Lifelong Learning

Children and young people are set up early in life to thrive and be empowered into the future

The action needed

Ensure all children have the best start in life

Provide universal access to early childhood education and care services for all children in the 2 years before school.

Support children and young people to remain engaged in education

Support vulnerable young people to remain engaged with the education system, including:

  • Increased investment in student support officers, and provision of centralised support, training and coordination of their activities
  • Targeted in-school support for children in out-of-home care
  • Appropriate alternatives to suspension

“We’ve been in the Valley for a long time.

We have links here, we know what these kids need.”

Mark Morrison
Principal, Macleay Vocational College

The Macleay Vocational College is a holistic support service established by local community groups in west Kempsey to address the unique needs of marginalised youth in the area. Over almost two decades it has grown and formed links with other services, allowing wrap-around support for vulnerable young people from 14 years and up.

Why it is needed

Children and young people see education as a top priority for the NSW Government.1 We know that high quality education not only enhances children and young people’s developmental outcomes,2 but also empowers them to thrive in life and find a pathway out of the poverty and disadvantage they may experience.

However all too often our children and young people experience barriers to accessing and engaging with high quality education. For our most vulnerable, this can be because of a lack of affordable and accessible services, pre-existing disadvantage impacting on learning or social interaction, or a disrupted educational experience, for example due to changes in the home environment or out-of-home care placements.3 The approach we take to address these issues can have a real impact on a child or young person’s outcomes in life.

In communities across NSW, we hear how early childhood education and care (ECEC) services often act as key hubs and ‘soft entry points’ that connect vulnerable children and families to a variety of early childhood support services, community and health services and culture. For example, Dalaigur Preschool in Kempsey and Jarjum Centre in Lismore run Aboriginal language and culture programs, provide whole-of-community, wrap-around supports for children with additional needs and refer vulnerable families to other services.

NCOSS welcomed the $200 million in the 2018-19 State Budget to facilitate greater access to ECEC for three year-olds. However, this represents only a 6.8% increase in investment from the previous year and Federal Government changes to childcare subsidies are likely to impact vulnerable families.

It is difficult to see how current levels of investment will facilitate universal access if the NSW Government continues to spend less per child on ECEC than most other states and territories.4 This means less access, higher fees, and less opportunity for vulnerable children, particularly in regional and remote areas. We need universal access to ECEC for all children in the two years before school, and as a first step, the incoming government should increase the spend per child to be in line with the median state and territory government spend.

We also know that for older children and young people experiencing disadvantage, targeted support at school is key to keeping them engaged with education. Communities tell us about the positive impact that Student Support Officers have on student wellbeing and keeping at risk youth connected to vital supports and services that help them remain in school. But our members are concerned that in recent years, decreased funding and decentralisation of Student Support Officers have limited their ability to effectively engage with young people.

“If you don’t build relational trust with kids, you’ve got nothing. If there’s no respect and no mutual buy-in there, nothing will happen.”

Mark Morrison
Principal, Macleay College

Targeted in-school support is particularly crucial for children and young people in out-of-home care, and we need approaches that place education at the centre of decisions made about their care, placement and future. For example, Victoria’s LOOKOUT Education Support Centre trains Designated Teachers to advocate for educational improvements for children in care at the school, bridging the gap between educators and social workers.6
Finding work is child’s play – If you can get a slot at daycare

It could happen to anyone… Suddenly you’ve gone from financial security to single parenthood. You have no job, no car and no home of your own. You realise you need to work full time job to support your child, but what do you do when all the daycare centres are full? This is the position Jacqui* found herself in.

As a state, we also need to respond to student misbehaviour in ways that keep them engaged without disrupting their learning. This is particularly crucial for Aboriginal students, who despite making up only 7% of the total student population, also make up about a quarter of the student population experiencing suspension.7 Consultations with young people in juvenile detention conducted by the Advocate for Children and Young People have highlighted that long suspensions (of 20 days) can entrench problematic behaviour as young people become disengaged from their learning and social networks.8 While suspended, young people come into contact with police, confirming the role suspensions play in the ‘prison to school pipeline’.9 The NSW Government should review school suspension and expulsion policies and procedures to ensure:
  • Better collection, monitoring and public reporting on data relating to school suspension;
  • A reduction in the maximum length of time for which a student can be suspended;
  • Introduction of an in-school alternative to suspension (such as suspension centres); and
  • Behaviour management strategies are linked with the provision of learning support.

“(There is a) lack of alternatives for suspended kids…kids have no physical space to go to, nothing to engage with.”

Newcastle, 2018

The NSW Government needs to provide culturally appropriate, wrap-around behaviour and learning support based on a student’s individual circumstances to allow young people to maintain their connection to education, community and culture.
  1. Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People 2016, NSW Strategic Plan for Children and Young People – Consultation Results.
  2. Education Service Australia, ‘Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story’ (Education Services Australia Ltd, 2016) Available here.
  3. UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families, ‘Education matters-improving the educational outcomes of children and young people in care’ (UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families, 2015) Available here.
  4. Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services 2018, (2018) Table 3A.38.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Victoria Minister for Education, ‘Improving Education for Kids in Care’ (2017)
  7. Lang, J. 2017, ‘School suspensions and Aboriginal students’, Actuarial Eye, November, available here
  8. Office of the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People, ‘Submission to Inquiry into the Adequacy of Youth Diversionary Programs in NSW’ (Parliament of NSW, 2018 at 5-6) Available here.
  9. Hemphill S, Broderick D & Heerde J 2017. Positive associations between school suspension and student problem behaviour: Recent Australian findings, Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 531, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1. Cited in Office of the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People, ‘Submission to Inquiry into the Adequacy of Youth Diversionary Programs in NSW’ (Parliament of NSW, 2018 at 6) Available here
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