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North St. Mary's Neighbourhood Centre Inc

The accredited Generic Living Skills Certificate offered by North St Mary's Neighbourhood Centre and the Blue Mountains College of TAFE was an outstanding success. Students were early school leavers, many were homeless and some had drug or other social problems. More than twice the number of young people as originally anticipated, graduated after the 40-week course, which is equivalent to the NSW School Certificate.

Background

Through its Nepean InterYouth program, the North St.Mary's Neighbourhood Centre offers a range of youth programs and services including JPET, HELP and Work for the Dole. Within the Penrith, Hawksbury and Lower Blue Mountains area, InterYouth is the only service that specialises in job seeking services and pre-vocational, employment related courses with a particular focus on literacy and numeracy.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 80% of long term unemployed people in the area are early school leavers. The local government area of Penrith for example, has a youth unemployment rate of approximately 30%. Almost 80% of these young people meet the target group criteria for HELP.

With so many early school leavers in its Nepean InterYouth program, the service was keen to extend its unique blend of services to include an alternative pre-vocational accredited pathway to the NSW School Certificate.

Project Objectives

The aim of the Strategic Pilot Project was to offer early school leavers an alternative route to the NSW School Certificate, thereby encouraging them to pursue further education, training and employment.

The Centre wanted the new pathway to contain relevant, creative and interesting youth focused courses that developed the numeracy and literacy skills necessary for daily life, education, training and the work force. Through such a pathway, the Centre sought to help participants improve their self-esteem, motivation, interpersonal, social and living skills.

Project Activities

Staff at the Centre worked with the Blue Mountains College of TAFE to develop and implement a Generic Living Skills Certificate, which was equivalent to the NSW School Certificate. The course was delivered 20 hours per week over a period of 40 weeks.

The project offered accredited numeracy and literacy based subjects that met the requirements of the School Certificate. The NSW Board of Studies monitored course content and project implementation to ensure that it met the State's educational standards. Local high schools, Penrith Council, Home School Liaison and a range of area youth services were also involved in the project.

Rather than focusing on traditional subjects, such as science and history, the project looked at employment options, the practical application of design and technology, living skills, personal development, first aid and healthy lifestyles.

Priority of placement in the project was given to youth affected by drugs and alcohol, those who were homeless or living in refuges, adolescent parents, DOCS and Juvenile Justice referrals, young women, Years 9-12 students suspended from school, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, NESB youth and those recently released from an institution.

Due to the high demand for services in the area, there was no need to advertise the project. Initially, the Centre intended to run the project for 14 young people from the target group. At one point 35 were enrolled and by the end of the project, 28 students had graduated.

In an initial interview, each young person identified, as well as they could, their educational, training and employment needs. The Centre then used this information to help tailor the course so that it addressed, as far as possible, those needs.

The project implemented attendance and educational outcome records, monthly progress reports and weekly team meetings to provide adequate documentation, and to ensure that clear communication between staff, clients and other stakeholders was maintained.

Project Outcomes

Outcomes exceeded expectations, with twice the number of young people graduating as originally anticipated.

The project clearly demonstrated that community agencies can work successfully with Registered Training Organisations to produce outstanding outcomes for young people disenchanted with the formal education system. By offering an accredited program for those young people who slip through the formal education net, the Centre gained for themselves and their clients, greater credibility within the local education community.

Students responded well to the use of worksheets where their progress was recorded. Attendance rates were excellent, even when the course continued to run during the school holidays.

Participants in this project were generally more motivated than HELP clients. Being slightly older, they recognised the value of obtaining the School Certificate as an aid to finding employment.

Students talked freely about personal issues with teachers and counsellors. This led to increased self-esteem and self-confidence, with evidence of reduced drug usage and dependency by some participants.

Success Factors

Course activities were relevant to the young people's life circumstances.
They were also offered in a flexible environment that allowed them to negotiate with staff and other students over issues such as playing background music in the classroom during sessions.

Literacy and numeracy issues, though explicit throughout the course, were presented in a way that was relevant to the clients.

Significant interagency co-operation meant the project bridged the gap between the formal education system and the informal, but no less meaningful activities of the community sector.

The contribution of the local TAFE should not be underestimated. The Outreach service facilitated the use of course learning materials, stationery and advice on flexible delivery options. As a Registered Training Organisation, it was able to issue recognised credentials that had status within the formal education and training system.

The Centre had an excellent track record of creating a safe learning environment that provided clients with effective social support.

Possible Improvements

Because outcomes exceeded expectations, the Centre is keen to run the project again and would make no changes to the way it was run.

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