“I can’t think of a part of the educational system I haven’t taught in or managed,” says Ken George.
Originally from the UK, Ken’s experience as a teacher and manager has seen him work in private boarding schools, government and Catholic schools, universities and now in adult education.
After an attempted retirement, Ken, now in his sixties, returned to the world of education to manage CAE’s VCE and VCAL program. After two years he was drawn back to the classroom and now teaches Literature and Business Management to CAE’s Year 11 and 12 students.
What drew Ken back to teaching was the distinctive classroom environment of CAE where students from a broad range of ages and life experiences sit side by side.
“I was really interested in teaching learners who have ‘dropped out’ of school, sometimes quite early, alongside people in the classroom in their forties or fifties,” says Ken.
CAE is the largest provider of VCE for adults in Victoria. Most students in the program are in their late teens or early twenties but there are also students in the fifties, sixties and seventies who are pursuing the challenge and intellectual enrichment that comes with VCE studies.
According to Ken it is the distinctly adult educational environment of CAE that appeals to many. “They have all been on their own journey and are determined to get back to the journey of education,” says Ken.
“Many have had the experience of being a round peg in a square hole in school – they have a deep sense of individuality which can be a mismatch with the school system. They tend to want to get out and work.” Others missed out on completing their VCE at school due to ill health; some want to change their trajectory once at university and find they require additional VCE prerequisites.
CAE teachers adapt VCE, a program designed for teenage students in conventional secondary schools, to the needs of these diverse students. Classes are condensed and students conduct much of the work off campus.
“They only come in once a week…and when they do it is just for three and a half hours.”
Subjects can be taken one at a time and Year 12 classes are run in the evening. Unsurprisingly this approach appeals to students whose sense of independence has been an issue in the conventional school system, and to those who have to fit their VCE studies around health needs, job commitments or family life.
The flexibility of VCE studies at CAE acknowledges that returning to study after a gap is not without challenges. “The reality is that jumping in again after years off study is difficult,” says Ken.
“There is a lot of communication between lessons – teachers become mentors beyond those three and a half hours a week. You end up sharing their lives.”
Not only do the vast majority of students get out of the VCE program what they wanted – whether it is an ATAR score to get into university or a VCE pass that will open up doorways to TAFE, apprenticeships or the defence forces – but some overcome significant obstacles to do so.