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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4764

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (19:49): I rise tonight to speak about the Thebarton Senior College, a unique public secondary school located in South Australia's Western suburbs. It is the only site in South Australia that provides an intensive English language course in a secondary school for recently arrived refugees and migrants. The college also specialises in the provision of the South Australian Certificate of Education, SACE, VET courses and is a registered training organisation. Students of the school can gain credit for nationally accredited courses in information technology, building and construction, engineering, multimedia, hospitality and business and community services, making it an ideal learning venue for adult students looking for a way into TAFE or university or for those looking to build up the qualifications and skills necessary to get into apprenticeships or the workforce.

The school has around 1,000 full-time students and some part-time students who bring the total figure to approximately 1,300 students, along with 140 staff. The students are aged 16 to 60 plus, with a majority in the 18 to 24 age group. Thebarton Senior College offers an intensive English language program called the New Arrivals Program, a Centrelink approved activity, which extensively covers English language, literacy and numeracy for newly arrived migrants and refugees. The full-time program lasts 12 to 18 months and prepares newly arrived students for further study or is an important pathway into apprenticeships or work. Once students complete the program, they can continue on to stage 1 or stage 2 SACE subjects, giving them the opportunity to move into TAFE or university, or students can do VET courses to help them move into the workforce or to relevant apprenticeships. This year, around 266 students are enrolled in the New Arrivals Program, with the program reaching its peak enrolment figures last year with 370 students. A majority of the students in the program are here under humanitarian visas, a small number are business migrants and a few have come directly from community detention. Some of these students have experienced torture or trauma, and some have spent a significant amount of time in refugee camps. That is just one of the special circumstances that this college has to deal with.

Another is dealing with newly arrived students with varying levels of competency in the English language. In fact, 51 different languages are spoken by the students of Thebarton Senior College, who obviously come from many different cultures and countries all over the world. Some of the new arrivals come to the school with a good knowledge of the English language; others have reading and writing skills in their own language but none in English, which at least gives them the building blocks to learn a new language; and some have no reading or writing skills either in their own language or in English. At present, there are around 22 classes in the New Arrivals Program. Each class groups students with similar levels of English knowledge. To ensure that they are placed in appropriate classes, the New Arrivals Program students are assessed a few days after enrolment. Twenty bilingual school service officers are employed at the college to help communicate to teachers any issues relating to the new-arrival students.

The program offers more than just the extensive English lessons. Students are also given a large range of life-skill lessons which the college's principal, Kim Hebenstreit, says ensure that 'a whole lot of settlement issues are covered'. These lessons include having police talk to the students and provide information about the law. There are also lessons in understanding Centrelink, finances and banking, and in raising awareness of gambling, health issues and other service issues. Along with these life skills, a wide range of support services are offered to students, including midwives, clinical psychologists, housing specialists, financial counsellors and a specialised counselling service, Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services, or STTARS.

The new-arrival students can learn valuable leadership skills through the Rotaract Club for Global Peace, which is linked to the local Rotary club. The club enables students to do things like meet with elderly Australians who might never have had the chance to meet a person from Africa or Afghanistan. Assistant Principal Mrs Eva Kannis-Torry said:

It's a positive for community building and dispelling myths around immigration.

Another unique aspect of the New Arrivals Program is that, one day a week, students attend one of their classes in the Adelaide CBD. It gives these students the opportunity to get orientated in the city and go on city based excursions. Aside from the New Arrivals Program, the college is also a place for adult students to return to school and get their SACE or VET qualifications in a welcoming, multicultural and adult environment.

The school is always looking at new ways to attract new students and to help existing students realise their goals. Principal Hebenstreit says that one of the great success stories of the college is that they have implemented a number of SACE completion packages. This includes a program created for computer game buffs. These students are learning how to make games and how to critically assess them, amongst other things. They are meeting the English and numeracy requirements of the SACE through a familiar medium—a computer gaming environment. It is giving some people who have become socially isolated the opportunity to meet other people with similar interests, and it is giving them the chance to move onto further studies, like going on to do a certificate II or certificate IV in information technology.

The college is an attractive option for adult learners because of the broad range of subjects it offers. It is also one of only three schools in South Australia that is a registered training organisation. The staff work closely with local businesses, building relationships to give students opportunities and, importantly, contacts for work placements. Through work placements, the students can gain experience and build references which leave them better placed to find employment. An apprenticeship broker is on hand at Thebarton to help the students.

Thebarton Senior College's impressive streak does not end there. It is also recognised as a United Nations Global Peace School that teaches explicitly about peace and human rights. It is why days like Harmony Day, World Refugee Day and the International Day of Peace are so important to the school. It gives teachers the chance to highlight the importance of multiculturalism at the school. At the students' induction, they are told of the importance of keeping the peace. Principal Hebenstreit said:

They know here that the ultimate crime really is to breach peace. What our students have suffered from most is violence. They've seen stuff that nobody has to see or put up with.

This leads to the issue of how the college deals with discipline issues. As Assistant Principal Eva Kannis-Torry said, 'Where you have an adult environment and your values are around respect and peace, you can't have punishment as the go-to tool when things go wrong,' adding that 'some of these students have been punished by experts'. Instead, the college uses restorative practices as a way of dealing with any issues—that is, asking why things went wrong and what can be done to fix them. It can be a long, drawn-out process, but it is the most effective way of teaching these students, many who have experienced significant trauma. It is important to be compassionate and empathetic, reintegrating them into society so they are able to live in and deal with the problems we all face. Despite the fact that there are so many different cultures and backgrounds, the college says any conflicts amongst students are very rarely politically or culturally motivated. RTO Manager and Assistant Principal Gaye Becis says she thinks that the college has fewer issues than the average high school.

Currently, the school is in the very early stages of building a new library—it will be a modern, flexible library, which the school expects to be completed in 2014—because, importantly, the school has also seen the benefits of this government's Building the Education Revolution, the $16.2 billion investment in our country's educational future. Over $1.7 million went into modifying the language centre to better suit the needs of the school. As Principal Hebenstreit says:

The wonderful thing about this BER initiative is that we now have new arrivals learning English—

(Time expired)

Question agreed to.

Senate adjourned at 20 : 00