Educational attainment is an important predictor of an individual’s future social and economic wellbeing. Children are likely to achieve better life outcomes if they have access to a high quality education from early childhood through to schooling and on to further education and training. However, many children and young people experiencing disadvantage face barriers that prevent them from obtaining a quality education and developing the skills they need to set them on a positive trajectory.
VCOSS’ submission to the Department of Education and Training (DET) review on strengthening regional relationships and supports highlights the issues faced by vulnerable children and young people and the important role the community sector and families play in supporting learning and school engagement.
A significant proportion of children and young people have varied and complex social, health, emotional, developmental and family circumstances that may place them at risk of poor educational outcomes. These children can benefit enormously from access to additional supports, particularly when provided early before problems escalate and knowledge and skills gaps widen. The VCOSS submission makes a number of recommendations to DET to better assist education institutions and communities to support disadvantaged students. These include:
- Creating an accessible and inclusive education system for all young people: Universal services such as early childhood services and schools are uniquely placed to support the wellbeing of children and their families, and to link vulnerable families into additional, targeted supports and the broader service system as required. VCOSS recommends DET provide education institutions with greater resources and assistance to better support the wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people, and support inclusive practices that help children and young people thrive.
- Promoting a holistic and integrated approach: Children and young people’s outcomes are shaped by their home environments, their peers, the community supports and services they and their families access, along with high quality, early childhood services, schools, and Vocational Education and Training. Families and the community services play a key role in students educational outcomes and their overall wellbeing, particularly for vulnerable students who need additional support. VCOSS recommends that DET structures and supports take a more holistic approach to supporting children’s wellbeing and better reflect the interrelated nature of individual students, families, community services and all education institutions.
- Encouraging lifelong learning and engagement: Evidence suggests supporting a young person throughout their whole life, rather than targeting support at particular stages, such as early childhood or adolescence, leads to better outcomes. VCOSS recommends DET structures and functions support a lifelong approach to learning, helping children and young people successfully transition through each stage of education, from early childhood, through to the middle years, adolescence, and on to further education and training. DET could also help children and young people remain engaged in education, by funding programs that provide intensive case-managed support for young people at risk of disengaging, and by expanding flexible learning options across the state.
- Promoting evidence-based policy and approaches: Place-based initiatives and integrated service models are informed directly by the communities themselves. However, community level data is also valuable in informing stakeholders of the community’s key issues and strengths during the planning stages. Because children and young people’s outcomes are determined by a range of factors spanning individual and family factors, community environments and the learning and school environments, community level data is needed to measure the outcomes of any initiatives, to help drive continuous improvement and achieve the best possible outcomes for children, young people and their families. VCOSS recommends DET’s structure be amended to better facilitate a two-way exchange of information, providing more support to regions to implement policy directions, as well as enabling community level data to be fed back to the central office to inform future policy development.
Further information about the DET review on strengthening regional relationships and supports is available on the department’s website.
 Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Addressing entrenched disadvantage in Australia, CEDA, April 2015.
 T Moore and A Skinner, An integrated approach to early childhood development: Background Paper, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health, Melbourne, 2010.
 T.G Moore, H McHugh-Dillon, K Bull, R Fry, B Laidlaw and S West, The evidence: what we know about place-based approaches to support children’s wellbeing, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health, Parkville, Victoria, 2014.
 Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Op. Cit.