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Chapter 3: Remote Indigenous education: Social Justice Report 2008

Social Justice Report 2008

Chapter 3: Remote Indigenous education

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Part 1: Introduction is the engine room of prosperity and helps create a fairer, more
productive society. It is the most effective way we know, to build prosperity
and spread opportunity...[1]

In recent decades, academics, policy makers and education experts have
debated the pros and cons of various education approaches aimed at improving
educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (or
indigenous peoples). For the most part, the debates have focussed on Indigenous
education in remote Australia. This is where Indigenous students make up the
majority of the school populations, and the schools they attend are not
considered, (and often not funded) in the same way as ‘mainstream’
schools. The Indigenous students in these remote schools often experience
significant educational disadvantage, and as a consequence, their English
literacy and numeracy skills are at lower levels than other Australian students.

With few exceptions, the debates about Indigenous education focus on whether
it is better to educate Indigenous children in their own communities or whether
it is better to remove Indigenous children to boarding schools where they can
access western style education and be saturated in the English language. The
debates contest strategies that, on the one hand, seek to
‘normalise’ Indigenous students through assimilation and integration
with mainstream society, and on the other, seek to preserve Indigenous languages
and culture within Indigenous communities. The proponents of both sides of the
argument are keen for the same outcomes – the best possible education and
the best possible life opportunities for remote students.

During 2007 and 2008 the Australian media reflected these polarising themes.
We saw articles on subjects such as: ‘boarding school education versus
education in the home community’; ‘bilingual education versus
English literacy saturation’; ‘education partnerships with
Indigenous communities versus education dictated by the mainstream’; and
the ‘regionalisation of education resources versus education in the

It is my contention that these debates are a distraction from the fundamental
requirements for good Indigenous education policy and services. The focus on
education approaches is a distraction from a simple truth; that there are some
very large gaps in the provision of education services in remote Australia.
Debates about approaches draw attention away from the fact that many remote
Indigenous students receive a part-time education in sub-standard school
facilities - if they receive a service at all.

If students across the country are assessed using the same tests and deemed
to be educationally competent or otherwise using the same measures, then
governments must provide consistent levels of education resources across the
country. It is not possible, practical or desirable to move all remote students
into urban centres, so quality education must move to them. Governments must
also prepare for ongoing growth in Indigenous populations. For example, it is
estimated that the total population of the Northern Territory will increase by
87 percent by 2056.[3] Across
Australia the 2006 census tells us that the median age of the Indigenous
population was 21 years, compared to 37 years for the non-Indigenous
population.[4] In all we are a young
and growing demographic.

It is time for governments to assess the availability of education services
in remote Australia and ensure that quality education is available when
populations warrant them. This is the right of all Australian children, and in a
country as wealthy as ours, remote Indigenous students should receive no less.

The human right to education is characterised by four features. Education
must be available, accessible, acceptable and

National Benchmark test results show a significant gap in the educational
performance of remote Indigenous students compared with students in all other
locations.[6] These results have not
changed over time. In fact, there have been negligible improvements in English
literacy and numeracy outcomes along with a simultaneous erosion of Indigenous
languages and culture.

This chapter will not reproduce statistics that point to student failure, nor
will it debate pedagogical approaches. My aim is to shine the spotlight on the
systems that provide and deliver education services. The issue I am interested
in interrogating here, is whether governments have fulfilled their obligation to
provide quality education services in remote Australia.

The Australian Government has indicated its willingness to improve the life
chances of Indigenous Australians through education. The Apology to the
Stolen Generations in 2008 contained strong commitments to early childhood
education.[7] The Close the Gap
Statement of Intent
committed the Government to work with Indigenous people
to achieve equality in health status and life expectancy, comparable with
non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.[8] The Prime Minister recognises the importance of education in achieving equal
life chances. In the Apology he stated:

Our challenge for the future is to embrace a new partnership between
Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The core of this partnership for the
future is closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on
life expectancy, educational achievement and employment

I acknowledge that in population terms, the majority of Australian Indigenous
students are in urban and regional locations. I have chosen to dedicate this
chapter to discussion of remote Indigenous education because this is where the
greatest educational challenges exist. It is where we see the greatest
disadvantage and it is where we see the poorest educational outcomes.

This chapter contains specific measures focussed on the considerable
challenges of providing preschool, primary school and secondary school education
in remote Australia. It provides examples of initiatives which demonstrate good
practice and it concludes with recommendations for government action. The
chapter is structured in seven parts:

  1. Introduction
  2. Setting the scene – the challenge of delivering a quality
    educational service in remote Australia
  3. School and community partnerships
  4. The best and brightest teachers and leaders
  5. Early childhood education
  6. Education as the key to other life chances
  7. Conclusion and recommendations.

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Part 2: Setting the scene – the challenge of
delivering a quality educational service in remote Australia

1 Remote Australia

The vast majority of the Australian continent is sparsely inhabited. In 2006
there were 1,187 discrete Indigenous communities in Australia with 1,008 of
these communities in very remote areas. Of the very remote communities, 767 had
population sizes of less than 50 persons. In 2006 there were 69,253 Indigenous
people living in very remote

31 percent of Indigenous Australians live in major cities and 24 percent live
in remote and very remote
Australia.[11] The remainder of the
Indigenous population lives in regional centres. In contrast, non-Indigenous
Australians are much more likely to live in major cities with less than 2
percent living in remote and very remote
areas.[12] The
Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia describes remote and very remote
locations as having very little accessibility of goods, services and
opportunities for social
interaction.[13] For ease of
expression from hereon, I will use the term ‘remote’ to include both
remote and very remote regions.

Remoteness has obvious implications for school education, limiting access to
educational services as well as other resources such as libraries and
information technology. Road access may be limited during times of the year and
during wet season periods there may be no access for months on end. If internet
access is available in remote Australia, it is usually via satellite, offering a
dial-up service with limited and slow internet speeds.

Map 1 shows the distribution of population across Australia varying from
Major Cities through to Very Remote Australia. Map 2 shows the distribution of
Australia’s total population across Australia with each dot representing
1,000 people and Map 3 shows the distribution of the Indigenous population
across Australia with each dot representing 100 people. Table 1 shows the
population of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by remoteness category.

Map 1: Remoteness categories of the Australian continent - June 2006,
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2008, Australian Bureau of Statistics


Map 2: Australian population distribution - June 2006, 1301.0 - Year Book
Australia, 2008, Australian Bureau of Statistics


Map 3: Indigenous population distribution - June 2006, 1301.0 - Year Book
Australia, 2008, Australian Bureau of Statistics


Table 1 Estimate of Indigenous and non-Indigenous population in Regions
according to 2006 Census

Pop. Region Est. non Indigenous pop. Est. Indigenous pop.
Major Cities of Australia 13,996,450 165,804
Inner Regional Australia 3,975,154 110,643
Outer regional Australia 1,854,026 113,280
Remote Australia 267,199 47,852
Very Remote Australia 88,008 79,464
Total 20,180,837 517,043

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2 Are education services available and accessible in
remote Australia?

We don’t have accurate information to assess whether remote Indigenous
students have access to education in their region. There is no data which
matches populations of school-aged students against preschool, primary and
secondary school services in Australia. This lack of data is a serious omission.
It is essential information for government’s to plan their expenditure in
education. This kind of data tells us whether Australia is meeting its
obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child to:

... recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to
achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they
shall, in particular:

  1. Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
  2. Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education,
    including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible
    to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free
    education and offering financial assistance in case of

In 1999 the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission conducted
an Inquiry into rural and remote education. The Inquiry found that there were
over 950 young people of secondary school age in East Arnhem Land without access
to secondary education.[16] While
some work has been done to provide limited secondary options in East Arnhem Land
since 1999, we simply don’t have accurate data telling us who is missing
out. We don’t know how many remote Indigenous students are being educated
in makeshift facilities with part-time visiting teachers. We don’t know
how many students live in communities across Australia with no electricity and
no educational facility.

Australia has not been a big spender on educational institutions compared
with other countries. In its 2007 publication, Education at a Glance 2007 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identified
that Australia has proportionally lower spending on education as a percentage of
GDP compared with New Zealand, Iceland, South Korea, Chile, and a number of
European countries.[17]

There is work ahead for governments to chart the populations of actual and
projected school-aged children by Australian statistical subdivision, and match
these populations to school and preschool infrastructure. The relative
underspending of Australian governments on education is likely to have had
impacts in remote Australia. Without data, we cannot assess these impacts.

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3 Are Indigenous students in remote Australia
receiving quality education?

Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:

... the education of the child shall be directed to (a) the development of
the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to
their fullest potential ...[18]

Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states

States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present
Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any
kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal
guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other
opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other

Despite decades of educational debate and fluctuating attention on Indigenous
education, there appear to be no definitive approaches, no givens, and no
fundamental positions that bureaucracies adhere to and categorically apply when
delivering education to remote Indigenous students.

This is borne out by two facts. Firstly, new approaches are being
continuously trialled in an effort to improve the less than acceptable national
literacy and numeracy test results and secondly the various approaches have not significantly improved the academic achievements of Indigenous
students over time. Let me re-iterate that point – the evidence of the
past decades shows us that there is no one literacy approach that provides a
‘quick fix’ for remote Indigenous education.

