Retired Principal Rewriting Education for Teens
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
“It’s a time in their schooling when the wheels can fall off,” says retired principal of Epping Boys High School Peter Garrard. He’s talking about the type of Year 9 and 10 student who will benefit from the opening of special assistance school Gateway Community High in Carlingford next year.
Perhaps they’re adolescents who struggle with low self-esteem, or who have emotional needs, body perception issues, suffer bullying, have experienced trauma, or struggle because they come from dysfunctional families.
Peter has seen students like this many times over the years. Working as a homeschool liaison officer, a senior education officer, and with children with learning disorders prior to becoming a principal, he has seen that by the age of 14 or 15, young people can have experienced so many setbacks that they believe they’re a failure.
“They feel, acutely, every little rejection—and one way to deal with this is avoidance.”
“School refusal is common. They’d rather just truant than study the periodic table or the causes of World War II. And for the teacher, calculus can get in the way of the kid, so the kid just goes: if I don’t fit at school, I’ll find a place where I do.”
Until 2010, there were options for students to leave school by the end of Year 10. They could work or begin a TAFE course but, now, they are required by law to remain in school until they reach the age of 17. However, this hasn’t stopped some students from falling through the cracks, dropping out of mainstream school and society altogether—sometimes permanently.
“It doesn’t matter if a student is in a low socio-economic school or a wealthy private school, the solution is fundamentally the same. They need a place where they can talk to their teacher, where they know they are valued, and where they feel they belong. Then we can put into place some strategies to target their specific problems,” says Peter.
Always interested in the link between education and social justice, the retired educator is now focusing his attentions on seeking answers outside of mainstream schools for students in those mid-teen years. Peter has played an active role for the past few years supporting the establishment of Gateway Community High, an initiative of Macquarie Community College. A former director of the College, Peter volunteered his time as part of the envisioning team and is determined to ensure that the Gateway model meets the needs of disenfranchised teens in this cohort.
Gateway Community High is now interviewing applicants for a limited intake in 2021. Not a special needs or behavioural school, this alternative high school tailors support and special assistance to individual students who are unique in their own way, and who:
Are going into Year 9 or 10 in 2021
Will thrive outside a mainstream educational environment
Are looking for a place of belonging and safety
Are interested in learning and willing to put in the effort to succeed
Would benefit from extra support and attention to re-engage in their education
May have missed some language, literacy or numeracy fundamentals
Are looking to build their pathway to future Vocational Education Training (VET) or Year 11 and 12 studies.
Funded by the Commonwealth and State Governments as a Special Assistance School, Gateway’s $50 per term fees are all inclusive of curriculum resources and extracurricular activities.
Find out more about Gateway Community High
Information Session (virtual): For professionals who work with teenagers
Open Day (on campus): For parents, and teenagers commencing Yr 9 or 10 in 2021