The Waranara Centre Alternative Education Program

Students seek a brighter future at The Waranara Centre

The Challenges

In Australia, every year around 50,000 young people aged 15-19 drop out of education and training and are unemployed.              

At Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, we believe education is essential to ensuring disadvantaged young people can break the cycle of poverty and abuse that has entrapped them. For young women, this is especially critical.  Young women who disengage from education before achieving year 10 are three times more likely to be long-term disengaged from employment or education than their male counterparts. 

What did Good Shepherd do?

In New South Wales, Good Shepherd set up an alternative education programme that would enable students who cannot thrive in mainstream education to achieve their educational goals.

In January 2015, the newly accredited facility was officially opened as The Waranara Centre.  Waranara is an Aboriginal word meaning 'to seek'.

At The Waranara Centre, educators and counsellors take an individually focused approach to work with young people to increase their confidence, self-esteem and belief in themselves.   This enables us to assist students to set goals and dare to achieve them.

The programme’s success is largely due to its holistic approach offering: specialist counselling to support student’s educational needs; working with parents of students through our parenting program and building a connection between Good Shepherd and surrounding schools.

For students who cannot maintain a presence in any classroom environment, we have developed a creative vocational pathway to employment.

Who manages/administers the programme?

Mission partners. In NSW, there are 30 Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand staff members who are supported by 26 volunteers.

Who is the major target group?

Young people aged 14 - 18

Who benefits and how do they benefit?

Young people – While our focus is on women and girls, this programme is offered to all young people struggling to thrive in mainstream education. The programme provides an emphasis on positive relationships with the aim of assisting families both current and future.

Young people benefit because this programme places emphasis on the individual and is multi-faceted in the support provided. 

For example, a young person struggling with mental illness in the classroom is able to access the support of an on-site counsellor and return to the classroom with minimum distraction. 

Similarly, our counselling team is able to work with parents of our students in order to ensure they are receiving the support and parenting skills required to best assist their children.  Counselling is offered to those families requiring additional support. 

A Case Study: 

Michelle was 14 years when she first attended Good Shepherd’s Waranara Centre in Sydney.  She was referred to us by the local Adolescent Mental Health team.

She had experienced mental health issues and received psychiatric treatment for self-harm, family difficulty, anxiety and depression.

Having had bad experiences at two mainstream schools, Michelle disengaged from education.  She developed severe anxiety and had reacted by isolating herself from her friends and family.

The Waranara Centre immediately engaged the Good Shepherd Counselling team to ensure the best support could be provided to Michelle as she began to re-connect with her studies.

The Counselling Team allocated a counsellor to work intensively with Michelle independently; and another counsellor to work with her parents in order to begin the process of removing the barriers between them. 

Nine months on and Michelle has settled in well. She has a long journey ahead of her, but the signs are positive. She has applied herself well to her studies and is achieving awards for her work.  Michelle aims to continue with Good Shepherd to achieve her Year 10 Record of School Attainment.  She has bravely made plans for her future and is even thinking of her career beyond Year 12.

The Education and Counselling team meet regularly to discuss strategies that will complement each other to achieve the best outcomes for Michelle.  We look forward to continuing to support Michelle and her family into the future.

How many people are assisted

There are 35 students accessing alternative education through The Waranara Centre.  There is a further 48 young people assisted through our intense 10 week Day Program that targets students who are at risk of disengaging from mainstream education.  Approximately 162 new clients access Good Shepherd NSW’s adolescent and family counselling and sexual assault survivor counselling units each year. A further 417 students were assisted through in-school early intervention and prevention workshops and casework targeting students in disadvantaged areas who are at-risk of or experiencing mental health issues.

78% of Good Shepherd NSW’s clients are female.

Motivation and core values 

At the core of all our programmes is St Mary Euphrasia's teaching that 'One person is as important as the whole world'.  Our alternative education programmes are clearly based on the values of respect, compassion, creativity and social justice.

How is the programme evaluated?

The NSW services of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand are committed to Results Based Accountability which is a world recognised measuring tool quantifying the efficacy of each programme. We measure how many people we are reaching, the quality of our service and the impact on the lives of those we assist.

How does it contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Quality education.

Gender equality and empowerment of women.

By recognising the significant role that education places on the future of disadvantaged young women and by promoting gender equity and positive relationships. 


Government funding is time limited and therefore unreliable for long-term planning and susceptible to change of government and government priorities. 

Given the complex needs of our clients, there is a need to be flexible and persistent through many setbacks.

What would make the project more effective?

Greater emphasis on ensuring that resources are directed towards service provision.