Vital education program for Frankston youth at risk of closing

15 September 2014

A Frankston program run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence that helps young people who have left or are at risk of leaving school to finish their education desperately needs an injection of government funding to continue.

Almost 250 highly disadvantaged teenagers have been referred to the Brotherhood's Community VCAL program in Frankston since 2010 by six secondary schools in the area, social workers and youth organisations.

Brotherhood Executive Director Tony Nicholson said that without a commitment from both sides of Parliament – Coalition and Labor – before the November state election to reduce a massive funding gap the program can't take on new students."We will have to wind the program down and close it after 2016, when all current students have been educated to Year 12," he said.

Currently around 50 young people are enrolled from Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula. All of them face significant barriers to learning, including even homelessness. But under current government funding arrangements, Community VCAL students are treated far less favourably than those from mainstream schools.

The State Government spends around $14,000 per student in mainstream schools every year, but only around $8000 for each student in Community VCAL.

Mr Nicholson said it also costs the Brotherhood about the same – $14,000 – to educate each Community VCAL student, leaving a $6000 shortfall compared with the amount the Government would provide to the school if the student had not transferred to the Brotherhood program.

"Our funding gap is partially met by philanthropic donations from our dedicated supporters, and through our own funds. But it's not sustainable," he said.

"Young people who aren't in work, education or training risk long-term unemployment. Many studies show they are more likely to be homeless or dealing with mental health and other issues. Frankston already has a higher proportion of young people dealing with these issues, compared with the state average.

"The Brotherhood's Community VCAL program offers more than education courses –it is a holistic approach where staff also pay attention to wellbeing, vocational guidance and other support so that teenagers who have left school early and are unemployed complete their schooling, giving them a much better chance to find work.

The Brotherhood's senior manager of its Frankston services, John Catto-Smith, said that for an overwhelming number, "our Community VCAL has been a positive and even life-changing experience – and it maintains that vital connection to education".

"Since we started almost five years ago, 72 per cent of students have successfully graduated. This is particularly impressive given that they were transferred to us from in mainstream schools because of struggles to progress academically and other issues," he said.

"Despite the barriers they continue to face, most of our students have demonstrated considerable resilience, strengthened their personal skills and made huge progress.

"Many have moved smoothly into employment or further training, aided by the support we provide after graduation."

VCAL, or Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning, is a vocational alternative to the VCE.

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