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  What Works - The Work Program

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North Rockhampton State High School, Queensland

The Full Service School

The context | Beginnings | The student program | Working in the Full Service School

The context

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The tropical city of Rockhampton is situated close to the Tropic of Capricorn, on the Fitzroy River, 40 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. It has a population of over 60,000 but the population of the greater Rockhampton district exceeds 120,000. The hinterland supports significant mining and rural industries.

There is a substantial representation of Indigenous people, as well as groups from German, Cantonese, Italian, Filipino and other backgrounds.

North Rockhampton State High School opened in 1956 and is situated on the northern side of the Fitzroy River. It has a population of over 1000 students, including about 150 Indigenous students. Most students come from the local area but some travel considerable distances.

Principal Peter O'Beirne is the Queensland Convenor in 2004 of the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council (APAPDC) and has been prominent in the 'Dare to Lead' coalition. During the first half of 2004 he was seconded to work across Queensland promoting the coalition and its work towards improving outcomes for Indigenous students.


Beginnings

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Principal Peter O'Beirne

The 'Full Service School' in Rockhampton began in 1999 as part of a Commonwealth-funded nationwide initiative targeting young people 'at risk' of leaving school early. When the Commonwealth funding ended at the close of 2000, the project continued in Rockhampton and retained the name 'Full Service School' because an identifiable presence had been built in the local community under that banner.

It was decided in the beginning that the location of the Full Service School should be away from the main campus of North Rockhampton SHS. The feeling was that students who were not experiencing success in the school environment might benefit from a clearly differentiated setting. For this reason the school was established in a shopfront location in the city's CBD. It has since moved to new premises in the main TAFE campus, a move that may encourage better pathways to further training for students.

The original intention was to offer a recognised Year 10 Certificate in a limited range of subjects, together with a small range of vocational programs. In the event, there has been less demand for vocational programs than for Year 10 certification, particularly in English and Mathematics.

A recent development has been the implementation of an accredited First Aid course, which will give students both life skills and a marketable qualification in the workplace.

Although the target group is young people in the 14-16 age bracket who are seriously at risk of not completing Year 10, the Full Service School has also attracted some older students. Many students are 'self-excluders' from formal schooling, some are referred by other schools and some are referred by welfare agencies. At any time, about one-third of enrolments are Indigenous students.

In 2004, about 50 students are enrolled at the Full Service School, but each attends for only about 15 hours per week.

Peter O'Beirne:

Funding has always been an issue, since the end of the Commonwealth funding, but we've managed to keep the Full Service School going. Although they're off-campus, the students there are officially enrolled at North Rockhampton High, so their numbers are part of the school as a whole. So in a sense, the Full Service School is another classroom of North Rocky High that just happens to be several kilometres outside the fence.

That provides the base staff but at the moment we can only allocate a total of 1.3 teachers. Hella McShane is the full-time teacher. Some students are registered as having disabilities, so they have some teacher aide hours and then the local CDEP supports us with a full-time teacher aide and some part-time people. There's a bit of ATAS help as well.

And having those Indigenous workers has been invaluable for the Aboriginal students.

Although the environment is very different, the emphasis is on getting a Year 10 certificate. It's a real thing, it's not a mickey-mouse certificate and everyone knows that now. So there's that credibility in parents' minds and in teachers' minds back in the mainstream schools and that leads to them supporting the place. The real point here is on their last day of the year when the Year 10 certificates are given out, there are more family members there per capita than there would be in the mainstream school. There are grandmas, aunts and uncles, young brothers and they're all there to see the kids get their Year 10 certificates.

Finding the right teachers for the Full Service School is something of an issue. We've been able to get the right people but that's what it depends on — the right people. You can't just put anyone into those positions. It's all about the way Hella and the people she works with build relationships with kids and deal with the difficulties that present themselves each day. More funds would be good but you could literally inject a million dollars and it wouldn't work without the right people.


The student program

The full-time teacher at the Full Service School in 2004 is Hella McShane and Graham McShane is a part-time teacher. Hella talks about curriculum and organisation.

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Graham and Hella McShane

We have a limited and basic curriculum but the English and Maths is the same as at North Rocky. All our courses, all our assessments and all our certificates come from North Rocky. We have the same eight Year 10 English assignments and the same eight Year 10 Maths tests that they do over there and we work with the kids towards doing those. Where there are textbooks, we use the same ones.

But our students can and do finish up with a basic Year 10 certificate and that's what most of them are aiming for. It opens up other doors. Graham calls it 'home brand education' because they can't finish up with better than a 'Sound' [grade].

There's more to it than that though. When kids come here they get acceptance, they get some caring and they even get a bite to eat and a cup of coffee as well.

There's a bit of routine in their lives and for some of them, you could call them street kids, that's a first step. Often our kids come from the most disadvantaged homes, with all kinds of problems and they've been to six different schools already. So they have all had a broken history of schooling. And because there isn't always a lot of support from home, the kids have a lot of responsibility themselves. We try to support them learning how to be responsible for themselves.


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We've also been able to get a bloke who used to work for Anglicare to teach kids some hands-on skills. He's got a small industrial shed and those kids who want to can go over there in the afternoons and work with him.

A couple of older people have come back to us. They couldn't see any need for education when they were younger but now they're twenty or twenty-one and they are getting on top of it. One of them has got three kids of her own. The little kids are welcome to come as well and everyone helps out with them. We are in the business of encouraging education and anything we think can help we'll encourage. A composite class, where you have got adults and kids and little toddlers on the floor works well.

There's a sense of belonging here.


Working in the Full Service School

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Hella and Graham acknowledge challenges as well as successes and make the following points about what's needed to work in a situation like the Full Service School.

  • Indigenous students need an Indigenous presence in their schooling. That's where Indigenous aides come in. We would employ more of them if we could. Mature aged workers are vital. It's good to get a balance of men and women, but it's always easier to get men.
  • It's also good to involve student teachers. Some of them can be excellent and go on to work in these sorts of situations.
  • Teachers towards the end of their careers should also be encouraged to take on this sort of work.
  • In the end, it's the relationship that counts. You have to really value the kids.

Read more of Graham's ideas about settings like the Full Service School.

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