The disengagement of young people from education is a significant issue. In 2016 over 5.1% of 15 to 19-year-olds across Australia (75,300 people), were not in education, training or work.1 Setting aside those who leave school seeking employment opportunities or apprenticeships, the reasons that young people leave school are often multi-faceted, but include factors such as experiences of complex trauma, bullying, behavioural issues, debilitating anxiety and mental health issues.

A diverse range of education programs and schools across Victoria are working to re-engage these young people, to support their wellbeing and to help them to build a more positive future.

How successful are these programs? What approaches are most effective, and for whom? Answering these questions is important in building the evidence base for the emerging flexible and inclusive education sector.

In 2017-18, Lirata partnered with Oakwood School to explore the answers to these questions in one particular educational model. In the process, we uncovered six areas of exemplary practice which underpin the school’s success in re-engaging young people in learning. The findings hold important lessons for mainstream as well as flexible learning providers.

Icon for Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

Introducing Oakwood School

Oakwood School is a multi-campus Victorian government school for students who have disengaged from school or for whom a mainstream school environment is deemed inappropriate to meet their needs. The school’s overarching purpose is to re-engage young people in learning and set them on a positive pathway to their future.

Established in 2011 as a regional initiative of the DET in response to findings of the high numbers of school aged young people not in education or employment, Oakwood School now has ten sites across the Southern and Bayside Peninsula areas of Melbourne. Some distinguishing features of Oakwood School’s approach include a slow induction process with the teacher, short flexible hours, a focus on the student-teacher relationship as primary, and highly personalised education plans. Each of these factors supports students to experience success in attending school.

Why evaluate?

In 2017, Oakwood School commissioned Lirata Consulting to evaluate its model, with a particular emphasis on effectiveness. The model has evolved continuously since its inception, and the school’s leadership were keen to capture the learnings from this development, and to continue to strengthen the model for the future. The evaluation was useful in doing this for several interconnected reasons:

  • The work that Oakwood School does is vital, challenging, complex and cutting edge. In this context it is important for the school to understand how well the approaches they have developed are working and whether they are meeting their goals of re-engaging young people in learning, improving their well-being and supporting them into positive pathways to the future.
  • The evaluation enabled the development and bringing together of ideas for improvements from a broad range of stakeholders. It gave space for the school community to reflect and learn together.
  • The evaluation was also important in helping the school and others to understand more deeply the factors that contribute to success or failure. For example – many young people are improving their literacy – what are the factors that help this to happen, what is it that the school is doing?

Evaluation focus and methods

The evaluation focused on six key questions:

  1. Who are the young people who have enrolled in Oakwood School?
  2. What impacts has Oakwood School had on the lives and trajectories of students?
  3. How does Oakwood School achieve the impacts that it achieves?
  4. What impacts has Oakwood School had across its campuses and in its partnerships with stakeholders?
  5. What aspects of Oakwood School's approach represent exemplary practice?
  6. How could Oakwood School continue to strengthen its work for the future?

The methodology incorporated extensive data collection and analysis involving document and literature review; surveys completed by 102 students, 34 parents and 41 external stakeholders; interviews with 12 students and 15 staff; focus groups with staff (7 sessions), parents (6 sessions) and school council (1 session); site visits to 6 Oakwood School locations; and analysis of existing school-based data sets.

The evaluation process made space for the whole school community to be heard and to contribute their insights and experience.

Partnership approach

The evaluation proceeded from a position of trust and mutual respect between Lirata and Oakwood School. A respect for each other’s expertise and a desire to work in collaborative ways supported the collection of high-quality data and the building of deep understandings.

The evaluation process made space for the whole school community to be heard and to contribute their insights and experience, building on the existing culture of open and reflective practice at Oakwood School. The evaluation reference group made important contributions to evaluation design, and to the process of “sense making” and synthesis of data.

Lirata’s evaluation team of Karen Rosauer, Fran Demetriou, Dr Leannda Read and Mark Planigale was also strengthened by our partnership with Nick Johns of Johns Education Consulting, and Dr Dorothy Bottrell of Victoria University, who provided deep sector expertise.

Highlights from the findings

The evaluation summary report is available online.

The evaluation found strong evidence that Oakwood School is effective in achieving its goals across four key areas: re-engagement with education; achievement in learning, including literacy, numeracy, social development and other areas; building positive pathways to the future; and student wellbeing. In each area, there was strong evidence of positive outcomes.

The school also achieves some unexpected impacts. For example, families across the school’s campuses spoke with great emotion of positive impacts beyond what they could have imagined, on the whole family.

Oakwood School is notable for its culture of inclusion, its clarity of focus on the importance and possibility of learning, combined with practices of deep respect and empowerment for all.

Six interrelated areas of exemplary practice were identified:

  • The thoughtful and thorough implementation of trauma informed practice and its integration with all areas of the school's work.
  • The active and structured case management approach which facilitates networks of support for students.
  • The commitment to fostering high quality relationships between staff, students, parents/carers and external professionals.
  • The structured and personalised student intake and induction process which establishes safety, trusting relationships and clear expectations from first contact.
  • The sophisticated curriculum and range of evidence-based teaching and learning practices which effectively support personalised learning.
  • The wide-ranging processes for staff professional learning and for organisational reflection and learning, which enable continuous improvement.

The evaluation report provides more detail on each of these areas and explores the ways in which they contribute to achieving successful outcomes for young people who have previously been disengaged from education. The sophistication and comprehensiveness of Oakwood School’s implementation of these approaches offers useful lessons for mainstream and flexible learning providers alike.

Sharing exemplary practice is not simple. Complex and good ideas developed over time and in particular contexts, cannot be simply transplanted.

In addition to noting the school’s many strengths, the evaluation identified a range of areas for further improvement, across areas such as continuing to refine literacy and numeracy teaching practices, further development of the student pathways model, and further strengthening of processes for communication and resource sharing across sites.

Sharing of good practice

Through its focus on ongoing learning and reflection, keeping the best interests of students always at the centre, Oakwood School has continued to evolve its culture and practices. This ongoing development has led to an approach which is highly focused and accessible, but also highly complex, built on deep expertise.

Sharing exemplary practice is not simple. Complex and good ideas developed over time and in particular contexts, cannot be simply transplanted.2 It is unlikely that other schools can simply copy the model. Instead, we recommend that education providers:

  • Identify the underlying principles that have led to positive outcomes at Oakwood School,
  • Explore case studies of the ways in which these principles have been implemented by Oakwood School (and others), and
  • Evolve their own methods of incorporating these principles into their work in ways that are a good fit for their own unique context.

Notes

1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2017. Australia's welfare 2017. Australia's welfare series no. 13. AUS 214. Canberra: AIHW.

2. Australian Catholic University (ACU) & Erebus International. 2008. Scoping study into approaches to student wellbeing: Literature review. Report to the Department of education, employment and workplace relations. (PRN 18219, July 2008): Canberra. pp.55-56.

  

Evaluation expertise for education providers

Lirata Ltd provides expert consultancy services for education providers, with a focus on models that better meet the needs of vulnerable young people. We assist with program development, planning, review and evaluation. Our team have strong knowledge of flexible and inclusive education approaches.

For further information or assistance, please contact the Lirata team:

Phone: +61 (0)3 9457 2547
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  

Download

Oakwood School Evaluation: Evaluation identifies key success factors in flexible learning (PDF 294 KB)

Related articles

Pathways to the future: Flexible and inclusive education

External resources

The Summary Report of the Oakwood School Evaluation is available online at:

For more information about Oakwood School, and about flexible and inclusive education, please visit the following sites: