The little school of big opportunities

Goodooga Central School is proving geography is no barrier to outstanding HSC results, writes Vanessa Lahey.

A young man stands with his arm on the wheel of a tractor. A young man stands with his arm on the wheel of a tractor.
Image: Year 12 student Lincoln Wood started a traineeship in 2020 with Brewarrina Shire Council studying a Certificate II Automotive Service Technology NSW TAFE.

In north-western NSW just 20 kilometres from the Queensland border lies a little school creating big opportunities for its students.

Goodooga Central School, on Yuwaalayaay country, is the hub of the local town of around 300 people, of which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up about 75 per cent of the population.

What makes this self-titled ‘small isolated school’ so special, is the equally small, but stealthy leadership team going to great lengths to help its students complete their HSC against all odds.

Goodooga Central School boasts a near 100 per cent completion rate for students graduating from year 12 with not just their Higher School Certificate (HSC) but also, at least one trade qualification.

The school has repeatedly reproduced the same successful outcomes for HSC completions for nearly a decade thanks to a unique transition-to-work program championed by principal Malcolm Banks.

“From term two in year 10, our students have the option of entering a school-based apprenticeship (SBAT) of their choice,” Mr Banks said.

“The pathway to the HSC starts for our students in year 8 when we get them to think about what they want to do when they finish school by researching seven occupations they like the sound of.”

The next step starts in year 9, where the students enter into behaviour and attendance pre-requisites before they qualify for the pathway’s opportunity.

“Work experience for our students consists of working at five different businesses over five days to get an idea of what they like and what they feel they’re good at,” Mr Banks said.

“From here they decide what occupation they would like to pursue, and it’s our job as a school to identify the appropriate local business and TAFE course to support a SBAT.”

The school is a member of the Northern Border Senior Access (NBSA) program coordinated by Deputy Principal Shelly Riddell. The Access program also plays a major role in the selection of subjects for the students.

The rubber hits the road once students start term two of Year 10, where participants combine a paid work placement (undertaken in blocks) with regular school study.

Goodooga Central School students travel to the neighbouring towns of Lightning Ridge or Dubbo, a combined total of nearly 500 kilometres away, where the school has established employment opportunities with a range of businesses.

A young girl stands in front of a sign A young girl stands in front of a sign
Image: Year 12 student Tylera Cochrane started her traineeship in 2020 with REDI.E Dubbo studying a Certificate II in Business.

A clever aspect of the transition to work (via completing Year 12) pathway, is where the school co-designs each individual student’s HSC subjects to enhance their vocational learning.

“It’s a successful initiative that can be claimed by the entire community,” Mr Banks explained.

School, NBSA, staff, parents, carers and Aboriginal elders have made it a priority to support the students through this journey and everyone is consulted along the way.

“We’ve even received business attire and personal protective equipment such as work boots donated by the community for our students to use in their new jobs.

“The students themselves contribute to the viability of the program by presenting speeches to our younger students about their experiences out there in the workforce,” Mr Banks said.

Between 2016 and 2020, Goodooga Central School established more than 20 business partnerships in Lightning Ridge, 30 in Dubbo, and 20 partnerships developed at a NSW and national level.

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