Those people who have followed Indigenous education policy in past decades
will have witnessed a cyclic and repetitive process of ‘new’ and
favoured educational initiatives and approaches. People who have been teaching
for long enough will have noted how some approaches are promoted, then demoted,
only to re-emerge a decade later. New attendance schemes, new literacy
approaches and new curriculum frameworks are worked and reworked. Some are
funded for a short time and enthusiastically embraced by schools, only to be
de-funded at the end of a three or four year funding cycle.

Schools continue to be the experimental grounds. School personnel have had
little choice except to be compliant in the face of an ever shifting procession
of policies and an increase in compliance activity and data collection demands.
With no authoritative guide to Indigenous education and no real
‘science’ or empiricism to guide the decision-makers, at any given
time, the newly funded and favoured policy approaches are those that have been
promoted by the most powerful policy advocates. And any new Indigenous
initiative is invariably a pilot project, usually on a short Commonwealth
funding cycle with high reporting responsibilities.

There are good reasons to explain why a single, sustainable and transferable
Indigenous education approach is elusive. Education approaches are highly
influenced by the environmental context. The outcome of any approach is affected
by the quality of the school leaders and educators; the resources available to
the students; the environment in which the students are learning; and the
general health and well-being of the student.

In remote areas, the school environment is often less predictable than in
urban settings. At the school level there are the following variables:

  • How well funded is the school? Do the student numbers attract at least one
    full-time teacher?
  • What kind of books and learning materials are available? Is there internet
  • How good is the school leadership? Are there Indigenous leaders and teachers
    at the school?
  • Have the best and brightest teachers been recruited to the school? To what
    extent are the educators competent communicators in a cross cultural
  • How well trained are the teachers in literacy and numeracy approaches? Are
    the teachers experts in their fields? Are they even trained in the subjects that
    they teach?
  • What is the teacher turnover? If the turnover is high, is the school
    curriculum structured in a way to avoid repetition and ensure continuity of
    content and complexity?

The outcome of any educational approach can also be influenced by
resources in the local community:

  • What level of preschooling or early childhood learning is available and
    accessible to the children in the community?
  • How well resourced is the community in terms of healthcare services,
    housing, policing and access to affordable, nutritious food?
  • Is this influencing the health and the learning abilities of the children?
    For example, how prevalent is hearing impairment?

The governance and leadership within the community and the region
can also have a large impact on educational outcomes for students:

  • Are there regional plans or community plans that tie together preschooling,
    primary and secondary education and post school options like further study or
    employment pathways?
  • Are there leaders in the community to provide role models for the students?
  • To what extent is the community involved in the school and supportive of its
  • Is there employment or employment plans for the community and beyond so that
    students can see the relevance of learning and a life after school?

The many and complex variables that impact on school education mean
that it is quite difficult to assess educational approaches. Each school and
each community is unique with its own strengths and challenges. Therefore, while
we can look at a whole school approach to literacy for example, and know that it
may have some impact on the students’ learning of literacy, we know also
that there are numerous other variables at work. We know that the approach will
be influenced by the expertise of the teacher and the functioning of the
community. We know that just getting the child to school is a factor.

All of this gives us some important information. It tells us that any
educational approach is only part of the equation. There are numerous variables
and a one-size-fits-all approach will not achieve the same results in different

Yet there is a problem here. Departments of education do not operate in a way
which provides a school-by-school approach to resource allocation. While there
may be some provision for local requirements, departments are usually reliant on
formulas that drive staffing allocations and school resource allocations.

Some supplementary Commonwealth Indigenous Education Program (IEP) funding is
available for schools through an application process. For example, the
Indigenous Education Projects - Capital and Non-Capital Project funding is
available to schools that can demonstrate projects which advance the objectives
of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (AEP).
Schools must present their case to be eligible for these funds. However, small
remote schools are often under-resourced in terms of people and expertise and
therefore can be limited in their ability to advocate for these funds. In fact
the remote schools with the greatest infrastructure needs are often least able
to access capital funds.

A remote school with two to three teachers will be pressed to deliver the
curriculum program alone, and unable to dedicate resources for local advocacy.
In fact it is usually the successful schools and the loud advocates that attract
government funds and resources.

Success can often bring additional resources and disadvantage can often breed
further disadvantage.

Schools perform poorly because they may be under-resourced and remote from
support services. In turn, education departments question the performance and
the viability of underperforming schools. Departments may be under pressure for
results from Commonwealth funders and state or territory Ministers and
underperforming schools become a problem to be solved rather than a problem to
be resourced.

Underperforming schools are usually the small remote schools with high
proportions of Indigenous students who do not speak English as their first
language. It is these schools and these students who become the subjects of the
‘mainstream education’ versus ‘education in the
community’ debates.

While I have said that there are no agreed givens governing Indigenous
education approaches, implicit in the questions I ask in this
introduction are assumptions about the fundamentals that are required for a
sound educational environment and service.

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4 Indigenous education policy

There are some consistent themes in national Indigenous education policies.
One theme that has been given considerable emphasis is the requirement for
schools to form partnerships for decision-making with Indigenous communities.
The first goal of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education
Policy (AEP) provides clear direction for Indigenous involvement in education

Major Goal 1 - Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in
Educational Decision-Making

Major Goal 2 – Equality of Access to Education Services

Major Goal 3 – Equity of Educational Participation

Major Goal 4 – Equitable and Appropriate Educational

The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth
Affair’s (MCEETYA) policy Australian Directions in Indigenous Education
2005 – 2008
also provides logical direction for Indigenous education
including partnerships in decision-making. It outlines five policy domains for
Indigenous education:

  1. Early childhood education
  2. School and community educational partnerships
  3. School leadership
  4. Quality teaching
  5. Pathways to training, employment and higher

What strikes me immediately about the five MCEETYA domains is that
they are no different to educational priorities for mainstream education. The
domains outline the fundamental requirements for a coherent education service,
no matter what the skin colour of the child. However, these five domains are
especially critical for remote Indigenous education because they describe areas
of provision that are absent in most remote and some regional locations.

The difficulty with the national policies is that while some Indigenous
specific funding is tied to them, it is the states and territories that have
responsibility for implementing education policy at the school level. The
Commonwealth and state divide is a large obstacle to the implementation of
coherent education policy. It is here that we hope to see cooperative federalism
at its best, but unfortunately the Indigenous education systems have become
complex, overly bureaucratic and unfocussed.

The unfortunate outcome of the federal, state systems is that good policy
goes unimplemented. In the case of the MCEETYA recommendations there is an Enabling process to give effect to the five domains. However the Enabling process is a reporting and monitoring mechanism and not an
implementation guide. Because the Commonwealth Parliament does not have
legislative powers over state school education systems, there are limits on its
ability to enact its policies. A body like MCEETYA can mandate reporting
obligations to COAG, but it cannot hammer out an implementation strategy that
ensures its five domains are implemented at the school level.

While this chapter is not structured around the MCEETYA domains or the goals
of the AEP, my aim is to provide some recommendations for their implementation.
The first part of this chapter focuses on School and community educational
, as this is the most critical domain, and its success can lead
to the realisation of all other domains.

I support the direction of the MCEETYA policy and the National Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Education Policy. With a new federal government and new
opportunities for Commonwealth and state collaboration, much can be achieved if
remote communities are resourced to develop:

  • Local education forums which promote a shared understanding between
    students, their guardians and school staff about what education seeks to
  • Functioning community governance structures to advocate and coordinate
    education resources at the local level;
  • Indigenous school leadership and Indigenous educators;
  • Top quality teachers and school leaders;
  • Excellent preschool, primary and secondary school infrastructure; and
  • Pre and post school options.

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Part 3: School and community

To a large extent, school and community education partnerships are a
‘given’ in urban settings. Parents and communities make relatively
well informed assumptions that schools reflect their values and aspirations. In
fact parents often select a school based on their value systems, religion or
philosophies. For the most part, education in urban environments is tailored to
the kinds of outcomes that parents know and expect. For example, urban parents
know that school is partly a preparation and a pathway to tertiary education or
employment. For this reason, urban parents make a relatively well informed
assumption that the school operates in partnership with them, reflecting their
expectations and their values.

In remote communities many of the resources and options we take for granted
in urban communities simply don’t exist. Pre and post-school options are
often limited or non-existent and there is likely to be limited employment in
the region. Parents may have different views about what they want their children
to achieve from education, and some may question the point of formal education
if there are limited employments choices in the region. The non-Indigenous
school staff and community members most probably have different cultural values,
aspirations and life experiences. In fact, the points of difference may be
greater than the similarities.

Despite these significant differences, the remote school model is likely to
resemble its urban school counterparts and share a similar program and
curriculum. With different languages, religions, philosophies and value systems,
it is easy to see why some remote Indigenous parents and carers stay away from
the school and do not feel part of its culture.

Yet it is these very differences that make school and community partnerships
a necessity for successful schooling in remote regions. Evidence tells us that
education is most likely to be successful when there are congruent messages
being delivered by parents and by the school. A disjunction between the two
groups only creates confusion and mixed messages for

Parents, carers, students and education providers must have a shared
understanding about the purpose of school - what it provides, and what all
parties can reasonably expect. The aspirations of parents and teachers must be
discussed so that there is common understanding about the focus of the school

School staff need to explain the curriculum requirements, including any
constraints on the ways in which they provide an educational service. Pre and
post schooling provide the context and the bigger picture for education over the
life cycle and should be part of local discussions. Post school options are an
especially critical part of any discussion between parents and schools because
they shape some of the purpose of schooling.

