A school with student wellbeing at its heart

A school with student wellbeing at its heart

In recent years, a growing number of reports have highlighted the rise of poor student mental health and increased student violence in Australian schools.

Compounding the existing issues faced by mainstream education settings are high staff-to-student ratio’s, high student dropout rates and – as a result of the lockdowns during COVID – more students becoming disengaged from education and falling behind academically.

Indeed, a 2023 Senate report found school refusal in Australia is at an all-time high. In NSW alone, up to 5.4% of all school aged children and young people in are affected by school refusal, and this trend is increasing.

A potential solution

WAYS Secondary (WAYS) is a fee free NESA accredited high school offering year 9-12 that enrols students from a range of public, private and Catholic school systems. At the core of WAYS is the belief that there is no such thing as a bad school, only a bad fit between student and school.

Terri Said, CEO and Principal at WAYS Secondary School, is also a clinical psychologist specialising in adolescence and a family therapist with 20 years’ experience in both fields.

She says adolescent centric pedagogy and operations is at the heart of The WAYS philosophy.

“WAYS differs from mainstream models as there is significant emphasis on fostering strong student connection to self, education and community,” Said explained.

“Our school asserts that for students to feel supported in facing the many emotional challenges brought by adolescence, and for them to meaningfully succeed in further tertiary study and in the workforce; they need to feel safe, seen and heard, structure and consistency.”

The school implements several practices that align with these and other adolescent social, emotional and cognitive process such as: a no uniform policy to encourage individuality of expression, late start time of 9:45am, our lesson structure, our minimal approach to homework in stage 5 and students remaining in the one classroom throughout the week.

Said noted that WAYS also ensures easy to access to onsite psychologists and case managers all of whom work with students and families if required.

Priority of structure and student staff relationship

Studies have shown that effective teacher student relationships and school environment positively impact student engagement and academic esteem and outcomes.

Said noted that established research also shows that second only to family, school is the most important stabilizing force in the lives of young people. Hence, unlike many mainstream schools, WAYS is designed to be a small school.

“This means high teacher to student ratio’s which are conducive to richer student teacher relationships and connection building and a quality learning environment where students learning needs are effectively managed,” Said explained.

Practical over theoretical

Central to the WAYS philosophy, is the idea that it is more important for students to learn how to learn and grow in academic resilience than the specific subjects studied at school and the ATAR result.

“Many students with high ATARS do not necessity translate this success to university or other tertiary institutions. WAYS expects that students finish year 12,” Said pointed out.

“These final 2 years of schooling is where young people definitively need the most support to grow in maturity required to succeed in further tertiary study and employment, develop a solid sense of self, consolidate critical academic skills and develop the resilience required to succeed in today’s world.”

Said also noted that WAYS has had several of its Year 12 students on the NSW education distinction and merit lists.

‘The proof is in the pudding’

Said remarked that WAYS has countless success stories.

Parents *Sandy and *John write” WAYS has turned our child’s life around.

“When it was clear that she wasn’t thriving in the conventional school system we feared she wouldn’t continue past Year 8,” Sandy and John said.

“In the four years she was there, she opened up, gained much needed confidence, made friends, genuinely made an effort with schoolwork and sat for the HSC.”

Sandy and John said the incredible teachers “gently catch students who have fallen through the cracks of the education system and set them right.”

“The school’s commitment to personal growth – as well as education – transformed our daughter into the confident, funny and enthusiastic young woman we see today,” they said.

“WAYS has expanded her options as an adult and given her the grounding to do what all children should expect from a school – to be equipped to go out and live a fulfilling, meaningful life.”

*Names changed for privacy reasons.