A close up of a group of hands meeting in the middleIf you asked me what Independent schools have in common I might mention some shared fundamental foundations – a passion for education and a commitment to independence and the innovation this allows. And, perhaps paradoxically, I’d add another common characteristic – Independent schools are extraordinarily diverse.

They are diverse in size, location, their philosophical approaches to education, their ethical and religious bases, the range of fees they charge, the types of students they enrol.

That diversity is confirmed by new Victorian Independent schools that have opened this year, and by the expanded services offered by existing schools, which offer fresh opportunities for disadvantaged and other students who risk falling through the cracks in the education system.

The good work these schools are doing and the needs they are meeting are worth celebrating. At the same time, they shatter the stale stereotypes that are sometimes applied to Independent schools.

The new schools and expanded services serve the needs of students who are disengaged from mainstream education, come from refugee families, or face other barriers to education.

This means that students who risk being overlooked or falling behind in mainstream schools receive an education that meets their needs.

These schools, like other Independent schools, are different because young people are different.

With their diversity, they provide choices and opportunities for students who otherwise might miss out.

The new and expanded schools include:

  • The David Scott School in Frankston, operated by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which offers the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) for secondary students who have become disengaged from school.
  • The River Nile School in North Melbourne, which aims to empower refugee and asylum seeker women through education. The school does not charge fees.
  • The Berry Street School’s new fourth campus, which opened in Ballarat to offer education for children who are disengaged and who have significant gaps in their education as a result of trauma, and who have behavioural and social problems.
  • Cire Community School, which provides educational support to students in the Yarra Valley who have become disengaged from mainstream schooling
  • Melbourne City Mission’s Hester Hornbrook Academy, which is built on the foundations of the successful Melbourne Academy. The Academy develops belonging, rebuilds confidence and works collaboratively with students, many of whom have become disengaged from education.
  • Preston Reservoir Adult Community Education Inc (PRACE), which has provided education opportunities for over 20 years for students facing poverty and disadvantage. This year it became a registered school under the name PRACE College.
  • SEDA College, a leading provider of hands-on education that partners with peak industry organisations in sports and building. It provides students in years 11 and 12 with industry opportunities they will not find elsewhere.

Because they are Independent, these schools can innovate to provide choice and options for families and students from all types of backgrounds. In the process they strengthen Victoria’s entire school education system. That’s also something worth celebrating.