The education debates should occur in these forums – not at a distance.
It is the parents, the elders, the students and the wider community who should
decide the education approach. Do parents want their children in boarding
schools for senior secondary education? Does the community want the school to
provide Bilingual education? What is the best approach to suit the local

Local negotiations and agreements are the only way to shape the provision of
education in remote communities because of the inherent complexity and diversity
of each community. In addition, we know that it is not possible for education
bureaucracies to be education providers at a distance. They simply can’t
do it in a way which is responsive to local needs and aspirations. The tiers of
state and federal government further complicate education provision and

The funding and administration of Indigenous education is particularly
complex and there is a good deal of duplication of effort.

The Commonwealth and the states both develop education policies and
initiatives to support the coordination and implementation of Indigenous
education. The Commonwealth provides significant supplementary funding for
Indigenous education in primary and secondary schools and financial support for
Indigenous families of primary and secondary
students.[23] The Commonwealth does
not have direct control of education provision to Indigenous education however,
unless its funding arrangements are through Tied

It is the state and territory departments that recruit and employ teachers,
fund and maintain school infrastructure and develop the curriculum frameworks
which drive the classroom content. Australia’s states and territories have
their own legislations governing primary and secondary education and they also
regulate and administer financial support to the non-government school

As well as the government and non-government education providers, there are
philanthropic organisations and others who add a further layer of complexity to
the administrative arrangements for school education. This means that Indigenous
education funding and policies are not always coherent. It also means that we
cannot assign responsibility for Indigenous education to one tier of government
nor can we assign the implementation of Indigenous education to a single
provider group. We must therefore consider the process of delivering remote
Indigenous education as a coalition effort with numerous forces and interests.

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1 The state cannot do it on its own and neither can
remote communities

Decisions about educational approaches and resources must be made at the
community level and bureaucracies must be in a position to respond to
requirements on a community-by-community basis. The capabilities of centralised
bureaucracies to design and deliver services to remote regions are approximate
at best.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) trials of 2003 to 2005 were an
attempt to coordinate services to Indigenous communities from the different
tiers and departments of Australian governments. The COAG trial outcomes and
evaluation at Wadeye in the Northern Territory should be instructive for
policy-makers attempting to coordinate services for remote Indigenous

The trial failed due to the intractability of government departments. The
whole-of-government approach relied on coordination from centralised
bureaucracies rather than from the community. According to an independent
evaluation of the Wadeye trial, bureaucracies were primarily interested in
defining their turf and their responsibilities and neither the Commonwealth nor
the Northern Territory governments acted upon community

Community proposals for action were considered to be draft documents with an
unclear status. Even though the Wadeye community had developed a representative
governance model to give voice to the 20 clans in the Thamarrurr region, the
representative voices of the local people were not heeded.

Ultimately the trial demonstrated the inability of governments and their
departments and agencies to participate in cooperative federalism when they must
share responsibility for service delivery. It demonstrated that governments lack
the capacity to be responsive to decentralised communities with diverse needs.
Over the three year period of the trial four new houses were built. This
occurred at a time when 15 houses became uninhabitable and 200 babies were born
into the community - a community which already had overcrowding. While some
additional funds were provided as part of the Wadeye trial, the reporting
responsibilities increased

Most government services are designed for urban requirements and adapted for
remote and regional contexts. Such a limited model cannot meet the needs of
communities that are different in composition, demography and resources from
urban communities. The administration of services must be driven from the
community so that there is a direct connection between what is required and what
is delivered.

The findings of the Wadeye evaluation support MCEETYA’s School and
community educational partnership
s model. They are:

  • Expectations of the partners need to be clarified and mutually understood at
    the outset and reviewed periodically throughout the process.
  • The identification of priorities needs to be specific, mutually understood
    and limited to an achievable level.
  • Shared Responsibility Agreements should encourage the development of
    achievable deliverables that result in visible outcomes on the ground.
  • The processes require a discipline on the part of the partners if they are
    to be effectively implemented.
  • There is a need for an ‘authorised’ person (or group) to manage
    the process on behalf of the partnership. Someone (or some body) needs to be in
    charge of the trial.
  • There is a need to work within the capacity of the Council and the community
    when developing strategies for delivering services.
  • Developing effective communication links between the partners and within
    agencies is essential for the whole-of-government approach to

Establishing the need for partnerships is something that is
relatively easy to come to in principle. It is considerably more difficult to
develop the structures which make partnerships functional and self sustaining.
An effective vehicle to do this might be through local education forums.
However, if local education forums are to be established in future, they will
require funds to pay a secretariat to communicate and record their
recommendations and agreements. Local forums may also require funding for
associated services such as translator/ interpreter services where required.
Each local forum must be able to communicate with relevant education providers,
government departments, industry groups, philanthropic groups and non-government

Funding arrangements for parental involvement in school decision-making have
changed in the past decade and there is evidence that funds for this purpose
have diminished. The Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness (ASSPA)
program operated until 2004. The ASSPA programs were developed to:

  • increase the participation in education and attendance of Indigenous youth
    of compulsory school age;
  • encourage the establishment of effective arrangements at the local level for
    the participation of Indigenous parents and community members in decisions
    regarding the delivery of preschool, primary and secondary educational services
    to their children;
  • promote increased awareness and involvement of Indigenous parents in the
    education of their children;
  • develop the responsiveness of schools and their staff to the educational
    needs and aspirations of Indigenous students;
  • encourage the participation and attendance of Indigenous children in
    preschool education programmes; and
  • achieve the adequate preparation of Indigenous children through preschool
    education for their future education.

The ASSPA funding was allocated to each school committee based on a
per capita formula taking into account the number of Indigenous students
enrolled at the school and whether the students are preschool/ primary or
secondary, weighted for remoteness. The per capita rates were:

Primary/preschool remote $215
Primary/preschool non-remote $110
Secondary remote $315
Secondary non-remote $160[28]

ASSPA was replaced in 2005 by the Parent School Partnership Initiative (PSPI)

The new PSPI funding is obtained through a submission process which puts the
onus on the school to apply for funds. The Australian Education Union conducted
a survey in 2005 to determine the impact of the changes. Of the 561 responses,
116 replies indicated ‘that the submission writing process [was] too
difficult.... Many schools have determined that the small amount of funding
[was] not worth the effort and have not applied.’ In 2004, 430 of the 561
respondent schools (77 percent) had ASSPA committees receiving a total of
$2,529,325. In 2005, 53 of the 561 schools (9 percent) received funding for the
Parent School Partnership Initiative (PSPI) at a total amount of
$600,431.[29] While the AEU survey
was limited to respondent schools, there is evidence that the PSPI funding is
not meeting its targets Australia-wide.

The PSPI is part of the Government’s Whole of School Intervention
Strategy which aims to involve communities and parents in schools. The Whole of
School Intervention Strategy comprises two elements:

  • the Parent School Partnerships Initiative which aims to improve attendance,
    literacy and numeracy skills and Year 12 educational outcomes; and
  • Homework Centres (HWCs) which provide a supervised after school hours
    environment for Indigenous students to complete their homework and to study.

In 2006 more than $32 million was approved for distribution for the
Whole of School Intervention Strategy. However the expenditure was less than the
amount approved and only $26,451,270 was
distributed.[30] The underspend may
have occurred because small, remote schools had difficulty with the submission
process. Given that 50 percent of PSPI funding is targeted to remote schools, it
would be useful to see a disaggregation of these funds to see whether remote
schools were able to take up their 50 percent

Making partnerships work in future will require the development of capacity
at the local or regional levels. Rather than putting the onus on schools to
develop submissions as is the case for PSPI funding, governments should ensure
that communities or regions are resourced to create capacity for these forums.
This may mean providing additional resources in places where there are limited
governance structures or where the capacity of the local community is limited.
The Australian Government along with state and territory governments will need
to make a commitment to education partnerships if these bodies are to be
established in future.

The commitment must be more than Commonwealth policy. The commitment in
policy must be accompanied by a facilitating process and funding which enables
implementation. At this stage the Parent School Partnership Initiative program
is not adequately targeted for its purposes. This program is not going to assist
small remote schools because of the onus it puts on schools to apply for funds
and report the expenditure. The application and reporting obligations put small
remote schools at a disproportionate disadvantage. Therefore governments must
develop new funding and resourcing arrangements to realise this policy

The Close the Gap coalition has developed agreement models with
targets and benchmarks which hold the tiers of government accountable for
implementation actions as well as health equality outcomes. The National
Indigenous Reform Agreement
is the overarching framework for the Close
the Gap
agreements. It captures the objectives, outcomes, outputs,
performance measures and benchmarks that all governments have committed to in
order to close the gap in Indigenous health disadvantage. It is a guiding,
monitoring and evaluation framework which could be replicated for the purposes
of monitoring and evaluating government action on remote Indigenous education.

Performance against the measures of the National Indigenous Reform
will be reported by the Steering Committee for the Review of
Government Service Provision in the report to COAG, Overcoming Indigenous
. Similar reporting could be made on remote education. It is
essential that we see national reporting to assess action against targets and
consistency across jurisdictions.

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2 How do we form education partnerships?

