Shaping pathways - Y WA CEO Dr Tim McDonald reflects on our vocational school opening


After two years of often very challenging and frustrating hard work, here at the Y WA we officially opened our first Curriculum and Re-Engagement (CARE) School, Mirrabooka Campus – a school for students not engaged in mainstream schooling. Obviously, as I joined the Y WA in August last year, a lot of the groundwork had already been done, but this actually allowed me the space to really appreciate the dedication and hard work my team had put into this milestone project, and I am immensely proud of them for that. I mean, when I hear of the collaborations with the likes of Y Brisbane, other alternative school leaders, then the almost disastrous stories about being gazumped on land and nearly having to re-submit our application for registration because we couldn’t secure a site, to the generosity from the likes of Lotterywest who donated our school bus and other generous people who donated sofas and other furniture, the journey to get here was not a straight road!

But it has been so worthwhile. You see, for me, I know the life changing possibilities this alternative school is now providing previously disengaged young people. Research shows around one in five Australian school students are disengaged from school, which means they either don’t attend school or don’t engage with structured classroom learning. Unfortunately, we know that these disengaged young people are more than likely to end up unemployed, or in a very low income group, are at high risk if not already of being socially excluded, or getting involved in crime, or adopting unhealthy behaviours, suffering from mental health issues and if and when, they have children the cycle will possibly continue. 

The education and learning at the Y Vocational school will help change the course of their lives.

So, how are we aiming to keep young people engaged at our Mirrabooka Campus and helping them to become inspired young people? Well, we take a holistic approach to learning. We appreciate to be able to learn you need a clear mind, so we start by providing a safe and nurturing environment. We also have intentionally low student to teacher ratios, and teachers who are trauma-informed and youth workers in every classroom to help support our students with their emotional development, which then allows the headspace to learn key skills in literacy, numeracy, employment skills and vocational training. We work in partnership with students to build their self-worth and resilience, teaching self-regulation and inspiring positive attitudes and behaviours towards themselves, their families, and the school community, to encourage their success.

We provide an Individual Learning Plan for each student because we meet each student where they are at and assist them to develop new pathways leading to success in learning. We acknowledge progress in a positive and nurturing way so they can achieve a nationally recognised qualification. We also teach essential life skills, including interview techniques, punctuality, and appropriate workplace behaviour.

In addition to learning and emotional development, the Y has also established connections with local businesses to ensure clear career pathways, work experience and apprenticeships for our students. For the me, the main aim must be every student graduates either with a further learning pathway or a clear route into a career as we believe all young people are capable of success, they just need the right environment and guidance – and that’s what our Principal, Navit Shchigel, and her team are providing. 

We are also exploring developing a model that guarantees students employment in Year 11. So much time and false hope is given to young people with a range of training certificates without the hope of using them in employment. We want to guarantee them a job, tailor the training to the job with employers as partners on the journey from the start. Imagine the life changing opportunity for a young person who may have experienced inter-generational unemployment to say I will have a job, be trained for it and supported by my school to achieve graduation. The Y school will be a beacon of its belief in the power of inspired young people because we will listen to young people and give them the power to make choices and take charge of their lives in a supported and safe environment. This is why I get up so excited every day to work at the Y.

We are planning on building on the success of our Mirrabooka Campus in the near future to build additional campuses around the Perth metro area, as we know there is a growing need for alternative learning where students are better equipped and ready for the world, equipped with the skills they need to achieve at life and at work.

This project has been a very personal undertaking for me, and it was one of the things that drew me into the Y CEO role when I heard about the plans to open vocational schools across WA. Many years ago, I worked in a similar school in England, and it really illuminated how impactful the right interventions and supports can be on vulnerable students who many have literally been discarded, and who hold no hope for their own futures. In fact, they inspired me to delve deeper into education and learning and showed me how we all need to work as a community to provide the best possible opportunities for all young people. The local and national levels of students disengaged is not solely a school issue but a community responsibility.


Category: General, Youth