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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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The Year 10 Applied Learning Program at Kyneton Secondary College

Richard Donker
VCAL Coordinator, Kyneton Secondary College. Email: donker.richard.b@edumail.vic.gov.au, (03) 5421 1100

This year Kyneton Secondary College has introduced the option of a new program for Year 10 students. The Applied Learning Program aims to develop a positive approach to lifelong learning, improving communication skills, emotional literacy and self-efficacy. The intention is to enable students to stay at school and then decide which pathway suits them best. The program leads into the VCAL, without closing off the options of VCE or VET courses.

Kyneton Secondary College is a 7–12 coeducational school in central Victoria. The school draws students from Kyneton, a semi-rural town of about 5,000 people, and neighbouring areas.

Demographically the school is coeducational. The student population is almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon in background. Student numbers have remained stable at around 730 students and the proportion of young people is projected to remain steady for the next 10 years. The school is 100 years old and our neighbouring Kyneton Primary School is one of the oldest in the country, celebrating 150 years in 2006.

Issues faced by the school

The College is in Like Schools Group 4. We have quite a high number of students on Education Maintenance Allowance; the median family income is one of the lowest in the country. Around 25–30 per cent of our students go on to university, 40 per cent to TAFE courses, and 97 per cent go on to employment or training post-school.

A particular concern for staff has been the low level of connectedness to peers and school, most noticeable at Years 9, 10 and 11. Staff have identified about 20 per cent of the student cohort at Year 10 as experiencing compounding failure, low self-esteem and poor relationships with staff and each other. This group of students are not at all optimistic about their future educational and employment opportunities and generally have low expectations. A significant number of students entering the  VCAL face many personal difficulties, including diagnosed learning difficulties.

Staff spend most of Year 11 attempting to deal with some of the problems outlined. The effort put into the building of professional purposeful relationships with students is enormous. Naturally this situation has had a negative impact on peers and teachers. A colleague and I have coordinated the school’s VCAL program for several years, and during that time it has become plain to us that the student profile is not going to change quickly.

The Applied Learning Program

To address some of these problems, another VCAL teacher at the school and I prepared a program to help disadvantaged students to manage the demands of the senior years, particularly in terms of applied learning. We undertook research into the applied programs available, and found that the experiences of other schools that have tried a ‘Pre-CAL’ were generally not that positive, because of the restrictive nature of programs and the way they interacted in the school. We needed something that met students’ needs without streaming them too early, and that kept open their options for VCAL, VCE and VET courses.

Community agencies were also invited to contribute to it, including local health services, employment agencies, the local learning and employment network, local community partnerships, and youth employment and training groups.

Based on this work the school has introduced an Applied Learning Program, alongside the standard Year 10 program.

Components of the program

The program consists of four units. The Communication and Applied Numeracy units each run for the entire year, while Vocational Learning and Project-based learning run for a semester each. Students tailor their own individual learning program from the remaining core and elective subjects.

The Applied Numeracy unit covers topics that include Functional numeracy skills in Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Consumer Maths; ‘Beautiful formulas’; Applied numeracy and ICT; and Work-based mathematics. The unit is based on the dimensions of the VELS mathematics domain. Students who achieve the required outcomes will be able to choose from either VCE Foundation or VCE General Maths.

Our key focus in the Communication unit is simply the improvement of functional literacy skills. We introduce students to a range of communication environments, such as cold calling, mirroring conversation, using formal business language, relationship language, e-communication, public speaking, writing for different audiences and purposes as well as responding to social and community issues. Recreational reading is encouraged through pursuing students’ personal interests.

The VET units pick up on several useful programs as well as our normal two-week Work Experience program, which enables students to undertake short-term work placements in areas of interest. The program endeavours to get students out of the classroom and into a meaningful experiential landscape of learning. This unit provides opportunities to engage in authentic local social science issues, such as our acclaimed ‘Food Talks’ program, where students prepare and provide meals for people who wish to reconnect with the community. It also includes the revegetation of our local Campaspe River and other local environmental projects.

The Project Based Learning unit includes a major project centred on individual students’ career pathways. It also includes two minor elements, one a school-based activity and the other a student-selected speaker.

Vocational Learning and Project-based learning within the Applied Learning Program are scheduled to coincide with Industry and Enterprise (I&E) activity and workplace experience conducted through the school’s mainstream courses.

One crucial part of the program, still under refinement, is the process of student selection. It is particularly important to recognise those qualities and attributes that thrive in a challenging, stimulating environment. Discussions with students about selection for the program are also the beginnings of a professional purposeful relationship where a student has a say in their education.

Feedback and future directions

As the program is in its infancy, our evaluation has been based largely upon anecdotal evidence and the impressions of student and staff. Students report being more engaged. The first written reports for this year that have been proofed indicate a marked improvement in students’ accomplishments. In discussion with us students say they feel more optimistic about their future and the pathways available to them. Both students and teachers report a more positive working relationship.

Future directions will arise out of a more detailed evaluation. However, we will be developing the existing units and considering an extension of the program into Year 9.


Subject Headings

Retention rates in schools
Socially disadvantaged
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Rural education
Secondary education