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Building the collective capacity of local schools and partner agencies to minimise the incidence of student disengagement

Image The great team and students of the NCESE program

The Banksia Gardens Community Services - Northern Centre of Excellence in School Engagement program, is building the collective capacity of local schools and partner agencies to minimize the incidence of student disengagement.

For some young people growing up in Broadmeadows, life can be extremely tough. The suburb is ranked third most disadvantaged in Victoria and the broader City of Hume ranks in the top decile for disadvantage in Australia. Local school principals note high levels of students with complex needs who often exhibit poor emotion regulation skills, which can lead to significant behavioral incidents. These challenges impact teacher wellbeing and morale.

In 1979, Banksia Gardens Community Services (BGCS) started as a grassroots initiative operating from one of the units of the then recently built Banksia Gardens public housing estate. In its 40+ year history, the organisation has built a well-respected and highly responsive community organisation leading a range of programs and services that provide transformative opportunities for local residents.

In 2020 following a call for a consolidated local community response to school disengagement, BGCS commenced the Northern Centre of Excellence in School Engagement program.  This program was built on the success of ‘Project REAL’, a referral service run by BGCS for students experiencing significant behavioral and educational challenges.  At its core, NCESE aims to build the collective capacity of local schools and partner agencies to cater for the needs of all students, particularly those who are at high risk of disengagement and school exclusion. The NCESE program supports 16 schools, 775 teachers and 8,500 students in the region.

At the start of 2023, Helen Macpherson Smith Trust approved a grant of $600,000 to support consolidation and extension of the NCESE program, extending the Trust’s support for this important work following grants made in 2019 and 2021.

The biggest successes for the NCESE program over the year include a shift from providing on-site services at BGCS to providing services on school campuses, with the aim of building school staff capacity to effectively meet school and community engagement needs.  This shift in delivery was the result of the NCESE team building a set of transferrable skills and developing appropriate and engaging school practices.

A second success for BGCS was the delivery of the first ever NCESE conference. With over 150 registrations, this event linked national and international scholars and expert practitioners in student engagement and was seen a major milestone for the program, putting the NCESE on the map as a regionally significant initiative.  NCESE’s Strategy and Research Senior Advisor, [Name], said “this conference commenced a deeper conversation about the social determinants of health, wellbeing and engagement in schools and community life”.

In the words of NCESE Director Jaime de Loma-Osorio, NCESE Director:

In our daily work, we can’t escape from the fact that ensuring the right to an education for the most vulnerable children in our society requires the best teachers, the most purposeful and intentional training and a whole of community effort. We are not saying that this work is easy, but it is possible, thanks to the support of organisations like the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.