Redefining success at Liverpool Girls High School

With long-term goals to increase the uptake of vocational education and training at Liverpool Girls High School, principal Kirstine Gonano is taking a personalised approach to defining what success looks like for her students. We spoke to Kirstine, a Principal Champion for the EPP, about how she is engaging her all-female cohort.

Image: Kirstine Gonano, Principal of Liverpool Girls High School and EPP Principal Champion

When Kirstine Gonano was appointed principal of Liverpool Girls High School in 2022 she knew that the goal of increasing the uptake of vocational education and training (VET) at her school would be something she would need to slowly chip away at.

Previously the principal at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School (CPAHS), a school in the pilot of the EPP, Kirstine is no stranger to the benefits of VET, having seen students excel in their post-school careers following a vocational pathway.

Her new challenge is engaging an all-female cohort with high aspirations for gaining an ATAR and going to university.

“We have a long tradition of students going into university pathways and being very successful in their chosen areas of study,” says Kirstine.

But this isn’t the case for all students and a focus for Kirstine has been challenging pre-existing ideas and perceptions about what success means.

“Redefining what success looks like is something we are continually working on,” she adds.

A key part of this is introducing the idea of VET earlier.

Liverpool Girls High School offers VET courses in business and retail services in years 9 and 10, as well as a Certificate I in Skills for Vocational Pathways in partnership with JobQuest for students in year 10. According to Kirstine, the course is targeted at students who have shown an interest in hands-on, practical learning.

“The course provides the students with a well rounded view of themselves so they know what skills they have and can consider pathways that might align with those skills,” explains Kirstine, a Principal Champion for the EPP.

A long-term goal for Kirstine is to introduce VET subjects into stages 4 and 5.

The subject selection process is another important factor in Kirstine’s long-term goals, and one where the role of the EPP team has been beneficial.

Liverpool Girls runs a very personalised approach to subject selection and carefully navigates the delivery of information to both parents and students.

The first activity is a subject selection information evening for parents. Kirstine says this is always well attended and provides an overview of all pathways options to parents, including VET.

Parents are encouraged to speak to their children and talk about career pathways before the next presentation is made to students. Students are required to do an assessment of themselves and their skills, which the school uses to capture a range of potential career options they might consider.

Each student then meets with the school’s senior executive and careers adviser to talk about their career aspirations and subject choices. Kirstine says bringing Suzanne Taylor (SBAT Engagement Officer) and Joyce Chocair (Head Teacher Careers) into that conversation is a very successful addition.

“It’s about targeting the right students and starting up these conversations,” says Kirstine.

“We are fortunate to have a highly experienced careers adviser and team of VET coordinators. The support Suzanne and Joyce offer to students who are suited to a VET pathway further enhances and deepens the work already being undertaken at the school,” she adds.

The next goal is for the school to use these assessment results, conversations and pathway decisions to feed into learning and transition plans for each student in stage 6.

When it comes to engaging an all-girls cohort, Kirstine says the main difference is the amount of time you invest into the conversation.

“Boys are generally more receptive to the idea of VET,” saysKirstine. “For our female students, it’s a lot of one-on-one conversations and really investing the time to show them the options,” she explains.

Liverpool Girls currently has one SBAT student, with another undergoing longer term planning with Suzanne to commence an SBAT in Early Childhood in 2024.

In terms of engagement with VET subjects at the moment, the TAFE YES+ initiative is very popular at Liverpool Girls, with four programs completed in Term 2 across Hairdressing, Nursing, Hospitality and Beauty. Together with trade introductory courses delivered by SALT (Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen), and other ‘girl centric’ programs such as the Girls in Property initiative in partnership with Schools Infrastructure, and Class Chefs initiative in partnership with Southwest Connects and local restaurant Cucina105, Kirstine can see the interest in VET growing.

“We had over 40 students indicate they were interested in a nursing career in 2022, “ says Kirstine. “But not all of them are aware of the alternative pathways to get them there,” she adds.

Looking to the remainder of 2023, Kirstine is excited to see two new VET courses being offered in Entertainment and Assistant Dance Teaching, as well as the continued engagement with the EPP.

“It’s an ongoing process, and I am very happy with how we are progressing,” says Kirstine.

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