26 Williamson St, Bendigo, VIC, 3550
Established in 2005, NETschool, a campus of Bendigo Senior Secondary College (BSSC) government school, provides a highly personalised alternative educational setting for young people aged 15-19 who are unable to attend mainstream schooling but have a strong desire to gain formal qualifications. Learners are enrolled at BSSC with full access to teachers, staff and resources but their learning takes place via the Centre for Home-based learning. The program is suitable for learners with a history of non-attendance at school due to physical or mental health issues, trauma, ongoing family issues, poor relationships with students and teachers, bullying, and/or who are pregnant or young mothers. Learners represent the full cross-section of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds found across Greater Bendigo. NETschool works with up to 70 students at any one time.
How this program works
NETschool aims to reengage students with learning in a restorative environment that focuses on building positive relationships and resolving conflict and practices based on three core values: trust, honesty and commitment. To be accepted on the program students need to show commitment to improved wellbeing and be supported by a significant other (parent/guardian/caseworker). Learners make an informed choice through attending the small group taster program. On acceptance to the program students are assigned to a mentor and mentor group of 10-12 learners. Mentors are teachers who provide intensive one-to-one support to students, with an individualised and choice based approach. Students work with their mentor to develop an individual learning plan (ILP) based on their interests, abilities and goals that is periodically reviewed and renewed. The pastoral care program focuses on student personal development, self-belief, well-being, and community work.
The program runs at The Centre, a three-level facility in Bendigo city centre, 4 days a week, from 8.50am to 3.30pm. Each mentor group has an area that resembles a workplace, with a large central table surrounded by individual computer workstations. The day begins with learners coming together to plan activities and finishes after a group reflection. Every afternoon each learner evaluates her or his progress and responds to issues in a reflective journal they share with their mentor. NETSchool provides literacy and numeracy support and Research Based Learning (where students choose what to study and plan their work around personal interest projects) and commence study for their Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL, Year 12), Victoria Certificate of Education (VCE, Year 12) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualifications. Learners’ work is self‑paced and may include learning support by email with a BSSC teacher or attending classes at BSSC main campus. Young mothers and learners who are not ready to attend The Centre can undertake Home-Based learning. With support from their Home-Based mentor they negotiate ILPs and their level of participation at The Centre. Babies and toddlers are welcomed.
Positive outcomes, indicating the success of this program, include: credentialed attainment, engaging students with education, training or employment, changes in students’ skills, abilities, self-efficacy, well-being, feeling safe and valued and influencing mainstream schooling practices.
Credentialed attainment: Examples of success: a student with depression and social anxiety starting at NETschool as a home based learner and then becoming a centre-based learner before attending BSCC and completing the VCE (2012); a young mother who, over 4 years, through a combination of home-based learning, on-line units and class-based learning, achieved her VCE (2012).
Destinations and pathways: 89% of students enrol or stay in mainstream education or training or find employment. Former students have also gone on to university.
Engagement and participation in learning: In 2009, 19 centre-based learners covered 37 VCAL units. Students on the program feel they are learning to learn, and aiming to succeed (2010).
Health and well-being: An evaluation study found that students on the program felt more comfortable and confident, were learning to trust, and able to recognise and manage anxiety (2010) and that students attending The Centre indicated an improved capacity for reflection through displays of greater confidence, eye contact, and ability to articulate a point of view (2010).
Wider influence: A number of NETschool’s practices have been taken up at BSSC such as individual learning plans and self-paced learning programs; NETschool mentors have led professional development sessions at BSSC.
Why this program is successful
Studies of NETschool found the mentor-learner relationship, non-classroom environment, small group approach, strong pastoral support, different paces of learning, the relevance to students’ lives, de-institutionalised learning model, and the positioning of learners as knowledge-producers as critical to the program’s success. The capacity for learners to transition seamlessly between the school, NETschool and home maintaining access throughout to teachers and their chosen course of study was also deemed important.
Want to know more?
Sources of information
Bendigo Senior Secondary College (2011) Annual Report.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College (2013) Parent Handbook.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College NETschool (2013) Program Website (accessed 14.03.2013)
Cox, D. (2006) Crossing the boundaries. Stage 1. A design evaluation of NETschool: an alternative educational environment and a program of Bendigo Senior Secondary College. La Trobe University.
Cox, D. (2010) Learning to Learn. An Evaluation of NETschool. A school re-engagement program supported by Bendigo Senior Secondary College. La Trobe University.
OECD/Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of Victoria, Australia (2012) Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) Inventory Case Study NETschool Australia (Victoria).
Please note, where possible and appropriate, we have adopted the language and terminology used by the program sources (italic fonts) and referred to the most recent publicly available information.
This vignette was developed in 2013 by The Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning (part of the Australian Government’s Collaborative Research Network) for the project Putting the jigsaw together: innovative learning engagement programs in Australia and supported by the Ian Potter Foundation.