May 30, 2018

Tailoring for individual needs in school transitions

A case study about tailoring the universally-offered careers curriculum to meet the needs of the individual in school transitions.

This case study outlines a pilot project that developed and implemented a novel suite of activities for a specific group of school students. These activities augmented the universal career curriculum to improve the students’ transitions to employment and further learning.

Preparing for change

The transition from school to work, training or study is one that is a predictable life change for a young person; how that young person copes is determined largely by how well they are prepared.

… there are specific regions and specific cohorts within regions for whom the post-school transition poses a serious challenge.

To this end, the education system (at the federal and state and territory level) mandates a suite of activities designed to assist students to make informed decisions and successfully navigate the period in their lives after the completion of high school. This means that over 99% of students participate in some form of career-focused activity over at least the three high school years from Year 10[1]. These activities can include individual careers counselling and advice; workshops that focus on core practical skills including interview techniques and resume-writing; and programs that expose students to the world of work through taster days, university open days and mentoring.

While most students are exposed to career-focused activities, and while these activities are intended to encourage ‘successful’ transitions, there are specific regions and specific cohorts within regions for whom the post-school transition poses a serious challenge.

For these young people, the traditional career curriculum is not resulting in the desired outcomes. It may be that the information provided and method of provision is not appropriately tailored; it may be that the intensity of activity is not sufficient; it may be that the support of additional groups, including families and the broader community, is needed; but the question of which elements smooth best the transition from education to the next step is at the heart of the SVA Schoolyard Collaboration Project.

Blacktown community and the Schoolyard Collaboration Project

In 2015, Blacktown was the fastest growing local government area in New South Wales and, while workforce participation rates increased across NSW, Blacktown residents experienced higher-than-average levels of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.

These general figures were mirrored by data collected from the two local high schools of Rooty Hill and Plumpton. This ‘destination data’ identified a sizeable number of students leaving school without a clear path to education, training or employment[2]

… often failed to recognise the differences between, and challenges for, students from diverse socio-linguistic backgrounds…

With this data, SVA, with United Way Australia, proposed the piloting of a project that would test whether youth transition to employment is improved by the addition of support tailored with, and for, the school student. The project was supported generously by the Citi Foundation (through its Pathways to Progress initiative) and the Australian Government Department for Social Services.

As the Principal of Rooty Hill High School, Christine Cawsey AM, notes “There has been a long history in this region of governments and not-for-profit organisations funding and designing programs to address youth transitions and unemployment.

“However, these programs often applied a ‘universal solution’ to a targeted problem, frequently without critical baseline data, and often failed to recognise the differences between, and challenges for, students from diverse socio-linguistic backgrounds in accessing successful transition pathways.”

Better understanding the cohort

In aiming to better understand the issues facing the Blacktown schools’ students, and the communities in which they lived, the first stage of the Schoolyard Collaboration Project was a series of meetings with local community groups, school staff, parents and students themselves.

With better understanding of the general issues, the next step involved selection of the cohorts for the project. Both schools identified a need to involve the students who formed the ‘silent middle’ and who, as a consequence, receive less support from traditional programs.

A group of Pacifica girls who performed at an event, part of the Schoolyard Collaboration Project
Some of the students who participated in the additional career activities, seen here following a performance at a Schoolyard Collaboration Project event.

For Rooty Hill High School (‘Rooty Hill’), these students included girls from Pacifica[3] backgrounds who would complete year 12, but whose rates of transition from their final year at school to work or further study indicated the existence of significant barriers.

These intuited barriers were confirmed by data including attendance rates, HSC results, data collected through regular student surveys and destination data. This quantitative evidence showed that attendance rates for Pacifica girls dropped over years 9-12 and that recorded levels of academic achievement were lower than that which their teachers believed them capable of.

While the data showed what was occurring, the reasons why were better understood through the series of the roundtables and conversations run by SVA with the girls and the community. Through these events, it became apparent that individual and social expectations were a major challenge to successful transitions from school to the next step. As Cawsey observed, “their parents were less confident to support their daughters’ aspirations than they were their brothers’.”

Amplified career curriculum

Using both the quantifiable data and deeper understanding of the girls and the communities in which they lived, it became apparent that the culture-specific needs of the students were not being met through the universal career curriculum. These activities, structured to meet the needs of the average individual, were not designed to overcome the unique challenges experienced by the cohort of Pacifica girls.

In tailoring a solution that attempted to assist girls to meet some of these challenges, Rooty Hill harnessed the tight cultural fabric of the Pacifica community and used the data on hand to develop a suite of career activities of varying intensity.

