Petar Matic, the Careers Adviser at Ashcroft High School in south-west Sydney didn’t set out to become a teacher. An Ashcroft student from 1996 to 2001, Petar studied immunology at university before deciding that the solitary life of a researcher wasn’t for him. After finishing his Science degree, Petar completed a postgrad qualification in teaching. Before he knew it, he was back at Ashcroft.
“I came back for a visit and one thing led to another,” says Petar, explaining how he went from relief teaching to a full-time post in fairly short order.
What followed was 10 years in the science faculty before a move, five years ago, to the Careers Adviser post. Today, most of Petar’s time is devoted to advising Ashcroft students on everything to do with work and their post-school study options, but he also spends a fair bit of time talking to parents.
“It’s often about setting parents’ minds at ease,” says Petar when we ask about his parental engagement efforts.
Ashcroft is situated in part of Sydney that is characterised by relatively high levels of socio-economic disadvantage, something which impacts Petar’s interactions with parents. For example, some parents are victims of intergenerational disadvantage themselves. As a result, some of them haven’t had positive employment experiences, and they tend not to understand the breadth of options available to their children. Other parents hold very traditional views on education. These parents often place a premium on tertiary pathways, although Petar tells us that the bias towards university is being “turned on its head” thanks, in part, to the work of the Educational Pathways Pilot Program (EPPP.)
“Students are starting to think more outside the box, and their parents are coming round,” says Petar.
Initiatives such as the TAFE NSW YES+ taster courses and the Beacon Foundation’s MyRoad sessions have been instrumental on this front, according to Petar. The idea is to get kids excited about the possibilities, and thinking outside what might be limited frames of reference, so they go home and start the ‘careers conversation’ with their parents. Sometimes parents are easily convinced, but when they’re not Petar is only too happy to sit down with them and discuss the options.
“I’m often the mediator. Students will come and see me and say ‘they’re not interested’, which is when we invite the family in for a meeting,” says Petar.
Once the parents are at school, Petar helps steer the conversation to a point everyone can agree on. Sometimes that involves showing the family what another student has achieved pursuing a similar pathway. Other times, it involves opening up websites such as MyFuture and JobOutlook, and walking parents through a student’s options. In these cases, Petar’s job amounts to “opening parents’ eyes” to various opportunities, but some cases call for a more tailored approach.
“We had one student whose parents really wanted her to become a midwife, but the student was struggling to get the results she needed to get into that course,” recalls Petar.
With the student and her parents facing an impasse, Petar sat the family down and mapped out their options. Together, Petar and the family explored the various pathways that would lead to nursing and then, potentially, midwifery. They explored the student’s university options, the college to university route and, finally, the TAFE to university pathway. In the end, the student opted for the vocational pathway and is currently enrolled in the TAFE NSW Diploma of Nursing.
“What we were saying was ‘your child can have all these successes without getting into that particular course,’” says Petar.
While that conversation proved to be relatively straightforward, Petar does encounter more complex situations owing to the school’s unique circumstances. Every year, a notable percentage of incoming Year 7 students at Ashcroft present with undiagnosed medical needs and disabilities. The school does a fantastic job identifying these things early and supporting students through their schooling. For example, Ashcroft provides a range of support through the Student Support Services faculty as well as the School Health faculty to help students thrive at school. Unsurprisingly, the school also does a great job helping students with specific needs to prepare for life after school.
Petar relayed the story of an NDIS-funded student with a vision-impairment who wanted to pursue a career in media. In that case, Petar met with the student’s family, her learning support officer and a transition support officer to figure out how best to support the student’s career aspirations. They considered such things as the magnification tools she might need, and also looked at her NDIS plan to ensure the funding allocation met her requirements.
“We do everything we can to ensure students are supported when they leave school,” says Petar.
Interestingly, that support doesn’t stop when students walk through the school gates for the last time. Ashcroft High School prides itself on the way it maintains connections with former students. In much the same way that the door at Ashcroft was open to Petar fifteen years ago, his is always open to former students who might be looking for a bit of advice.