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The Role of School Community Partnerships in Building Successful Transition Pathways for Young People one School's Approach

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The Role of School Community Partnerships in Building Successful Transition Pathways for Young People: One School's Approach

Abstract

Western governments around the globe have become increasingly focused on the successful transition of young people from school to further education and/or training. It could be suggested that for many countries this is the key focus of their youth policies. Nevertheless, the divide between those young people who manage to successfully transition into a meaningful careers pathway and those who do not continues to widen. Establishing stronger welfare safety nets and better youth services that can respond more effectively to the needs of young people as they reach fruition have all been a part of the policy and practice developments of the last decade. And although these are all important aspects of a functioning community, at the centre of young people's lives remains their connection to education and thus to their school. This connection, if successfully positive, can develop resiliency, community links, social capital and an economic future for young people. These are daunting responsibilities to place on one institution. This paper examines one school's approach to establishing innovative careers pathways for young people. It also discusses the importance of partnerships between schools, community services and other community, government and parent stakeholders in the creation, application and evaluation of careers and transition programs

Introduction

Examining the ways in which educational institutions work effectively with external agencies to support young people’s career aspirations is of great importance to school leaders, careers counsellors, students and their parents. And understanding how schools and community stakeholders establish meaningful partnerships helps make sense of why it is that some career transition programs are more successful than others. For the past decade Australian Government policy has expressed an urgent need for school and community members to support the successful transition of young people into further schooling or employment pathways (Rainey et al. 2008; Alford and James 2007). For young Australians planning their career paths, being given clear and consistent information from a variety of supportive voices is a necessary element to preparing for the future.

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians 2008 reiterates the benefits of strong partnerships between schools and external agencies; partnerships that support and encourage young people to pursue career pathways that will enhance their life-chances (MCEETYA 2008). The role of education structures, families, local businesses and external agencies in mentoring young people embarking on successful career pathways, is well-documented (Teese and Lamb 2010; Lamb and Vickers 2006; Broadbent et al. 2012). Central to what follows here is an unpacking of those attributes of secondary schooling that equip young people with the necessary skills to problem solve, critique and take an informed and therefore empowered stance on where they are heading and what they want to be.

With these issues in mind, this paper reports on research undertaken between 2009 and 2010 involving one inner city school in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The research was funded jointly by Melbourne City mission and the Victorian Department of Education from a funding pool that was a part of a broader State Government initiative in the city’s west. Research findings presented in this paper highlight school partnership practices that either supported or hindered career pathways and transition plans undertaken by students from Years 9–12. Over the course of this project, a series of workshops and interviews involving six teachers and six community stakeholders was held to discuss community perceptions of partnerships with the school. Community stakeholders were recruited by the school principal, in conjunction with the researchers, based on the stakeholders’ work inside the school and their subsequent connections with career programs. The role of community partnerships in nurturing and supporting career pathways is also considered in the paper, as are those elements that contribute to strengthening successful partnerships between schools and community stakeholders.

Informed by relevant research and literature

The discussion about what makes up sustainable and collaborative partnerships between schools and community services is not new. Over the past two decades, local and federal governments have attempted to bridge the gaps for young people who have limited access to the supportive structures needed to effectively transition into employment or further schooling pathways (Kirby 2000; Prime Minister’s Youth Pathways Action Plan Taskforce2001; Dwyer et al. 1998; Stokes 2000; Bradshaw et al. 2001; Department of Premier and Cabinet [DPC] 2002; Heffernan et al. 2005; Department for Victorian Communities [DPCD] 2006). In its report, titled Pathways to Prevention (1999), the National Crime Prevention Council outlined the need to integrate protective factors that facilitate young people’s ability to achieve and succeed. According to the original service framework the role of safeguarding young people was not the responsibility of a single community or a single school. Rather, it was a shared responsibility that required the involvement of a range of individuals who, as a collective, shared a desire to enact supportive structures that lead young people to financial and emotional stability. The benefits of a unified front when addressing the complex needs of young people is addressed as such:

There is growing recognition that the task of supporting young people is not the responsibility of schools alone; it is a ‘whole of community’ responsibility, including the contribution of parents, teachers and community-based service providers. Where school communities and service providers are able to establish effective partnerships, there is a much greater chance of developing comprehensive, integrated responses to the needs of young people.

(National Crime Prevention Council 1999, p. 40)

Successful career and transition programs are of the key components currently linking communities with local schools. According to McInerney (2004) and Giddens (1998), such programs provide transparent and sustainable links between schools, young people, community and employment agencies. Successful career programs also sketch out the trajectories of young people who in the process achieve a status as social, political and economic agents. That is, they can celebrate their ability to plan, implement, evaluate and change and to become active participants in their life worlds (McInerney 2004). Career programs that equip young people with the skills necessary to survive in an ever-changing labour market are also essential. For the school leaver, being clear as to the steps and goals needed to pursue a successful career pathway is associated with their having strong interpersonal and intrapersonal skills as well as being able to foster and nurture community connections (Broadbent et al. 2012).

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