‘Disengaged’ GSSC students sent to off-site campus

By Madi Chwasta

Twenty “disengaged” Greater Shepparton Secondary College students will be sent to a campus at Invergordon.

But executive principal Genevieve Simson insists the Rural Annex, to be managed by four staff, has not been a secret, despite it labelled as such by mainstream media.

The program will start in term three at the former Invergordon Primary School site and will move to the new state-of-the-art Greater Shepparton Secondary College when completed in 2022.

“We give them some time out where they have a whole lot of extra support and then hopefully they'll be able to re-engage in the classroom," Ms Simson said.

Greater Shepparton Secondary College was established this year, merging Shepparton High School, Wanganui Park Secondary College, Mooroopna Secondary College and McGuire College.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino announced $119 million to finish construction of the project, which is expected to be complete by the start of 2022.

Currently, students are split across three campuses while construction of the new 2700 to 3000 student college continues on the former Shepparton High site.

Invergordon Primary School closed in 2018, and Ms Simson said the community had been maintaining the condition of the site.

"It's all ready to go," she said.

Ms Simson said bus travel to Invergordon Primary School, which is 30 minutes from Shepparton, would be provided by the school.

She said students at Rural Annex would also be given individualised learning plans and more one-on-one support, and the length of stay would be decided on an individual basis.

Ms Simson said students would not be forced to take part in the program.

“If the families are feeling good about this as a program for their child, and the child's obviously involved as well, then that's what we do,” she said.

“If they don't like it, we'll find something else.”

Ms Simson said these programs, similar to MacCauley Champagnat Program at Notre Dame and others in Melbourne, were successful because of the high student to staff ratio and programs tailored to student needs.

She said it had been in the planning since last year in discussion with the Education Department and school leaders.

“I was planning it last year in discussion with the department and with all of the school leaders – there was no secrecy about it,” she said.

“I've been talking to the staff in my communication, letting them know what we're planning ... you can't go telling people you're going to do something unless you've got the approval to do it."

The News asked the Victorian Education Department questions in mid-April whether there were plans to establish a campus for disengaged students, and whether its location would be at Invergordon Primary School.

“A decision has not been made on the future of the former Invergordon Primary School site,” a Department spokesperson said.

“The Department will ensure the community is informed should a decision on the former site be made.”

Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said she had heard rumours about the plan a few weeks ago.

“The Victorian Government haven’t told the parents about it – the community hasn’t been told,” she said.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said GSSC has been planning a "therapeutic education program for some time".

“Similar programs have been particularly successful at a number of schools across the state with students who are at risk of disengaging from education," he said.

"The program has had success using short-term intensive education before students return to normal classes.

“Locating the program at the Invergordon site allows the program to begin immediately, prior to transferring to the newly constructed college in 2022.

"We will also consider whether or not the Invergordon site can be used as an agricultural learning hub into the future.”