New year, new transitions

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Caitlin Burman

The start of a new year is an exciting time for our MacKillop Education students… it’s the summer holidays, the students are enjoying their break and putting into practice the experiential water-based activities they learned in 2016 - surfing, snorkelling and surf life-saving skills.

This time of year is also a period of transition. Many young people are transitioning from primary school into secondary school. It’s a big change in their lives which brings new challenges. But these challenges are exacerbated for students who have experienced or continue to experience trauma or disengagement from school; students like the young people who attend our MacKillop School in Geelong, Victoria.

Often the young people in our school display social and/or emotional behaviours that are challenging and a mainstream setting is not able to cater for their individual learning and wellbeing needs. In a mainstream secondary school, the changes to relationships, new routines and expectations can be difficult for these students to navigate. Without being aware of their specific needs, this type of transition can put these students back at risk of disengagement.

At MacKillop, we support our students transitioning from primary into secondary school through an orientation program towards the end of Grade 6, allowing students’ time to experience the secondary setting in a controlled manner. Once the transition to secondary school takes place, students are assigned a key teacher, consistent classmates and a classroom where they work every morning. Afternoon sessions allow students to engage and interact with a wider cohort of students under the supervision of alternate teachers and in different learning environments.

This is a flexible model which can be difficult for mainstream schools to follow. Mainstream secondary school approaches and processes are efficient in terms of dealing with large numbers of students who can move from class to class independently. But the increased level of movement between classrooms; the associated increase in noise; the multiple teachers with a range of expectations; and even the changes in student groups can be very confusing and frustrating to students who have experienced trauma and/or disengagement.

MacKillop’s approach is to accommodate specific routines for individual students. We take a whole-of-school, holistic approach to responding to the needs of students who have experienced trauma or are at risk of disengaging from education.

A trauma-informed learning environment works well at our MacKillop schools, but it’s also an approach which can be used to great effectiveness with young people in mainstream schools. Teenagers face all sorts of challenges as they grow into adults and a trauma-informed environment can help focus on meeting their academic, social and emotional needs.

This can be achieved by:

  1. Ensuring leadership and staff provide a shared understanding of the impact of trauma on learning and the need for a school-wide approach;
  2. Supporting all students to feel safe physically, socially, emotionally, and academically;
  3. Addressing students’ needs in holistic ways, taking into account their relationships, self-regulation, academic competence, and physical and emotional well-being;
  4. Connecting students to the school community and providing multiple opportunities to practice newly developing skills;
  5. Working collaboratively and sharing responsibility for all students; and
  6. Anticipating and adapting to the ever-changing needs of students.

You can find out more about MacKillop’s Education services and trauma-informed learning environments here, call (03) 5248 2557 or email