Transforming the experience of school for disengaged students

One in four Australian students don't finish year 12 or equivalent and 40% of students are disengaged from their schooling.  Hands On Learning exists to transform the educational journey for disengaged students who are at risk of leaving school early. 

Program Area:
Project Dates:
January 2013 - December 2015
The Hand on Learning program in action


One in four Australian students do not finish year 12 or equivalent[i] and 40% of Australian students are disengaged from their schooling[ii].  The Hands On Learning (HOL) exists to transform the educational journey for those disengaged students who are most at risk of leaving school early. 

With the support of a large multiyear grant from The Ian Potter Foundation, HOL was able to nearly triple the number of schools offering the methodology over a three year period.

Deloitte Access Economics (2012)[iii] undertook an analysis of the impact of the HOL method entitled 'The socio-economic benefits of investing in the prevention of early school leaving'. The analysis found that, when considering workforce outcomes alone, the net benefit of providing HOL to students between 1999 and 2012 was $1.6 billion in present value terms. This represents a $12 return to every $1 of investment in ensuring year 12 completions.  The finding of this report provided the impetus for the Hands On Learning Strategic Plan to expand the program to over 50 Victorian schools by 2015.

[i] Mitchell Institute 2015

[ii] Grattan Institute, Feb 2017

[iii] Deloitte Access Economics (2012)

Aims & objectives

This project supported the organisations key strategic goals of expanding the HOL method into 25 new partner schools by 2015 to enable the methodology to support up 1,200 at risk young people annually. 

Funding provided organisational capacity to recruit partner schools and support them to establish the HOL method at their school including the recruitment, training, induction and ongoing professional development of HOL Artisan teacher staff.  Funding was also used to provide multiyear tapered seed funding support to help establish and sustain the methodology.


As at May 2015 Hands On Learning Australia (HOLA) has raised the number of active partnerships with schools embracing the HOL method from 24 to 56 – including the nine targeted through this project – exceeding the projected strategic plan target of 50 (by end 2015) and representing an increase of over 130% since June 2013. This footprint provided the capacity for HOL to help up to 1,200 annually. A full list of schools running HOL can be found here.

Throughout this period we were able to create over 20 different government and political engagement opportunities with both the major political parties at both a state and federal level to advocate for future funding of the HOL method at both a school and external quality assurance level.


As a founding partner in national research led by the University of Melbourne[iv], HOL helped develop a new tool to measure what works to keep kids engaged at school – pioneering the Connections, Capacities and Meanings framework. 

For the first time the personal impact on kids of participating in HOL was compared with non-HOL students attending a regular day of school.  In 2016, 82% of HOL students felt connected to school versus 43% of the general student population, 98% of HOL students felt what they were doing at school mattered compared to 61% of the general student population, and 85% reported enjoying school versus 44% of students not involved in HOL.

[iv] University of Melbourne (2014)


Support provided by The Ian Potter Foundation was a catalyst for the growth and strong position we find ourselves in today. 

This has led to a recent merger between Hands On Learning Australia and Save the Children Australia.  By joining forces, we will seek to leverage the existing footprint and infrastructure of Save the Children.

This partnership will also provide access to decision-makers at all levels of government, helping us forge new relationships and secure government support.  Importantly, this means we can extend the success of the HOL program to even more young Australians.

Cam Wiseman, Head of School Education Engagement, Hands On Learning Australia

'This is an excellent project. The evaluation completed by the University of Melbourne (which is still ongoing) showed the HOLA model to increase intra and interpersonal skills, self-management skills, basic literacy and numeracy and attachment to school. 

While this project no longer fits within The Ian Potter Foundation's Education program objectives, the Foundation is pleased to have been able to assist HOLA expand into nine new schools. The program clearly makes a difference for the students involved by reconnecting them with school. We hope to see it continue into more schools across the country now that HOLA has merged with Save the Children.'

Nicole Bortone, Education Program Manager


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