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Responding to the rise in school refusal

Developed by the University of Melbourne and delivered by MacKillop Education, the In2School program is changing the lives of students who struggle to learn at school.

In the three years leading up to 2021, school refusal in Victoria grew by 50 per cent, as students who were already struggling to engage in mainstream education settings were further challenged by COVID-19 lockdowns.

Challenges of this nature require innovative responses, and in recognition of this, the team at the Geelong campus of MacKillop Education partnered with the University of Melbourne, the Royal Children’s Hospital and Travancore School to deliver the In2School program.

Designed by academics at the University, the program targets students whose attendance rate is less than 50 per cent. The trauma-informed model sees the school day tailored to meet the individual needs of each student, with a focus on social, emotional, and academic learning.

The program initially focuses on attendance. The school curriculum is put on pause, as students are engaged individually with their families or carers, to identify and reduce the barriers that are preventing them from attending school. To support attendance, the classroom is designed differently to a typical school, with a number of break-out spaces that provide a relaxed environment.

The amount of academic work that students are asked to complete is increased over time, with the goal for the classroom to function the same as other classroom settings.

Group Director of MacKillop Education, Anne Henderson, says the success of the program lies in its alignment with, and promotion of, trauma-informed practice, which has been identified by a recent Senate Inquiry into the national growth in school refusal as a critical strategy to support students at risk of disengaging from education.

“By listening to each student about the challenges they face, we can work collaboratively with them to overcome these barriers, and get them back on track with their learning.”

“Trauma-informed practices can also prevent disengagement from occurring. All schools should consider how such practices can support their students, and their school community.”

The In2School program was also referenced in the recently tabled inquiry report to Victorian Parliament by the Commission for Children and Young People. Titled, ‘Let us Learn, the report reviewed the educational experiences and outcomes of children and young people in out-of-home care’, the inquiry revealed substantial gaps in educational outcomes for children and young people in care compared to their peers.

Though speaking of their eagerness to learn and do well at school, they face significant barriers that affect this in the child protection, care and education systems.

“Despite our understanding of how trauma interrupts development, there’s an expectation that [children in care] should fit into a one size fits all school system. This inquiry showed us this is not what they need,” says Meena Singh, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.

Find out more about MacKillop Education and trauma-informed education at