INTENSITYACTIVITYCOHORT DETAIL
UNIVERSAL (LOW)Dreaming Big

Ready to Succeed Toolkit

Offered to all year 10 students at Rooty HillSpeaker series to introduce students to specific career pathways and further education.
MODERATEJourney of a Pacifica Girl

 

Offered to all year 9-12 Pacifica girls

 

One half day per term.

General career advice or specific skill development addressing cultural barriers to successful transition.

HIGHCareer PathwaysYear 12 Pacifica girlsFortnightly workshop.

Focus on the individual or groups of individuals with like needs/interests.

Program content is iterative based on student need and feedback.

HIGH+Direct Impact

(offered in addition to Career Pathways)

 

Year 12 Career Pathways students identified by school staffFortnightly workshop in addition to Career Pathways.

Results in identification of individual interests and a bespoke pathway to achievement.

 

The universal career offering formed the low intensity program provided to all school students. Activities were added to augment this curriculum and offer increasing levels of intervention for Pacifica girls.

Three of the girls in the program for Pacifica girls with Jodie Mitchell, United Way's Program Manager.
Some of the girls in the tailored program with Jodie Mitchell, United Way’s Program Manager.

‘Journey of a Pacifica Girl’ was the initial addition to the general curriculum. Offered to year 9-12 Pacifica girls, it formed part of the moderate-intensity program.

Designed to develop practical skills, it also broadens the narrow understanding of post-school opportunities and targets declining attendance rates. The activity aims to introduce mentoring, develop self-confidence, and identify aspirational career goals and girls are required to attend at least 75% of these activities. Based on the school’s understanding of the influence of community and family gained from the initial roundtables, the mentoring component uses successful female role models from the Pacifica community and combines girls across multiple year groups.

This moderate intensity program only offered a limited amount of additional contact time. So a high-intensity intervention, ‘Career Pathways’ was offered to Pacifica girls in year 12. Comprising fortnightly sessions focusing on key areas that impact on career development, this activity is designed to improve both student and parent awareness of career opportunities. Similarto the universal career activities, Career Pathways is designed to build on learnings from Journey of a Pacifica Girl and offer more intensive support to identify career and transition goals.

While Career Pathways met most of the needs of most of the 22 Pacifica students enrolled, the philosophy of tailoring to a cohort saw an additional program developed for those needing even more assistance. To this end, eight of the 22 were identified by teaching staff and individually invited to participate in ‘Direct Target’ as well as all the other career activities.

“It’s been really good for helping me gain self-confidence, the skills I need, and to feel supported in my decisions. It was good to have different things thrown at me to consider rather than to just get any job. The mentors were really good to talk to. We had some fun, but they were so supportive of me. I’ve never met anyone like them before, so it was quite good to have this connection.” – Kelly, participant Schoolyard Collaboration Project

Direct Target provided a weekly career-focused activity that included individual mentoring with a community development worker and women from the Pacifica community as well as targeted assistance to determine a bespoke career plan.

According to United Way Australia’s Program Manager, Jodie Mitchell: “Being part of the Direct Target program allowed us to work with the girls at a deeper level; focus in on their individual career aspirations and work with them to develop a bespoke career plan.”

Where is the point of balance?

So how do you balance the needs of the individual against those of the larger group? The short answer is: ‘It depends on the context’.

… finding the right balance will include continuous iteration of the careers curriculum depending on student need.

For the pilot project, teachers identified an at-risk cohort and, through consultation, identified some of the reasons for this risk. With data and an understanding of the lives of the girls beyond the school gate, Rooty Hill and United Way Australia developed career-focused activities that would not only improve practical knowledge of next steps after school but also influence community perceptions around post-school pathways.

For teachers, parents and students at Rooty Hill, finding the right balance will include continuous iteration of the careers curriculum depending on student need.

While it is too early to ascertain final outcomes from the Schoolyard Collaboration Project, its initial results are a reminder of the basics: A universal offering meets the general needs of the many. However, meeting the specific needs of the few requires a tailored approach designed in collaboration and iterated through consultation.


Notes

[1] Rothman, S and Hillman, K, Career Advice in Australian Secondary Schools: Use and Usefulness, 2008, LSAY Research Report; No 53

[2] SVA stakeholder consultations, 2015

[3] Pacific communities including Maori, Samoan, Tonga, Fijian and Cook Islanders.


For more information contact Anne Duncan on aduncan@socialventures.com.au