Thursday 25 September 2014

Hansard of the Legislative Council


Education - Beacon Foundation and Pathway Planners

MrFINCH (Rosevears) - Mr Deputy President, we know that too many young Tasmanians leave school far too early and they end up without the skills to get a job. It is well known Tasmania has the worst school retention rate in Australia.

The Government is to be congratulated for its initiative to increase the number of secondary schools offering years 11 and 12, but it is to be slightly condemned for slashing the pathways program with the loss of more than 40 career advisers. Extending school programs to years 11 and 12 obviously offers more opportunities for students, but it is by then too late to put them on the proper career path. There is strong evidence that you need to start at year 8 or even earlier in their lives.

The Beacon Foundation started at Launceston's Brooks High School. I remember going to the launch of the Beacon Foundation there. I have been wracking my brain to remember the then principal. He was visionary. He embraced the Beacon program and built a very strong foundation for the organisation at Brooks High School.

From those humble beginnings it is now operating in more than 110 secondary schools throughout Australia. It is such a good idea. Beacon's main focus is on increasing a school's contact with the community and business in its area to get employers engaged to provide motivation and inspiration for young people - and, of course, jobs roll from that. It has been a huge success at Brooks High School, improving retention rates and getting more students into jobs through the nodole program. They have claimed in the past to have 100 per cent success with their year 10 students leaving Brooks High School and not going on the dole. That was the thrust of it at Brooks.

Beacon Foundation chief executive, Scott Harris, says it takes a whole village to raise a child. You have heard that expression before. This is the case with Beacon. The local community and its industries are pivotal to a school's success in helping students into jobs. Beacon trains career advisers for schools as well as advising on career options. They train students for job interviews, helping them with presentation and public speaking skills. This is where I have had some terrific times at Brooks High School, assisting students, engaging with them and giving them thoughts on their public speaking. They organise orientation tours of colleges and universities, and arrange work experience.

You can tell the vital role that Beacon plays in our community. I quote one definitive sentence from Beacon's website:

Beacon has an established track record of helping inspire and motivate students to either stay in school and increase their educational engagement and attainment or choose a positive pathway that enables successful transition to employment, further education or training.

Beacon people whom I worked with talked about pathway planners who had knowledge of the higher education system, and they counselled students. That partnership, as I observed it, was vital in schools. Students need that one-to-one contact with someone who can guide their career choices and provide an opportunity to drive various options such as industry experience, including tours, work experience and mentors.

At Brooks the program starts at year 10, but they have to get the mindset of job experience and where a young person wants to go by the time they get to college, because so many get to college and have no idea what they are going to do. Then they change their career ideas, which sets them back. It means they do not hit the ground running by the time they get to college. As I was told, high school teachers will unfortunately never be suitable for the role because most of them go straight from university to teaching, with no experience in industry. That is why you need people who understand that situation - like pathway planners. I strongly agree that kids, especially boys, do not respect advice from people who have not been out there and done it.

The Government recognises the importance of the Beacon Foundation. As you notice from the budget papers they are presented $225 000 a year for each of the next three years. However, here is the catch. Beacon can train industry liaison advisers; they can go to work in schools but they are only half the program. Pathway planners have been vital for Beacon's operation, working oneonone with students from year 8 - they can't do it on their own. But where are the pathway planners now? The question is how, and with what, are they going to be replaced?

The budget papers clearly state that getting rid of pathway planners is a budget savings measure. But it is a savings measure that will cost us dearly in the future. The cost will be the curtailed future of many students, even greater youth unemployment and the loss of skills for our businesses and industry.

Political and budget decisions seem to have lost sight of the future. Ironically, the Budget allocation for the Beacon Foundation, which will now have to operate without pathway planners, comes under the Department of State Growth. It is hard to see a growth element in the careers of students leaving education too early, without skills and without hope.