The Canberra Times is reporting that Canberra’s 17 government high schools will receive $14.6 million for new pastoral care coordinators, social workers, community nurses and disability workers to help promote student welfare.
ACT Education Minister Andrew Barr will announce the four-year package today to mark World Teacher Day, saying it will help Canberra teenagers at risk of leaving school before they complete Year 10.
While the ACT has the highest retention rates in Australia, between 10 and 15 per cent of local students do not make it through to Year 12.
Mr Barr said the ones who dropped out were risking life-long disadvantage including a reduced chance of finding employment or studying further.
The funding would also be used to establish three specialised programs, located in high schools in central, north and south Canberra, to provide students with intensive support to improve their skills, confidence and social interaction.
They would target students considering dropping out as well as those who had left the education system and might return.
The three schools have yet to be decided.
Mr Barr said the program would ensure that from the beginning of next year, every government high school would have a dedicated pastoral care coordinator at an executive level.
Schools would also have regular access to a pool of non-teacher professionals including social workers, community nurses and disability workers.
All up, he estimated 34 new positions would be created across the high school system.
“Adolescence is a very difficult time for many students and their families, and can lead to students disengaging from their education and their school community,” he said.
“Every student has the right to be safe and supported at school and this funding will ensure our students and their families have access to pastoral care and other supports to assist in keeping students engaged with their learning and their school.”
Even helping a student stay in the system to reach Year 10 could give them an opportunity to move into an apprenticeship or an alternative Year 11 and 12 program.
“If you can maintain contact and enthusiasm to get them through Year 12 and beyond, then life opportunities are much greater,” Mr Barr said.
The program fulfils a Labor election commitment in 2004 to increase funding for student welfare in high schools. The money would be part of an Appropriation Bill to be introduced in the Legislative Assembly next month.
Mr Barr said the initiative had always been earmarked to come from savings from the 2006 budget round of school closures and was not a result of a higher-than-expected ACT budget surplus.
“While I understand it has been a difficult decision for some in the community, it has always been our plan to take the savings from the 2006 reforms and reinvest them in the school system.”
Mr Barr has also been campaigning for a more positive profile for the ACT’s government high schools, which have been suffering the greatest enrolment losses to the non-government system over the past decade.
While the government sector accounts for 61 per cent of all primary school enrolments and 63 per cent of college enrolments, it has dropped to just 51 per cent in high schools.
Anecdotal evidence indicates parents favour the pastoral care and student welfare support of the non-government sector in the high school years.
Mr Barr was confident high quality staff would fill the new positions.