Flexible study program combats Victoria’s school refusal problem - Education Matters Magazine
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Flexible study program combats Victoria’s school refusal problem

A radical new education model is launching through a Melbourne school and is designed to help educate young people that feel they can’t currently attend a physical school and reduce the rate of school refusal in Victoria.

School refusal is sometimes experienced by children who suffer from severe anxiety, bullying, sensory issues, they may live in a house with domestic violence or addiction, they may be neurodivergent or simply feel like they don’t belong and can’t thrive in a traditional school. Victoria has seen a surge in school refusal cases post-COVID and too often these young people fall through the cracks. (It’s important to note they feel they can’t go to school, even though they may want to.)

The BlendED program is a full-time virtual learning program with a face-to-face wellbeing model. Each young person will be allocated a dedicated youth worker. The program, which was successfully trialled last year, is now taking enrolments for the coming terms and year.

The program has been established by St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre in North Melbourne. The school, which is governed by Edmund Rice Education Australia and receives funding from federal and state governments, caters for young people who have barriers to engaging in education and the community. These barriers may include mental health issues, youth justice or child protection involvement, intergenerational challenges with education, or perhaps a young person for whom mainstream education does not meet their needs.

“The BlendED program is a response to the increasing number of young people who are experiencing school refusal and who are struggling to engage outside of the home in education and the broader community,” said Ms Chloe Hand, Director EREA Flexible Learning Schools Victoria.

“School refusal behaviour is a mental health condition that requires wrap around services and supports. Access to education is a basic human right and through this program we can offer an education that meets their current needs. We don’t want young people abandoning their education because they feel like they can’t physically go to school,” said Ms Hand.

The BlendED program: A school that’s nothing like a school

While all Victorian students experienced at-home remote learning during the lockdowns, the big change here is that St Joseph’s is embedding this dual-engagement model as a permanent part of the school’s offering, and through the youth worker home visits and engagement program St Joseph’s is recognising that school refusal, or reluctance to attend school, is a barrier that requires addressing.

“The goal is to get every young person back to school, but until they are ready to do that, we are determined to keep them in the education system and learning,” said Ms Hand.

The youth workers who will regularly visit young people in person at home will also encourage the young people to leave the home to attend excursions, play sports and other social gatherings.

“We know that school won’t be the reason many of these young people want to leave the safety of their home. But if we can encourage them to take that first important step outside the home to socialise with others face to face in a fun environment, we can then encourage them to return to school,” said Ms Hand.

The school will supply laptops loaded with the necessary learning software and internet access and provide free Myki cards. There are no school fees, no booklists and no uniforms. The program offers 20 hours of classes online each week including group sessions, one-on-one teacher time and individual learning plans.

The dedicated wellbeing worker will visit each young person weekly to check in. They can help them connect with mental health support services, or they might for example help those in their care to access food and clothing, or even safety. They will be there to help the young people with whatever struggles they are dealing with.

Assistant Principal, Mr Chris Lougheed, is excited about the program. “This program is designed to re-engage young people that have disengaged with traditional schools for a variety of reasons. We’re offering the chance to learn and gain qualifications that will give these young people a chance at a bright future,” he said.

Interested Teachers and youth workers are also encouraged to attend the BlendED launch event. 

Event details

Following an Acknowledgement of Country, school leaders will share key information about St Joseph’s and our BlendED program while those in attendance enjoy refreshments and pastries. Hon Natalie Hutchins MP, the Minister for Education and Minister for Women will be joining guests at this event.

Date: Monday July 3, 2023
Time: 10:30 am – 12:30 pm
St Joseph’s School, 385 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
RSVP: blended@stjosephs.vic.edu.au

The BlendED program is available to Victorian residents aged 12-25 years. Young people or family members interested in learning more can head to: https://stjosephs.vic.edu.au/ or call 03 9269 6900. 

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