinator. They can explain courses available, provide assessment to ensure your child is ready for an adult learning environment and explain the process for enrolment (and the hoops you will need to jump through).For all enquiries in Northern Sydney regarding students who are under 17 years who have NOT completed Year 10 and would like to leave school to study at TAFE NSW, contact in the first instance: Under 17’s Coordinator: Helen McNamee Year10

  • Help your child to build employability skills through work experience, courses (first aid, White card), casual work.

  • Back your child. It is likely that if school isn’t for them that they have been under the school microscope for some time, and will benefit from your belief in them and belief in their future success. 

All references and contacts are correct at time of article submission. Please ensure you find the equivalent contacts if necessary.

If you enjoyed this article you may like to hear an extended audio of the interview or Finishing High School for parents or Finding your voice

Image by Photo by Kindel Media


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