The Deputy Chief Minister of the Northern Territory recognises the importance
of remote education partnerships and is in the process of developing Community Partnership Education
.[32] The Minister said
the following about the role of the Community Partnership Education Boards:

These structures must allow communities to assume more responsibility and
accountability for the delivery of quality education and training services by
empowering them to coordinate the effective use of resources and expertise. The
new approaches to partnerships must allow groups of Indigenous communities to
form regional governance structures that can act as consumer representative fund
holders with responsibility for purchasing education and training services for
their communities.[33]

Numerous players can be a positive force in any collaboration. The challenge
is to gather them together so that there is meaningful discussion,
collaboration, information-sharing and decision-making.

There are existing models of educational collaboration that provide some
instructive frameworks for partnership approaches. In 1997 a group of people
inspired by Graham (Polly) Farmer set up a Foundation to establish and manage
after-school education support projects for Indigenous students who want to
complete their secondary
education.[34] The Foundation now
coordinates a number of projects, each tailored to suit a remote Indigenous
community. The community members and the local context are essential drivers of
each project.

The work of the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation is based on a coordinated
model of community development. The Foundation coordinates the actions of all
other parties and provides a central point for funding from private donors,
governments, community interests and other stakeholders. The Foundation has
developed a model for managing the projects which includes a steering committee
of project partners who have responsibility to set the strategic direction.

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Case Study 1 – Graham (Polly) Farmer
Foundation: A partnership model for remote communities

The aim of the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation is:

  • To provide support to Indigenous youth to achieve their potential.
  • To enhance the skills and potential of young Indigenous people.
  • To generate positive aspirations in young Indigenous people.
  • To assist Indigenous youth to relate to the community in general,
    particularly to other young Australians.

The Foundation establishes and manages after school educational
support projects for Indigenous students who have the capacity, interest and
potential to go on and complete their secondary education. The expectation of
the Foundation is that the students will go on to tertiary studies - university,
TAFE, apprenticeships and traineeships and employment. The projects are
individually funded through private industry, federal and state Government

The ‘Partnership for Success’ projects are the central element
of The Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation. Each Foundation project involves local
Indigenous communities, private and government partners and the Foundation
working together in partnership to introduce and manage projects to improve the
educational outcomes of Indigenous students. The partnerships aims are to enable
students to compete effectively for employment, apprenticeships, traineeships
and/ or tertiary entrance when they leave school.

Whilst each project is tailored to meet its community’s particular
needs, there are some key elements of all projects:

  • Each project is a partnership between the Aboriginal community, private
    industry, state and federal governments, and local schools.
  • The governing body for each project is a Steering Committee which is made up
    of each of the project partners. The Steering Committee oversees the project and
    provides strategic level management.
  • The Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation establishes, facilitates and manages
    the projects on behalf of the local Steering Committee.
  • A project leader undertakes the day-to-day organisation of the project under
    the guidance of a local operations committee. He/ she is directly responsible to
    the Steering Committee.
  • Each project develops its own vision and objectives and establishes a
    process for selecting students for the project. Students are selected on the
    basis of their interest, capacity and potential to succeed and complete their
    secondary education.
  • Each project has an enrichment centre that is available to students four
    afternoons a week and is used for visiting speakers and family events. The
    project provides an after school environment where students receive tutoring and
  • Each participating student and his/ her parent/ guardian sign a compact
    which sets out the student’s responsibilities in areas such as school and
    enrichment centre attendance, commitment to achieve and participation in project
  • Each project involves students being provided with intensive and targeted
    support through:
    • tutorial and vocational education assistance;
    • access to tertiary motivational programs; and
    • a progressive and comprehensive leadership and study skill program
      from Year 8 to Year 12.

The Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation ‘Partnership
for Success’ Projects are being offered in: Alice Springs; Carnarvon;
Kalgoorlie; Karratha / Roebourne; Kununurra; Mandurah; Newman; Port Augusta;
Port Hedland; and Tom Price.


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3 What is success in remote education?

Essential to the success of any education system is dialogue between the
education providers (the school staff), and education consumers (the students,
parents and carers), about what education seeks to achieve. Local education
stakeholders should be in a position to discuss and consider the following:

What is school success and how does the education system give students
optimum opportunities to achieve success?

The answers to this question should form the basis of local education
priorities and plans. While not an exact paraphrase, the question is a variation
of this one - education for what? Students, parents, carers, school staff,
communities and governments need to know about the options for students both in
their region and in the wider Australian society.

In Australia, English literacy and numeracy are non-negotiable components of
education curricula. There is general agreement amongst Indigenous and
non-Indigenous education stakeholders that English literacy and numeracy
outcomes are fundamental for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike. Along
with other Australian students, Indigenous students sit national (English)
literacy and numeracy tests and their results are compared against benchmark

It is the other aspects of education, outside of the compulsory curricula
offerings, that should form the basis of local discussions about the shape of
local education. If education stakeholders begin by describing what success
looks like for local students, and describe success for school graduates, they
are in a position to design an appropriate education service.

At a certain point, school education becomes closely linked to post school
options. Students and their families begin to consider further training,
education or employment. Schools have a role to play in making the links to the
post school phase. The following case study shows what is possible in linking
school education to employment options in the local area.

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Case Study 2 – Maningrida School: Education
and training with a focus on achieving success in the region

Maningrida is a remote coastal community in Arnhem Land, 350kms from
Darwin. It is situated on the East Bank of the Liverpool River Estuary at one of
the northern-most points of Australia. Maningrida is home to the Gunibidji
people and has a population of approximately 2,600 people; the majority of whom
are Indigenous. There are 10 Indigenous languages spoken in the region and most
residents are able to speak three or four dialects.

The local Maningrida Community Education Centre (CEC) offers primary and
secondary education to the township and the outstation communities. The CEC
provides out-reach education services and wet season education programs for the
35 Maningrida outstation communities. The CEC is a Bilingual school, meaning
that primary students learn in their own language before English is gradually
introduced during the primary years. The two languages that form the two
Bilingual programs are Ndjebbana and Burarra.

In 2003 the Maningrida (CEC) was accredited to offer secondary schooling to
Year 12. This means that students are now able to complete their senior years of
school without having to relocate to finish school.
Despite setbacks such as a damaging cyclone in 2006, the CEC has developed
a reputation for providing successful secondary school programs. Two standout
programs are the Contemporary Issues and Sciences course and the Junior Rangers course.

The Contemporary Issues and Sciences course is a formal education
program based on science, culture and caring for country. The program had its
beginnings in 2005 when local teachers and students took to the outdoors because
they did not have a science laboratory. They hoped to be able to identify
spiders and other insects in the bush environment. Since the program began in
2005, the students at Maningrida CEC have identified 45 new insect species. This
program is an excellent example of curricula which engages students by providing
an intersection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous systems of knowledge and
culture. The students use their local knowledge of flora and fauna to support
their technical learning in the classroom.
Courses such as this one are innovative in their methodology because they
engage Indigenous students in learning that is ‘hands on’ rather
than strictly classroom-based. Linking life in the Maningrida community to the
broader scientific community is an important way of recognising the value of
Indigenous knowledge and a means of creating connections outside the community.

The Junior Rangers program is integrated into the curriculum of Year 11 at
the school, offering a pathway to employment in a growth industry in the Arnhem
region. The course links to the Djelk Rangers Program which includes a
Men’s and Women’s Program as well as the Junior Ranger Program. The
Djelk Rangers Program operates under the auspice of the Bawinanga Aboriginal
Council; the entity with responsibility to manage both the land and sea country
of the Maningrida area.
Since the introduction of the science and ranger courses there have been
improvements in school attendance and academic performance. The benefits of the
programs are also being felt beyond the school gates with a number of students
accessing local employment and some going on to university education.

Since the secondary program commenced in 2003, the school has ranked highly
amongst Northern Territory schools. The number of students completing the
Northern Territory Certificate of Education has been increasing every year.
There were four Year 12 graduates in 2004, eight in 2005 and eleven in 2006,
with three students gaining entrance into tertiary institutions. Much of this
success is attributed to the fact that the local curriculum is relevant and
interesting and it reflects local requirements and opportunities in the

Like the Maningrida Community Education Centre, another remote Northern
Territory community has defined its measure of education success and has worked
consistently to achieve a remarkable outcome.

The remote Indigenous community at Garrthalala in Arnhem Land decided that
they wanted the local young people to access senior secondary education in their
Homeland communities of Arnhem Land. Over a period of years, they collaborated
to develop a successful secondary education program which ultimately enabled
seven students to graduate in 2008. This is the first time that students in very
remote Homelands have been able to complete Year 12 in their communities. The
following case study tells the story of the way in which this school established
itself with very little government support. It underscores the commitment of
some very motivated people in this very remote part of Australia. It also
reminds us that there is much work ahead to provide school education to remote
Indigenous students. It tells us that when the school service is available,
incredible things can happen.

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Case Study 3 – Garrthalala: Success in a
remote school

In 2008 the remote Arnhem Land community of Garrthalala had mains
electricity connected for the first time. In the same year the community
celebrated the secondary school graduation of seven local students. The students
did not go to boarding school far away from home; they were educated in their
small home communities in Arnhem Land.

