College offers best of both worlds

The most eclectic group of people I have ever worked with in a school setting.

Southern Cross Catholic Vocational College in Burwood is a unique cross between a school and a TAFE college. The college was founded in 2010 on the site of the former Christian Brothers College Burwood, which catered for boys from Years 7-10.

In 2010 the Rudd government was offering funding for schools to set up trade training centres.

Schools in the Sydney diocese had the ground breaking idea of applying for funding en masse. The successful bid resulted in an $11 million federal grant to set up a unique trade centre catering for senior students seeking an applied learning pathway.

The Sydney CEO had done research which showed it was losing a lot of students to TAFE colleges at the end of Year 10. Southern Cross takes students from the catchment post Year 10. It also provides external studies for students from other colleges that come in once a week. All up about 500 students attend the college.

Principal Patrick O’Reilly said the initial $11 million grant, backed with money from the Sydney CEO, enabled the college to be set up to offer its vast range of courses, including automotive, hairdressing, construction, retail services, fitness, IDT, business, music industry, entertainment, hospitality, health and many more.

Charles Sturt University partnered with the college in its early years and advised how to deliver vocational education.

Photos courtesy of Southern Cross photography, video and digital imaging students

The college includes an impressive theatre, which is also used by Sydney Catholic Schools Performing Arts and a restaurant. The students serve meals to real clients. The hair and beauty students also service real clients.

The college does offer the HSC, and has a real emphasis on preparing students for the workforce, although it does have an arrangement with Notre Dame University, to allow its Certificate III Business and IDT students to go on to the Bachelor of Business without an ATAR.

Catholic and English Studies are taught, but always with an emphasis on the practical.

For instance, in Religious Studies students might learn about varied religions, and talk about the different types of people they might encounter in the workplace.

Retail Services Learning Facilitator Maria Tripolone said students “get the best of both worlds” with access to staff from an industry background that can provide real world advice and experience and connect them to the workforce.

At the same time, the college provides a wellbeing program and mentoring more like a traditional Catholic college. Tuesday is the only day all students are on campus, and they participate in clusters and join a mentor group.

“Mentors provide the home connection and maintain a relationship with the students throughout their time at the college,” Maria said.

“We try to provide them with mentoring that relates to their chosen field,” she said.

“We still have cultural and sporting activities like carnivals that would take place in a school.”

Patrick said the staff at the college was “easily the most eclectic group of people I have ever worked with in a school setting”.

As many staff are not from a traditional teaching background, Patrick said he decided early on to drop the title ‘teacher’ in favour of learning facilitator.

He said there is no differentiation between formally trained, NESA accredited teachers and industry staff.

Part of the advice from Charles Sturt University was to set up professional learning teams comprising people from a variety of backgrounds who could provide peer observation and offer professional support to each other.

“There’s no caste system here,” Maria said.

The unique style of delivery seems to be working as the college has been recognised as a centre of excellence through the Australian Training Awards, winning the School Pathways to VET award in 2013 and 2015, the only school in Australia to have won this award twice.

Sue Osborne