The Aussie school where kids can smoke
IT'S morning recess at school and students wander out of the classrooms, chatting, laughing, and reaching for their cigarettes to light up a smoke.
Children as young as 15 are allowed to smoke during recess and lunch at the government-funded school in Western Sydney, which has designated smoking areas.
Given most Warrakirri College students have done time in juvenile detention, been kicked out of home or removed from parents on drugs or in jail, teachers have decided stamping out nicotine is not their priority.
The school, which has Blacktown and Fairfield campuses, caters to students aged 15 to 22 who have fallen foul of the mainstream system, often rejected by public schools and lacking the necessary qualifications for a TAFE course.
Fifteen-year-old Taylor Graham dropped out of a Blacktown state school after showing up for "one week tops" in Year 9, an attendance rate below 2 per cent.
Taylor, who pinches cigarettes from relatives, said the smoking ban at her old school was one of the reasons she never bothered to show up. She felt lost in a sea of 1700 students at a school that "couldn't give two shits about you".
No-nonsense principal Carolyn Blanden has thrown out the rule book in her bid to lure the most jaded kids back into the classroom.
"At my school you can come with bright blue hair and metal in your face," Ms Blanden said. "And if you need to have a smoke, that's OK too."
The veteran educator, who was once deputy principal at Tara Anglican School and boarding house mistress at Knox Grammar School, is well aware smoking causes cancer but said the alternative was the kids go "back to floating around the streets or into detention".
In two hours The Sunday Telegraph spent at the school, teachers had to console a hysterical girl who had broken her bail conditions by missing a scheduled mental health check, and arrange a lift back to school for three students worried they were going to be bashed at a nearby McDonald's.
Earlier a 16-year-old prospective student divulged she couldn't read aloud because of the crippling memory of her father punching her every time she got a word wrong.
Two-thirds of students suffer ADHD, bipolar or oppositional defiant disorder, which is characterised by constant disobedience and hostility.
Students are commonly domestic violence victims, which is why teachers ditched the "hands off kids" rule enforced in most schools in favour of giving hugs to children craving affection.
Although some students have served time for violence, the worst outburst in the past three years was when a kid put their fist through a wall in frustration.
Teacher Mona Lofti said the low rate of hostility could be put down to the school's decision to cap numbers to 100 students and the unprecedented freedoms afforded to kids.
If a student melts down they are welcome to leave the room and fix themselves a Milo or take a walk.
Students do drop out, typically because they've been sent back to a juvenile justice centre or become pregnant, which has forced the school to tweak its HSC course.
Kids study three full subjects a year, instead of six subjects for two years, so they can miss three years before their grades expire.
More than half of Warrakirri's students who graduated Year 10 in 2016, several of whom were the first in their families to ever earn a Record of School Achievement (RoSA) formerly known as the School Certificate, took the plunge and enrolled in the HSC.
School-leavers in 2016 landed jobs in defence, construction and childcare, while others clinched apprenticeships in landscaping and plumbing. However, attendance sits at just 53 per cent and has proved hard to improve as few parents are involved in the school.
Originally published as Aussie school where kids can smoke