According to Tony Cook PSM, Director-General of the Queensland Department of Education, ensuring every child lives a life of choice, not chance, is key to the state’s delivery of a high-performing and equitable education system.
Responding to the challenge of creating a system in which every student is understood, engaged and successful at school requires the highest level of professional commitment and expertise.
There’s nothing simple about addressing the academic, health, safety and wellbeing needs of young people in education settings.
Our mainstream schools meet the needs of most young people, providing high-quality cognitive, social and emotional, and behavioural responses that ensure students are supported to succeed.
Mainstream schools have a responsibility to know their students and to adjust their programs and approaches to achieve the best outcomes for them. When students are disengaged or at risk of disengaging, schools must take targeted action to re-engage them.
Meeting the needs of all students
While most of our students succeed in a mainstream setting, a small number of young people benefit from alternative schooling (‘alternative’ is used to describe Special Assistance Schools and other settings such as FlexiSchools and the Queensland Pathways State College. Alternative is used to denote positive attributes such as option and choice. It is recognised that some prefer other terms such as flexible or adjacent).
There is a range of alternative settings for young people in Queensland. This includes 44 non-state special assistance school sites, with the majority of funding provided by the Australian government. The state sector also has a small number of alternative learning schools, or Flexi Schools, a Queensland Pathways State College, and Positive Learning Centres.
These tailored environments can provide an important opportunity for young people who cannot thrive in mainstream education settings.
While alternative settings may use customised approaches that set them apart from many mainstream settings, like all school settings, alternative learning schools aim to deliver high-quality teaching and learning.
And like students in mainstream settings, it is important that students in alternative settings are supported to aspire to and achieve goals for their education outcomes and their future.
A whole-of-sector commitment
While it is essential we recognise the critical role alternative schools play within our education system, it is also important to ensure that mainstream schools continue to play their part, ensuring they share responsibility within their community’s system of schools.
In recognition of this, the Department of Education has collaborated with the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and Independent Schools Queensland, to develop ‘Quality Pathways for all young people: A commitment to alternative education’ (a Statement of Commitment). This commitment is important for several reasons.
Firstly, and most importantly, it outlines how the role played by alternative school settings is a vital contribution to a strong school system. Secondly, it offers legislative and policy clarity for schools across all sectors, and documents their requirements as specified in either Queensland’s ‘Education (General Provisions) Act 2006’ in the case of state schools, or in the ‘Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Regulation 2017’ for non-state schools. Thirdly, the document sets high expectations and provides support and resources for alternative education settings, so that high quality standards can be reached.
Finally, the statement recognises the importance of partnerships and shared responsibility across all school settings. It outlines best practice in making transitions from mainstream schools into alternative schools, and highlights the roles and responsibilities of mainstream schools to exhaust every in-school option open to them to engage a young person before an alternative setting is considered.
Meeting our moral imperative
In its preamble, the commitment states: “… success will look different for every young person and our education system must deliver a diverse, adaptive range of schooling options to support the range of pathways they need.”
For me, this statement is so much more than just rhetoric. It goes to the heart of why we do what we do.
Each of us has a moral imperative to adopt the highest level of commitment to every child and young person, whatever their circumstances.
The co-signatories to the Statement of Commitment, Dr Lee-Anne Perry AM, Executive Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and David Robertson, Executive Director of Independent Schools Queensland, stand alongside me in recognising the essential role alternative learning settings play in supporting the success of every student.
I encourage all schools to consider the content of our statement – not only the standards it reinforces – but also its underlying ethos.
It’s an ethos that asks every one of us working in education to approach each child and young person as a person of promise and possibility, who should be defined not by their circumstances, but by their potential.
It’s only through making such a commitment as individuals that our collective efforts can meet the challenge of ensuring a life of choice, not chance, for every young person.
To read the Statement of Commitment, please click here.