It’s hard to describe the extent of this achievement. Garrthalala is
situated on Calendon Bay, one and a half hours drive over rough roads from
Yirrkala the larger Aboriginal community of the Yolngu people. To say these
homeland communities are remote is an understatement. The homeland communities
are tiny outstations, comprising a few houses that accommodate clan families
living on their ancestral lands. Some of the outstations are accessible by car,
though during the wet season they are inaccessible by road and by air.

Up until 2006 the secondary students had no classroom and had to share
space with primary school students. Power was provided by a generator. A
satellite dish provides internet access for five computers on slow dial-up
access. Students travel to the school from surrounding Homeland communities to
receive instruction at Garrthalala for three days per fortnight.

They travel by plane to this tiny school which acts as a boarding facility.
Up until 2008, those who were not from Garrthalala had to sleep on the school
floors during the night and cook their meals with assistance from teachers. In
the day time the students had to move their swags to make room for desks and
learning resources. In 2008 a small dormitory was built for cooking and

The secondary school building and dormitory were not provided by government
departments. They were built by volunteers from the Geelong Rotary Club of
Victoria with assistance from parents and community members of Garrthalala and
some dedicated teachers. Funds for the buildings came from the Yirrkala
Homelands School.

The school manages with no secure operational funding. The secondary
program has received some one-off funding from Commonwealth discretionary funds
and otherwise it manages with very little funding. The school receives a
staffing allocation of one lead teacher, an additional teacher and two assistant
teachers. One of the assistant teachers is a former student. There are still not
enough facilities for all of the students who want to attend the secondary
program from surrounding homelands. There will be additional challenges ahead
for this growing school.

Establishing the school and teaching the school program under these
conditions has not been an easy road. When the teachers were asked about the
difficulties of the work they said the following:

Camping out in the homelands and the heat...

At times inadequate facilities such as no air-conditioning and one shower
to share...

No water at times when the solar powered pump is not working at

A lack of (specialist) staffing, and staffing in general, and limited VET
courses accessible to remote students...

Limited access to careers counselling for students

One can only begin to imagine the educational challenges of this student
group and its teachers. What did it need to get this school to a position where
it was able to offer Year 12? What were the resources – both material and
human? What were the preconditions and the process?

According to the school teachers, the driving force of the project

the community support and support of Garrthalala elders... [It was] a
desire by Homeland communities to see secondary students access accredited
secondary education in the Homelands, away from the temptations and problems
facing Indigenous students in the hub community of Yirrkala or the mining town

The measure of success for parents and elders was for students to complete
secondary education without having to leave their home communities. They wanted
the young people of the region to achieve the same level of education attainment
as students in urban areas. The parents, community members and students were
prepared to work hard to achieve this goal, and they did it in conjunction with
a responsive teacher workforce.


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4 Developing local forums

A well functioning education system in remote locations requires a forum or a
medium through which local education stakeholders can negotiate and develop
agreements about local education priorities. Parents and education staff are
critical members of any education forum and so are councils, industry,
philanthropic groups and health providers.

Education does not exist in isolation; it is a pathway from early childhood
to employment incorporating many facets of local life such as culture, health,
safety and nutrition. Each community must be in a position to configure its own
structure which will bring together other partners at the Commonwealth and state
or territory levels.

In a Western Australian report into family violence and child abuse, Sue
Gordon and her co-authors developed a model for developing and delivering
services and channelling funding to Indigenous
communities.[37] Entitled, Planning, resource allocation and service delivery - A focus on
, the model provides a structure which puts local stakeholders at
the centre of decision making. The model is set out in Figure 1 below. The
benefit of this model is that it is an authoritative framework through which
bureaucracies can support and resource local plans.

While the Gordon model was developed to address family violence, the
processes for coordinated and coherent service delivery are transferrable to
other areas, including Indigenous education. Gordon argues:

There is not one piece of research that suggests that government agencies or
other service providers can deal with this [family violence] problem on their
own. It is clear from the research, consultations with Aboriginal communities,
submissions provided by government agencies and others, that Aboriginal people
and Aboriginal communities must be involved in shaping the

Figure 1: S Gordon, K Hallahan and D Henry, Model for Planning, Resource
Allocation and Service Delivery; A focus on

Click to enlarge
Planning model

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5 Integrating industry and philanthropic groups in
education programs

There are government service providers and departments in most remote
Indigenous communities and regions. Increasingly too there are non-government
organisations or philanthropic groups delivering education programs and
facilitating community development.

Education is much more than learning in a school classroom. Learning begins
from the moment a child enters the world and continues throughout his or her
lifetime. Education occurs in the home, in the workplace, in all social settings
and during leisure time. A community and a culture that supports learning and
develops its own learning is a community that is primed for educational success.
A good education environment does not cordon off separate areas of learning;
rather it sees the different learning environments, both formal and informal, as
part of an organic whole; a whole of life education journey.

Numerous philanthropic groups, local councils and industry groups support
Indigenous community members to develop and deliver learning projects which may
be tied in with school curricula or complimentary to school programs.

In the Kimberley region of Western Australia, elders and community members
have developed projects to connect young people to country. These projects,
which sit outside of the formal education system, provide an example of the ways
in which culture, learning and employment can be driven by the community. This
form of learning should be considered in any local or regional education plan.
While the school is not always the site for learning projects, connections
should be made through local or regional plans to create potential for
collaboration and integration of the widest range of learning resources and

The Yiriman Youth Project in the Kimberley, Western Australia is a
development and coordination point for cultural education and training projects
for young people in the region. Projects such as this one reinforce the various
ways in which education has direct meaning to the lives of young people.

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Case Study 4 – Yiriman back to country project: Community education
delivered by elders and community members

The Yiriman Youth Project is an Aboriginal young men’s and young
women’s project in the Nyikina, Mangala, Walmajarri and Karajarri language
regions. This country extends from Bidyadanga in the West Kimberley to Balgo in
the Southern Kimberley.

Yiriman activities incorporate back to country trips and projects that
focus on youth at risk. The Yiriman Youth Project’s main focus is building
confidence through culture, working alongside young men and women aged between
14 - 30 years.

The project was initiated by Aboriginal elders who were concerned that some
of their young people had no jobs and no future. Elders from the four language
groups developed ideas over many years about ways they could stop substance
misuse, self-harm and suicide in their communities.

Their ideas provided the foundation for the Yiriman Youth Project which
promotes life skills and sustainable livelihoods through youth leadership, land
management and community development. All Yiriman projects have a cultural focus
aimed at developing opportunities for young Aboriginal people. The various
Yiriman activities have been successful in getting youth out of urban areas and
away from substance abuse and back onto traditional country.

Yiriman works in partnership with Indigenous organisations in the Kimberley
area. The partner organisations are many and varied. The Land and Sea Unit of
the Kimberley Land Council provides opportunities for young people to
participate in land and sea management. Mangkaja Arts and Derby Aboriginal
Health Service provide community driven bush medicine trips. The Departments of
Justice and Community Development offer diversionary programs which include
camel walks and cultural youth exchanges with the Shire of Derby West Kimberley.

Other partner organisations involved in cultural land management,
performing arts and cultural workshops include the Kimberley Language Resource
Centre, NAILSMA, the Kimberley Regional Fire Management Project, the Natural
Heritage Fund, the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, Macquarie and
Murdoch Universities.

Passing on cultural knowledge from generation to generation has been
essential for Kimberley clans in proving their Native Title claims to
traditional lands.

Mervyn Mulardy, the Karajarri Chairperson and Yiriman Cultural Advisor
described the importance of the Yiriman Youth Project to Native Title in these

Karajarri people had to show the Federal Court their relationship to
country. Well...we gotta show our young people our connection. Take them out,
show them country and get them to look after country.

The ‘Yiriman’ tower (Mesa - a small flattop hill) is one of
many very important cultural landmarks in the region.

John Watson, a Nyikina/ Mangala Elder and Yiriman Founding Director

We want to show them their base (homelands). If we don’t show them
country and’re nothing! A lot of people travelled through
this countryside, it was a sign for helping people find jila
(waterholes).Yiriman is a place that a lot of people got taken away
from........we gotta take these kids back.

Anthony Watson, a Nyikina/ Mangala Cultural Advisor and Yiriman Director

We want to make it known to young people that this is where their family
lived and hunted around that country. Show them where their grandfather and
grandmother were born, what they ate and how to look after country and animals.


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6 Summary of issues: School and community

  • Parents, carers, students and education providers must have a shared
    understanding about the purpose of school and what constitutes educational
  • Local negotiations and agreements are the only way to shape the provision of
    education in remote communities because of the inherent complexity and diversity
    of each community;
  • A well functioning education system in remote locations requires a forum or
    a medium through which local education stakeholders can negotiate and develop
    agreements about local education priorities
  • Remote education forums will require ongoing capacity-building, resources
    and funding;
  • The National Indigenous Reform Agreement provides a model for
    assessing government action on remote education; and
  • Government performance on remote education should be reported by
    jurisdiction to COAG.

