A few weeks ago, more than 50 Woolgoolga High School parents filed into the school’s library for an information session on school-based apprenticeships and traineeships (SBATs). The turnout came as a surprise to everyone involved.
“Schools typically don’t even see those sorts of numbers on subject selection nights,” says David Youman, Head Teacher Careers for the Grafton Cluster, when we catch up with the team responsible for the event on the first day of Term 2.
We called in to hear more about the school’s efforts to engage parents in school-based training options, and over the course of our conversation with Dave and his colleagues, Kath Bear (Deputy Principal), Craig Rutledge (Careers Adviser) and Steve Montgomery (SBAT Mentor), it became clear that things are changing at Woolgoolga. While vocational training options have always been popular with students from the school, SBATs haven’t attracted the same level of interest.
“SBATs haven’t traditionally been part of our culture,” says Craig, noting a few contributing factors.
For one thing, ‘Woopi’ is situated approximately 30 kilometres north of Coffs Harbour, so accessing training providers can be tricky, particularly for students who don’t have their own transport. Unlike students from the EPPP schools in Grafton, for example, Woolgoolga students can’t simply hop on a bus or walk across town to TAFE.
“We’re really reliant on parents and carers to get their children to TAFE,” says Kath.
Geography aside, there has also been a general lack of awareness among parents around SBATs and what they involve. The school has been on a mission to change that recently, and the SBAT info session may have put that issue to bed once and for all for many parents.
“The event was a great success, largely due to Dave’s organisation and drive, but it was also really well supported by Craig and the school, with Emma Darbin doing a fantastic job promoting the event to parents,” says Steve.
The session kicked off with a general introduction to SBATs, with Dave walking parents through what they involve, how they work, and the career opportunities they can lead to. Steve played a big role in the session, too, leveraging some home-grown EPPP content to communicate the benefits of school-based training to parents.
“We showed the EPPP TV episode featuring Bonnie Hills,” says Steve, in reference to the student who turned her passion for surfing into a school-based traineeship.
“Bonnie’s a Year 11 student at the school, so it was great for parents to be able to see her story.”
Some parents were so inspired they wanted to find out how their children could start an SBAT right away. Of course, SBAT enrolments don’t happen overnight, but the team was happy to see that the presentation resonated with parents.
“I followed up with the parents who attended the session and we’ve had a really good response,” says Dave.
“We’ve had about six direct responses, with parents wanting to find out what specific opportunities are available.”
According to Craig, the info session was a real eye-opener for some parents. For others, it offered a welcome sense of relief.
“We have parents who don’t want their kids to leave school, but they’re more than happy for them to do a part-time apprenticeship or traineeship through school,” says Craig.
Interestingly, local employers are getting on board, too. The school already has good links with employers thanks to its well-oiled work experience program that sees Year 10 students do two week-long placements over the course of the year. Now, thanks to the school’s promotion of school-based training options, employers are asking to get in on the action.
“It comes back to culture, and we’re already seeing that start to change,” says Dave.
“We have employers in town asking ‘what’s an SBAT?’, and more students and parents asking about opportunities.”
There’s no doubt that the parent info session played a big part in the shift that Dave and his colleagues are witnessing at Woolgoolga. Nor is there any doubt that Woolgoolga parents are willing to play a part in that change, even if it does mean driving their kids to and from TAFE.
“They came to the info session because they wanted to, and because they’re invested in their kids’ success” says Kath.