The Macleay Vocational College

The Macleay Vocational College

Macleay Vocational College is located in Kempsey, on the mid-north coast of NSW. It’s had a valued role in the community of West Kempsey for almost 20 years, catering to students 13 years and older who have fallen out of mainstream education.

Through the program, vulnerable young people remain engaged with the education system thanks to centralised support, training and coordination of their activities, as well as targeted support for individuals.

“You name it, we do it,” says Principal Mark Morrison. “We treat them as though they are whole kids, not just students.”

Lots of schools profess to be holistic, but Macleay College takes a particularly grass roots approach to looking after its young people – which may include everything from booking medical appointments for kids who feel ashamed, to dropping food to families in need or simply driving kids to school.

“There are a lot of barriers to going to school for complex young people. We are doing what needs to be done to get kids in the door. Even if there is a public bus, that doesn’t always work. Some might feel shame about being a young mother. Others are dealing with autism spectrum and sensitivities associated with that.” says Mr Morrison.

Mark says that the college doesn’t actually have school transport funding. In fact, local private schools have chipped in and bought buses.

“There are a lot of barriers to going to school for complex young people. We are doing what needs to be done to get kids in the door.

Mark Morrison
Macleay College Principal

A pragmatic approach to solving problems

At Macleay College, the mission is to see education in the context of the whole person in a way that supports students to become resilient, tolerant and self-confident. They want young people to be able to participate in society through having access to an academic and work-education. The college also recognises the dangers of disengagement due to holidays or suspensions, and has alternatives and supports in place to ensure that troubled young people don’t fall through the cracks.

“We run 51 weeks of the year, the reason is if you let the kids go for 5 weeks over Christmas, what happens to them? We run Christmas day for them, we run through the long weekends so they don’t struggle through days on end without the support,” says Mark.

“We are really privileged that these kids want to come and spend time, and trust us,” he adds. “There will be 13 kids graduating on Thursday. Half of them have been incarcerated. Ten have experienced out-of-home care or homelessness.”
The College also has excellent relationships with local services, and Mark emphasises that anyone supporting the youth, from FaCS to juvenile justice, to local businesses, is welcome at the College.

“For example, we get Real Estate agents to come in and educate the kids about renting, and we set them up with rentals where we need to,” explains Mark. “We are pretty fortunate that a lot of services come to us.”

Supporting community relationships

In regional communities like this, relationships are everything for youth at risk. Mark says that local people and community groups are willing to show these kids that they do want to support them. They do that by coming on site, talking to them and building confidence with them. This gives young people friendly faces to turn to locally when they need advice or support – sometimes at crucial times, when they’re at risk of getting in trouble.
“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.”

It’s been almost 20 years since local community groups got together to address the unique needs of young people in west Kempsey. In that time the College has grown and formed links with other services, allowing it to provide wrap-around support for vulnerable young people from 13 years and up.

“We’ve been in the Valley for a long time,” says Principal Mark Morrison. “We have links here, we know what these kids need.”

Macleay College is a solid example of the kind of grass roots, community-driven approach that should be supported in order to promote lifelong learning throughout all regions of NSW.

“I didn’t fit into mainstream education, not because I had behavioural issues, but because I didn’t have a great start to High School. I think it was because I was poor and couldn’t meet the expenses of uniforms and other requirements…but at MVC we receive support and help with food, transport, housing, medical and dental appointments and the students know that the college can provide these things whenever needed.

I received College Captain in 2016 which helped build my confidence and leadership skills, it was a fantastic experience! Since finishing Year 12 at MVC I have started a Certificate II in Business Services and a Certificate III in Beauty Services with the intention to own and run my own business!

I believe that not enough schools give kids a chance to redeem themselves from bad habits and to feel the love from someone, support and kindness.”

Laihla Cox
Macleay College School Captain 2016

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