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Part 4: The best and brightest teachers and

We recognize that no education system can rise above the quality of its
teachers, as they are key to improving the quality of education as well as to
expanding access and equity.[40]

In 2007, an international study of student performance from 57 countries
found that the quality of school teachers is the most important factor
impacting on student learning outcomes. The report based its findings on data
from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment finding that the world’s best performing school systems require three

  1. Getting the right people to become teachers;
  2. Developing them into effective instructors; and
  3. Ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction
    for every child.[41]

Closer to home, a 2006 trial conducted in the remote Western
Australian community of Halls Creek demonstrated the importance of teachers in
student school attendance.[42] The
project trialled a number of strategies to increase student attendance. A
significant finding of the trial was that student attendance rates varied
between classes. One teacher had 20 percent greater attendance than other
teachers who were participating in the trial. The report found that:
‘Variations in teacher quality could well be an issue affecting school
attendance rates.’[43]

The evidence of recent decades is unequivocal; teachers play a crucial role
in the learning environment, affecting both student attendance and student
academic performance. It therefore follows that the recruitment and retention of
the best quality teachers must be of the highest priority for education

Teacher recruitment in Australia is carried out by state and territory
government and non-government education departments. Departments make varying
efforts to provide appropriately qualified people to schools within their
jurisdiction. All departments have provisions to enhance teacher recruitment to
regional and remote locations and the majority of departments have some form of
provision to encourage the recruitment of Indigenous teachers. However, the
forms of the incentives vary from provider to provider as does the quality and
focus of the various provisions.

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1 Indigenous leaders and educators

The recruitment and retention of Indigenous teachers is a necessary challenge
for education systems because they show Indigenous students that school is
relevant and reflective of their world.

For the most part, our education system does not reflect Indigenous culture.
Its values and knowledge systems predominantly reinforce western cultural
perspectives and western methods of learning. Australian schools follow a
Christian calendar year and English is almost exclusively the language of
instruction in classrooms. When these value systems are foreign to the beginning
student, they can have a negative impact on the ways in which Indigenous
students see themselves as learners.

...western cultural signs have both a subtle and profound impact on students.
They help to shape each student’s view of the world, and his or her place
in it.[44]

When students are able to make associations between the information they
receive at school and at home they are able to integrate and scaffold new
learning. An Australian research project involving over 80 school sites found
that there are certain influences that improve learning outcomes for Indigenous
students. The first finding of the study is ‘...the recognition,
acknowledgement and support of

While Indigenous culture can be supported through appropriate curricula and
the placement of Indigenous art, images and symbols in the school environment,
Indigenous staff are the most important component.

International human rights standards support the right of the child to

Article 29, the Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

... the education of the child shall be directed to (c) the development of
respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity,
language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child
is living, the country from which he or she may originate and for civilizations
different from his or her own

Article 14 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational
    systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner
    appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
  2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels
    and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
  3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective
    measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including
    those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an
    education in their own culture and provided in their own

Indigenous leaders, teachers and role models are in short supply in
schools across Australia.[48] In
2006, Indigenous teachers with qualifications constituted only 1 percent of
teaching staff in all government schools. In Catholic schools they were 0.2
percent.[49] This is not
representative of Indigenous people as we are now 2.5 percent of the Australian

The state and territory ratios tell a more compelling story. In the Northern
Territory, Indigenous people make up over 30 percent of the population while
Indigenous teachers represent 3.6 percent of the registered teacher

The continuing supply of Indigenous teachers is dependent on education
graduates. In the period from 2001 to 2006, the number of Indigenous students
commencing tertiary study
declined.[51] We now have a current
problem of short supply and a future problem with fewer Indigenous graduates
moving into schools.

As a field of study, education rates second in the choices made by enrolled
Indigenous students, For example, in 2006 the top three fields of study for
Indigenous students were as follows: 3,028 enrolments in society and culture
courses, 1,887 in education courses and 1,430 in health
courses.[52] Despite its relative
popularity, more needs to be done to increase the supply of teacher graduates to
keep pace with the growing Indigenous population.

There are systemic impediments at the national level which have impacted on
Indigenous enrolments in higher education. According to the Indigenous Higher
Education Advisory Council, the changes to income support (ABSTUDY) in 2000 had
a negative impact on Indigenous commencements:

Changes to ABSTUDY with the aim of aligning the means tests and payment rates
with those of Youth Allowance and Newstart took effect from 1 January 2000.
There was a sharp decline in higher education Indigenous enrolments in 2000 and
ABSTUDY recipient numbers in higher education declined significantly in 2002 and
2003 (DEST, 2004). It is likely that both the means test and the payment rates
need urgent reconsideration.[53]

Income support has an impact at the point of entry at the university door.
Once enrolled, there are other challenges. Indigenous students’ course
completion rates fall below those of non-Indigenous
students.[54] In order to provide
support to Indigenous students, the Australian Government offers grants to
higher education institutions to set up Indigenous Higher Education Centres. The
Indigenous Higher Education Centres offer student services in areas such as
study skills, personal counselling and cultural

The University of New South Wales, Monash University and James Cook
University have developed a strategy to recruit and retain Indigenous medical
students. While its focus is medical students, the strategy has relevance for
other fields of study, including education. Barawul Yana: Better strategies
for the recruitment, retention and support of Indigenous medical students in
, has the following nine goals:

  1. To make sure that students who wish to aim for university study make it
    through to actual university enrolment;
  2. To expose Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to a variety of
    role models or ‘heroes’ and to inspire them for success;
  3. To show students, family members and communities that you can link success
    at school and university to ‘walking in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait
    Islander world’;
  4. To show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that supportive
    programs at university, Indigenous entry schemes and financial support make
    studying at university a very real and achievable goal for those students who
    are ready to make a big commitment to their studies;
  5. To work towards family and community understanding and support for kids who
    want to go to university. To let them know about the range of supports, both
    financial and cultural, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at
  6. For university programs to work with schools’ staff and to plan and
    train for the development of learning environments that encourage success for
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; to cooperate in providing
    information about what core skills are needed for students to develop an
    achievable academic/science language base so that they can move into degrees in
    higher education, and in particular, in the health sciences;
  7. To support the encouragement of students to identify with their Aboriginal
    and Torres Strait Islander heritage – at a level with which they are
    comfortable and allow for expression of this identity within a culture of
    success and achievement;
  8. To use appropriate peer and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
    professional input as part of the raft of measures used to inform high school
    students about health professional careers; and
  9. To maintain and extend financial and other support for Aboriginal and Torres
    Strait Islander specific residential programs and

A particular strength of Barawul Yana is that it focuses on
inspiring and supporting students at the school level, the community level and
the university level. It is a multi-pronged approach. While it provides
educational, cultural and financial support to students once they are at
university, it also seeks to inspire school students to enter the medical
profession as it provides information to their families and communities.

The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) offers mentors to
Indigenous high school students. University students volunteer to do one-on-one
mentoring to assist high school students with their school
studies.[57] While the mentors are
not necessarily Indigenous, the program has the capacity to increase the number
of Indigenous school graduates and thereby assist in increasing university
admissions. Indigenous and non-Indigenous mentors can be positive role models
for high school students, and potentially increase recruitment into the
education profession.

Teacher supply is also reliant on measures such as targeted positions for
Indigenous applicants. In 2007 the changes to the Community Development
Employment Project (CDEP) reduced the number of Indigenous people employed in
schools. To mitigate some of the impact, the Australian Government’s 2007
Budget provided $15.1 million over four years for the conversion of up to 200
CDEP positions to education jobs. The changes to CDEP currently affect urban and
major regional CDEP positions and we are yet to see whether these measures will
be extended to remote regions. The Australian Government is funding each CDEP
conversion into part-time employment at $218.60 per week with up to an
additional 30 percent of this wage for on-costs to cover superannuation,
long-service leave, payroll processing and the costs associated with creating
and filling the new

This strategy needs to be closely monitored to see whether it meets this
target. At this stage there is limited funding to support training of CDEP
workers to upgrade their qualifications. The Australian Government has provided
a one-off payment of $6,000 per position to the host employer to assist with
necessary professional development of former CDEP participants. Employers have a
fixed time period to the end of 2008 to expend the
funds.[59] In principle, the
conversion of CDEP positions to fully funded jobs has benefits, but not if the
net effect is to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people in the education
service industry.

Ideally governments should be supporting Aboriginal and Islander Education
Workers (AIEW) to upgrade their qualifications to become fully qualified
teachers if this is their goal. This requires resources and targeted programs
such as the AIEW mentoring programs which were abolished in the 1990s.

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2 Employment mentors

Mentors can be beneficial at all levels of the life cycle, particularly at
times when people are adjusting to new employment or are in the process of
developing new skills. In professional environments, mentor programs work well
when they are designed as reciprocal practices whereby the transfer of skills
and knowledges occurs in parallel between colleagues. This model assumes that
there is something to be learned through collaboration and collective thinking,
rather than the formulation of a hierarchical teacher-learner environment.

The Building Leaders, Building Community project of Dare to
is a good example of a collaborative approach to developing leadership
in schools. The program’s aim is to promote Indigenous school leaders and
to support Indigenous parents and carers of school students. The project
develops alliances between Indigenous Education Workers and school principals
with the intention of forging new leadership models and developing connections
with the Indigenous families of each school

Other mentor programs in the field of education tend to focus on supporting
newly employed teachers. The NSW Department of Education and Training has a Newly Appointed Aboriginal Teacher's Support Program. As part of the
orientation, the new teacher and the school principal attend teaching and
learning sessions together and participate in a cultural awareness workshop. At
theses forums the new teacher has the opportunity to meet other Aboriginal
teachers and a support network is

The mentor programs for qualified teachers are a teacher retention strategy.
The aim is to assist new teachers to take on the considerable responsibilities
associated with classroom management and curriculum development.

