Initiative spotlight: TAFE NSW Early School Leavers

The TAFE NSW Early School Leavers initiative provides support to people under the age of 17 who are at risk of disengaging from school or have left school. We spoke with TAFE NSW Project Officer Maddie Sain about how the initiative helps students transition to an adult learning environment at TAFE NSW, complete their first course, and continue into further study or employment.

TAFE ESL Student Support Officers Rolla Manzalji, Glenn Johnson, Nicole Flemming, Amy Simpson, Maddie Sain, Cassie Donnelly TAFE ESL Student Support Officers Rolla Manzalji, Glenn Johnson, Nicole Flemming, Amy Simpson, Maddie Sain, Cassie Donnelly
Image: TAFE ESL Student Support Officers Rolla Manzalji, Glenn Johnson, Amy Simpson, and Cassie Donnelly with Nicole Flemming and Maddie Sain

The primary aim of the Early School Leavers (ESL) initiative is to support students who leave school under 17 without having achieved the HSC, many of whom do not hold a Year 10 or a Record of School Achievement (ROSA) to complete an equivalent qualification, such as a Certificate II, at TAFE NSW.

According to ESL Project Officer Maddie Sain, the most enrolled-in courses are the Certificate II in Career Preparation or Skills for Work, however students can enrol into any Certificate II as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. Unlike the TAFE NSW YES+ initiative, participants in the Early School Leavers initiative no longer attend school and are not usually grouped in the same TAFE class. Participants attend different classes at different campuses, in line with their pathway objectives and proximity to a campus.

The TAFE NSW Early School Leavers initiative has been running since the start of the Educational Pathways Pilot Program, and in March 2022 expanded its scope in line with the increase in participating Educational Pathways Program (EPP) schools. Since July 2022, more than 150 young people have been referred to the ESL initiative, either through their Head Teacher Careers, their school, or directly through the TAFE referral form.

While in operation, the Early School Leaver initiative has seen several success stories amongst its participants, says Maddie. One student, a carpentry apprentice, travels 5 hours in a round trip from Tenterfield to Wollongbar every week to attend TAFE NSW - the closest campus offering the Certificate III in Carpentry. In addition to receiving an ESL scholarship to assist with travel costs, she has been awarded the Bert Evans Scholarship for Apprentices in recognition of her capable, positive attitude in work and vocational training, and the way she has overcome personal hardships. Another student, from Armidale Secondary College, has seen huge progress due to their regular check-ins with their Student Support Officer (SSO) who has helped them overcome anxiety around coming to TAFE NSW and implemented strategies to help catch up on missed work.

There are many benefits for young people taking part in the ESL initiative. To ensure the students have a supported transition from school to TAFE NSW, they are each allocated a dedicated Student Support Officer (SSO) who checks in with them weekly regarding their studies and progress. Additionally, participants who have a barrier that impacts their ability to complete may receive support in relation to the purchase of course relevant tools and equipment, or a weekly scholarship of $35 to assist with transport, petrol, or living expenses. There is also an optional opportunity for enrolment in the EPP tutorial support course which can address specific learning needs, such as language, literacy, numeracy, study skills, and disability or Aboriginal support.

Schools can refer students who want to leave school and meet eligibility criteria to the initiative. As a result of their weekly check-ins with their SSO, Head Teacher Careers are able to discuss and track the progress and attendance of students as required. Head Teachers are also able to follow up with the student if they are under 17, have not completed a Certificate II and TAFE NSW reports that they are no longer attending their course.

As the initiative continues to grow from strength to strength, it aims to continue providing students with support in their transition from school to VET learning. As Maddie explains, the goal is for ESL to expand its reach across the current network of EPP schools. One way to do this is through the expansion of ESL induction sessions for Head Teacher Careers across the EPP regions. The Head Teachers Careers from Central Coast North and Central Coast South school groups recently attended a successful ESL induction session, covering details about the referral processes, and relevant legislation regarding the education and welfare of young people. As the EPP and ESL, grow together, so too will the young people who can benefit from its reach. The future looks bright for TAFE NSW Early School Leavers.

For more information, please email Nicole Flemming or Maddie Sain at

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