Portland Re-Engagement Program

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Students of the Portland Re-engagement Program 2011


The Glenelg-Southern Grampians region has one of Victoria’s highest rates of youth disengagement.  In 2010 the depth of the problem was confirmed when the region was identified in the GSG LLEN’s Environmental Scan as having the second highest rate of youth disengagement in the state.

In particular, Glenelg Shire is noted as being the 14th most disadvantaged municipality in Victoria.  Almost 60 per cent of shire residents live in adverse circumstances in terms of income levels, educational attainment and vocational skills.  It also has one of the state’s highest proportions of Aboriginal people and above-average rates of young mothers.

To address these problems, GSG LLEN played a significant role in developing the Portland Re-Engagement Program.  After playing a key role in establishing and launching the program, GSG LLEN has continued to be an integral player in its implementation.

What is it?

The Portland Re-Engagement Program is a flexible learning option which has emerged as an outstanding model of community and school engagement providing improved transition outcomes for young people.

The need for the project was further illustrated by local data collected through Landscapes for Young People program.  From the initial meetings it was agreed that a new re-engagement program, separate to existing schools, was needed to support young people in the community.

While providing a fresh option for all disengaged students, it was particularly targeted towards vulnerable students in high risk areas, including Koorie students and those with a learning disability.

The goal of the program was to re-engage students and give them an opportunity to complete their education which would improve their opportunities in life.  It aimed to help students find a pathway back into mainstream education, further training or into the workforce.

The Portland Re-Engagement Program started in February 2011 and produced immediate results.  Although students were enrolled as part of Portland Secondary College, the program was established away from the school in a central business district site.  Twenty five per cent of students in the program are from Aboriginal families.


The LLEN brought together community partnership members, including education providers, industry partners, police, and health and welfare agencies.  It’s involvement  included:

  • Identifying local need
  • Recruiting local financial and in kind support
  • Convening regular meetings of the working group
  • Managing and communication with partnership members
  • Development of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)  by the LLEN between Portland Secondary College and 16 community partner organisations.
  • monitoring resource commitments by community partners;
  • ensuring community principles are maintained;
  • supporting a review and evaluation of program outcomes;
  • developing a strategy and lobbying for government support to ensure the program’s sustainability.

The program has resources committed till the end of  2013 and government support is being sought for funding to maintain the initiative. The LLEN remains involved in continuing to support the program and to advocate for ongoing funding.

Program Outcomes

The program engaged 32 young people back into education in 2011 and a further 38 in 2012.  Other outcomes include a:

  • 36% decrease in absenteeism;
  • 100% improvement rate in the number of student suspensions;
  • A steady improvement in the students’ literacy and numeracy abilities;
  • Improved self-esteem among the students;
  • Increased educational and vocational aspirations among students;
  • Improved behaviour on the part of the students both within the program and in the general community.

Overall, 70 young people have directly benefitted  from the program and the program has created many personal success stories such as Sharon’s story below:

Sharon’s StoryOne such case is Sharon Bamblett who quit school at 15 but was able to return to study thanks to the re-engagement program.  Sharon has now successfully moved into a traineeship as a medical receptionist at the Dhauwurd-Wurrung Elderly and Community Health Service (DWECH).Sharon said she had heard about the program through the Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation in Heywood and realised she could have the opportunity to return to school.“I was getting bored at home.  Some of my friends had quit school when I quit and then we separated,” she said.  “My other friends were at school so I decided to go back and stuck it out until I got the position at DWECH.”Sharon described the Re-Engagement program as more beneficial to her than `normal’ school.  “The work is heaps different to normal school.  We still do maths and literacy and everything but it is different and you do things like project stuff instead,” she said.  “There were more fun activities and not just writing on the boards.”Sharon said the teachers were supportive and were backed up by community members who visited to talk about their jobs.  Sharon says she has experienced positive changes as a result of the program.  “If I didn’t go back to the re-engagement program I wouldn’t be here (at work).  It made me confident, it is so different.”Sharon’s teacher at the Re-Engagement Program, Chris Thomas, also noticed her successful change in attitude and personal development.  Chris said that when Sharon started she was not always attentive or focussed.  However, after a short break she made a commitment to attend the program on a regular basis. “Sharon returned and showed a fantastic commitment,” he said.  “Over the coming months Sharon became the genuine leader of her class.  Sharon was actively involved with her education, enjoying it and taking pride in her work,” he said. At the beginning of 2012 the program successfully worked with Sharon to find a suitable job. “Without the program Sharon would not have this opportunity and success,” Chris said.  “I believe she would have been lost to the education system as she needed the support and different approach that is offered at the Re-Engagement Centre.  I don’t think she would have the same belief and confidence in herself as she does now.

At this stage the program will continue in 2013 but its future beyond that is still to be confirmed.  GSG LLEN and other partners remain committed to ensuring it has a long-term future.

Newspaper and newsletter articles have been supplied by Colac Herald, Hamilton Spectator, Portland Observer, Portland Secondary College, Stock & Land, The Standard and Western District Health Service – please refer to our Media page.