The mentor role offers benefits for experienced teachers and principals in
addition to the benefits offered to the new teacher. Working with colleagues is
an opportunity for professional learning. Skills in management, problem-solving
and reciprocal learning are all parts of the mentor process. As the Western
Australia Education Taskforce found in 2008:

There is a strong case for principals to play a mentoring role. ... all
principals have a teaching background and many, in the interests of upholding
both their teaching integrity and credibility in the community, would like to
play a more active role in classrooms. This should be encouraged. Provided that
the supports the Taskforce has recommended to relieve teachers and principals in
other areas of their workload are introduced, such mentoring needs to be more
systemically applied in schools. Raising the bar in relation to mentoring, and
developing the skills and competencies of all educators (especially beginning
teachers) in addition to providing opportunities for developing distributed
leadership within schools, will enhance succession planning in the education

The recruitment and retention of Indigenous people in school education is an
important priority for current and future generations of Indigenous young
people. As future contributors to the social, cultural and economic future of
Australia, Indigenous students need every opportunity to maximise their learning
and to integrate their knowledge systems. By supporting the employment of
Indigenous staff, education employers are fulfilling an obligation to enhance
and encourage mutual cultural understandings between Indigenous and
non-Indigenous Australians.

Strategies for recruiting Indigenous teachers must begin at the school level.
School students will not make career choices unless they are informed about
their options. Role models in the form of Indigenous teachers are an essential
part of this recruitment strategy as they demonstrate what is possible for
aspiring young teachers. This is a first step to encouraging Indigenous young
people into the profession. The next step is the support and development of
Indigenous teacher trainees at higher education institutions. Finally there is a
need to retain and develop Indigenous teachers into school leaders in the

Making Indigenous education a priority throughout the life-cycle is not
something that can be accomplished at the national level. In fact it is not
something that can be put into effect at the state or territory levels either.
Action must happen at all levels of government and include effort and
coordination at the local and regional levels. Schools themselves are crucial to
teacher recruitment and retention, though they need the support of governments
and non-government bodies.

The school and community partnership models which take up a large part of
this chapter, provides the foundation for driving Indigenous recruitment and
retention in the field of education. The local or regional groups must be in a
position to access the services and funds available to them to enhance
Indigenous teacher numbers in all school staffrooms.

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3 Teacher recruitment strategies

The recruitment of the best and brightest school teachers to schools with
large numbers of Indigenous students is a challenge for school principals. One
of the main impediments to recruitment is that rural and remote locations are
generally not favoured destinations for trained Australian school teachers.

The recruitment difficulties in remote regions are exacerbated by the
shortage of teachers world-wide. UNESCO estimates that 18 million new teachers
are required if universal primary education is to be achieved by 2015 –
achieving one of the Millennium Development Goals.[63]

In Australia the teacher workforce is aging and there are not sufficient
teacher graduates who are registering to make up for the current and projected
teacher retirements. The median age of teachers in Australia has been increasing
significantly since the 1980s:

In the 15 years to 2001, the age profile of teachers became older, with the
median age of the teacher population rising from 34 years to 43 years over the
period. In 2001, around one-quarter (28%) of all teachers were aged less than 35
years, a decrease from around half (51%) in 1986. Over the same period, the
number of teachers aged 45 years and over increased from 17% to

In Australia the teacher shortages have been impacting on regional and remote
schools for decades.[65] This has
had a disproportionately negative impact on Indigenous students because they are
more likely to be in remote locations.

A 2001 Auditor-General’s report from Victoria found that over 30
percent of schools that reported teacher shortages were restructuring existing
teacher allotments to cover the teacher vacancies. The Victorian study found
that over 25 percent of these schools were using teachers without the required
subject training or expertise to fill vacancies. This means, for example, that
trained English teachers may be filling vacancies in technology or science
classes, or teaching remote Indigenous students who actually require teachers
qualified with the English as a Second Language (ESL) methodology. The Victorian
audit report also found that 15 percent of schools dropped subjects and changed
the curriculum to deal with staff shortages.

Teacher recruitment is an essential component of any strategy to improve
Indigenous education outcomes. Makeshift strategies to fill teacher vacancies
are not acceptable in a country that has the resources and the commitment to
provide quality education to the next generations.

Effective recruitment to rural and remote locations requires strategic
system-wide approaches. The approaches need to make teaching in these locations
attractive in terms of conditions and salaries, but they also need to focus on
increasing information about remote Australia. Remote Australia is largely
unknown by the majority of Australians and this lack of knowledge or experience
is a factor which prevents teacher graduates from considering a remote posting.
It stands to reason that teacher graduates would be unwilling to commit
themselves to an unknown destination.

There is much that can be done to improve teacher recruitment. One first step
is the development of strong and continuous relationships between teacher
training institutions and education employers.

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4 Placement of trainee teachers in remote schools

There is real benefit in giving trainee teachers the opportunity to hear
first-hand stories from remote teachers during their teacher training. Those
teachers who have worked in remote schools can provide a unique insight into
life and learning in the outback and alert students about teaching opportunities
outside of their current realm of experience.

Government and non-government education providers are best positioned to
coordinate the flow of information from schools to trainee teachers through
teacher training institutions. It is in the interests of education providers to
be constantly updating training institutions about positions as they become
available in hard-to-fill locations or hard to fill subject areas. Providers and
training institutions can work collaboratively to match final year graduates
with teacher vacancies. Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) is an
example of a network that provides input into medical education and curricula,
and assists in developing best practice in the recruitment and retention of
Indigenous medical students. LIME assists in building multi-disciplinary and
multi-sectoral linkages for the benefit of Indigenous health as well as
providing review, advocacy and professional development functions in the health
industry.[66] There is scope to
develop a similar network for Indigenous education that acts on recruitment,
retention and professional development between the training institutions and the
education industry.

Information alone is not enough to improve teacher recruitment. There is
considerable anecdotal evidence of teachers leaving remote schools after a
matter of days or weeks after experiencing culture shock or a mismatch between
their expectations and reality of a remote posting. It is difficult to know the
extent of this problem because education departments do not make this
information public. One way to avoid this situation is to give trainee teachers
opportunities to experience remote schools through their teaching placements.

Teacher placements or practicums provide opportunities for assessing
workplace environments before making a commitment to employment. It is a
daunting process for a first-year graduate teacher to agree to a remote teaching
position if they have had no prior experience in these locations. It does a
disservice to the school to send an ill-prepared neophyte teacher to a school
where the culture and the environment are completely unknown. Coordination and
collaboration between education employers and training institutions is essential
to ensure that interested trainee teachers have opportunities for remote
teaching placements before they graduate.

The practicum allows the school and the teacher to decide whether they are
well suited. Those providers who have managed teacher recruitment in this way
have found that this strategy has a high success rate of teacher employment at
the completion of the trainee teacher’s studies. The tried-and-tested
approach is beneficial to the teachers and the school as it ensures there is a
match between mutual expectations.

While there are a number of good projects that provide trainee teachers with
teaching experiences in remote locations, there is no consistency across
jurisdictions and education providers.

The Western Australian Department of Education and Training and the WA
Chamber of Minerals and Energy have developed the Student Teacher Rural
Experience Program (STREP) which provides financial support to student teachers
undertaking their final practicum in remote or rural schools.

STREP assists with return travel costs and a weekly stipend for the duration
of the practicum. Certain schools and areas are specified and STREP applicants
need to satisfy a number of selection criteria, including an intention to work
at a rural or remote school after

A review of the STREP program found that three-quarters of participants were
willing to take regional or remote teaching appointments as a result of the
program. The review found that:

Participation in STREP, according to the responses to this particular survey,
seems to be providing pre-service teachers with authentic regional experiences,
thereby ensuring the development of realistic expectations of living and working
in country towns.[68]

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5 Teacher scholarship schemes

Most states and territories provide scholarships for teachers in subject
areas or locations where the demand is high. For example, the Queensland
Department of Education, Training and the Arts provides scholarships to meet the
labour market demands of the teacher workforce through the following:

  • professional development scholarships for registered teachers wanting to
    upgrade qualifications through Graduate Certificate courses; and
  • employment scholarships for registered teachers to complete a Graduate
    Certificate courses in specialised areas in which they have not worked

Victoria provides competitive scholarship programs for trainee
teachers for the following:

  • schools with recruitment difficulties; and
  • subjects specialties where there is high demand and few teachers.

In NSW, the Department of Education and Training has an Aboriginal Teacher Education Scholarship Mentor Program. It aims to
provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to train as teachers. In 2008, up to
60 scholarships were on offer for Aboriginal people undertaking primary or
secondary teacher education programs in New South Wales.

The NSW Scholarship holders are supported through a range of strategies

  • being supported by a mentor throughout the period of teacher training.
    Relief funding is provided for mentors to support scholarship holders. Advisory
    guidelines are provided to scholarship holders and mentors which set out their
    roles and responsibilities;
  • publication of a quarterly newsletter providing updates on key events;
  • personalised support through regular telephone and email contact and regular
    on-campus university visits by Aboriginal Policy

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6 Professional development and industry release

Like other professionals, teachers benefit from opportunities to extend their
knowledge through training, development and new workplace experiences. Teachers
who undertake targeted, high quality professional development are in a position
to provide benefit to their students and their schools. Industry release and
professional development programs enable teachers to keep pace with rapidly
changing technological workplaces and can have the added value of being
retention strategies.

