Queensland families desperately seeking an education lifeline for teenagers who have experienced complex challenges, trauma or education disruption are turning to a growing network of independent Special Assistance Schools.
These specialist independent schools have almost tripled in number from 11 in early 2015 to 29 schools operating across 39 campuses in 2021.
Student numbers have also risen rapidly to almost 3,000 – up from 921 students in 2015.
On Friday 19 March Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) will bring together more than 50 leaders, teachers and welfare staff from these independent Special Assistance Schools for an annual workshop to explore issues such as trauma-informed practices, curriculum, assessment and accreditation.
The workshop is being held at the Mango Hill campus of one of the independent sector’s largest Special Assistance Schools – YMCA Vocational School.
The YMCA Vocational School has grown from one school with 40 students in the Logan suburb of Kingston in 2010 to a network of five schools operating across eight campuses in south-east Queensland with almost 700 students.
ISQ Executive Director David Robertson said about 1 in 8 Queensland independent schools were now Special Assistance Schools.
“These schools are playing an increasingly vital role in Queensland’s education system,” Mr Robertson said.
“They have small classes and are staffed by dedicated teachers, welfare workers, counsellors and support staff who work together to create a safe and supportive environment that empowers students to create a better future for themselves,” he said.
YMCA Vocational School Principal Andrew Kerr-Stevens said he was immensely proud of the work of his passionate staff and the tenacity of his students, often against immeasurable odds.
Mr Kerr-Stevens shared a parent’s reflections on the school’s impact on her 13-year-old daughter.
“The YMCA Vocational school at The Space has given my child the opportunity to belong to something bigger than herself, that she could feel proud to be associated with. They provided a place that could allow mistakes and bad days and react to this while still maintaining the spirit of my child so that she could believe that trying again tomorrow was possible,” the parent wrote.
“They have provided opportunities and relationships that have both challenged and nurtured my child’s way of thinking, being, interacting and existing in this world. They have consistently and patiently asked my child to be better, to try harder and to give in a positive way even when she did not always feel positive about life.”
“I have no doubt that the YMCA Vocational School at The Space has changed our child’s life and in turn our lives into a more positive experience than we had imagined possible.”
Mr Kerr-Stevens said the YMCA movement across Australia focused on the belief of “the power of inspired young people”.
“Our school continues to live this vision demonstrated in its growth over the past 10 years in response to the increase in disengagement and complex needs of students. This has been achieved with a clear focus on creating a pathway to employment, empowering our young people and providing a real opportunity to contribute to the community,” he said.
Mr Kerr-Stevens said the YMCA Vocational School had plans to expand beyond Queensland’s south-east corner to Bundaberg and Western Australia.
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