In recent years however, the number of teacher industry release programs have
decreased. For example, the Victorian Teacher Release to Industry Program (TRIP) was discontinued in 2003, after operating since 1991. The TRIP program
offered teachers full-time, forty week positions within selected enterprises.
These placements exposed teachers to new workplace environments, giving them
experiences which would enable them to link their students to structured
workplace learning opportunities in future.

The industry release programs that currently exist for Australian teachers
are usually short-term, and often limited to placements for Career Teachers. For
example, the Northern Territory offers places for secondary teachers to be
involved in a ten day Teacher Release Program through the Group Training
Northern Territory Foundation
. Programs like this one assist in developing
links between school and industry and vocational education and

While industry release programs are expensive, they are also highly valued by
teachers. The Victorian TRIP program provided 50 places annually at a cost of $1
million to the Department and it had many more applicants than it had places. It
also maintained high retention of teachers after the placements. For example, in
2000, only 2 percent of teachers relocated to industry positions after
undertaking TRIP placements.[72]

Given the cost and the value of these programs, it may be possible to limit
these programs so that they are exclusively available to regional and remote
teachers who have spent a period of time in these schools. In this way it
becomes both an incentive to teach in these locations and a potential retention

One way to provide industry release for Indigenous teachers could be through
utilising the Australian Employment Covenant (AEC). The AEC involves the
placement and long term retention of 50,000 Indigenous people into
‘Covenant Jobs’. It is a three way commitment that involves:

  • Employers formally guaranteeing job-ready and training-ready Indigenous
    Australians employment, job specific training, post-placement and individualised
    mentor support;
  • The Australian Government facilitating the identification, recruitment and
    preparation of Indigenous job seekers for successful placement in the workforce;
  • Indigenous Australians committing to appropriate employment preparation and
    training and remaining in employment once placed.

Connection to the AEC may provide a sustainable industry release
option for Indigenous teachers as a minimum.

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7 Remote allowances

All Australian jurisdictions provide some form of allowance for teachers who
are appointed to regional and remote schools. The allowances are usually
calibrated by remoteness or isolation category and other subsidies are also
provided such as relocation reimbursement or reimbursement for the costs of
travel to home for holiday periods. In some instances, teachers are provided
with reduced rent or rent-free housing and subsidised utilities.

In Western Australia public sector teachers are paid an allowance loading on
their base salary as well as free rent, subsidised utilities, travel
reimbursement and additional leave after a number of years of service. Remote
teachers are also granted permanency after a two year remote
posting.[73] However, a 2008
evaluation of the incentives found that remote teacher allowance loadings are
comparatively lower than those paid to other WA Government sector

Teacher salaries and allowances are a reflection on the esteem in which the
profession is held. This in turn impacts on the view of the profession from
potential recruits and from those within the workforce. A Western Australian
Taskforce into public education found:

It is the perception of the education sector and the broader community that
remuneration for all professionals in education, but particularly teachers, is
low. It is this perception which consequently impacts on the status of teaching
as a profession and the supply (in numbers and quality) of the workforce.

Submissions received by the Taskforce raised the following concerns relating
to salaries and allowances:

  • relative salary is not on par with other professions;
  • allowances do not cover the cost of living, particularly in regional areas;
  • relatively poor salary and allowances lower the status of the profession;
  • lack of equity in allowances and conditions for staff across the education
    sector; and
  • lack of equity in allowances, incentives and conditions, particularly in
    regional areas, when compared to other Government sector

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8 Teacher retention and living conditions

... Research indicates that, of those variables potentially open to policy
influence, factors involving teachers and teaching are the most important
factors in student

In order to retain good teachers in remote schools, we have to ensure that
they are appropriately housed and supported in what can be challenging
environments. Poor infrastructure such as poor teacher houses and poor school
facilities can have a negative impact on teacher retention. Overcrowding of
existing teacher houses can lead to tension in small school environments. Small
communities can be hothouse environments so it is important that teachers are
not forced to share with each other.

The cost of maintaining and building infrastructure in non-urban regions can
be considerable for governments. If additional houses are not budgeted for by
governments, schools can be understaffed because governments cannot fund
additional teacher houses within required timeframes. This in turn puts pressure
on existing staff in small schools.

Many of the services we take for granted in urban areas are not available in
remote communities. Access to professional development is restricted in remote
locations and internet connections and speed may also impede access to online

The logistics of infrastructure maintenance can also mean long waiting
periods to fix faulty plumbing or to mend wear and tear. If air-conditioning or
heating breaks down in remote communities it can be weeks and sometimes months
before service personnel visit the community to carry out maintenance. In
extreme weather conditions this can place strain on teaching staff.

The Commonwealth, state and territory governments must make teacher housing a
funding priority, starting with jurisdictions where there is a large backlog of
communities waiting for teacher houses to be built or upgraded.

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9 Discriminatory housing policy for Indigenous

In Queensland and the Northern Territory, Indigenous Assistant Teachers and
qualified Indigenous teachers living and teaching in their home communities are
not eligible for subsidised teacher
housing.[77] In order to be eligible
for housing a teacher has to be transferred to a community that is not their
home community.

All non-Indigenous teachers who relocate to take up teaching positions are
eligible for houses. However, Indigenous employees who choose to work in their
home communities are not. In practice, this policy discriminates against
Indigenous teachers and acts as a disincentive for qualified Indigenous teachers
to work in their home communities.

Remote Assistant Teachers generally have no choice except to work in their
home communities because their role is to teach and interpret in the local
language and build the language bridge to English. Assistant Teachers hold the
corporate knowledge and provide a vital link to families in each community. As
residents of the community they are the consistent influence in the school
environment. Many Assistant Teachers have been in the same school for decades,
sharing the corporate knowledge as the non-Indigenous teachers come and go.

The effect of the government housing policies is to financially disadvantage
Indigenous teachers. Given that remote housing is usually offered to
non-Indigenous teachers free of rent and with subsidised utilities, the
financial disadvantage for Indigenous teachers can be significant. In addition,
many Indigenous communities have problems with over-crowded housing and so
Indigenous teachers are further disadvantaged by having to live in circumstances
which may not be conducive to healthy living.

For many years Indigenous teachers in Queensland and the Northern Territory
have asked government departments to provide them with houses. In situations
where there is limited teacher housing, a potential solution is for education
departments to lease houses from Shire Councils or other housing authorities.
The houses can then be provided to Indigenous Teachers (both fully qualified
teachers and Assistant Teachers) rent free or rent subsidised and the lease can
revert to the Shire when local teachers retire or leave the teaching service.

Maintaining qualified Indigenous teachers and Assistant Teachers in remote
schools is vital for the successful operation of remote schools. They provide a
language link for children in the early years of schooling so that the school is
not a totally foreign environment. They also provide a role model for the
Indigenous students; demonstrating the purpose of education and a potential
employment pathway for aspiring Indigenous youth.

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10 Marketing incentives

Remote teaching must become an attractive option for Australian teachers if
we are to improve outcomes for these students. The marketing of remote teaching,
including the details of allowances and subsidies is a way to increase
competition for these places – with the ultimate goal of providing school
principals with a pool of well qualified and appropriate applicants.

There are many actions that can be taken to increase the profile of remote
teaching and publicise the benefits of remote education contexts. Information
about incentives, scholarships and other strategies should be widely available
and teacher institutions and governments can do more to counteract the negative
profile that remote Australia has been given by some media. Consideration should
be given to promoting remote teaching along the lines of the campaign run by the
Australian Defence Force. Television and print media advertising reaches a wide
audience and has the potential to suggest and promote vocations and locations
which may have been hitherto unknown by potential recruits.

The McKinsey report shows that the quality of a school cannot exceed the
quality of its teachers, so it is important to begin by attracting and employing
the best. In countries such as Finland and Singapore, teaching is a high-status
profession and generous funds have been made available for pre-service teacher
training to provide an incentive to attract the

There is a definite imperative for government and non-government education
providers to act on remote recruitment and retention strategies for Indigenous
and non-Indigenous teachers. As the most important asset to the school
environment, education providers should ensure they attract the best, brightest
and most appropriate teachers to remote schools where the education challenges
are greatest.

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Case Study 5 – Minyerri Community School: Good teachers and school

The numbers of students enrolling at Minyerri Community School is growing
every year and most of the students are attending school every day. Minyerri
wasn’t always such a thriving school community, but things have changed in
recent years. The school principal said this about the school:

When our family first arrived in 2001 we lived in the staff room. We had 80
students enrolled and a 55 percent attendance rate. We now have 165 enrolled and
over 85 percent

Good student attendance and growth in school enrolments are indications of
a successful school. Much of the success of this school has been attributed to
good relationships with the community; good Indigenous and non-Indigenous
leadership; and the longevity of employment of some key school staff:

The trick is relationships, a cultural understanding – developed over
many years. I got to know a lot of the men through the footy, and the women
through the school.[80]

The Minyerri community is located approximately 270 Km southeast of
Katherine. It has a population of approximately 500 people. It is accessible by
road from Katherine and the trip takes about three hours. A permit is required
for non-Aboriginal people to enter the community.

The school is staffed by a principal, nine qualified teachers and four
assistant teachers. A number of tutors also work at the school and two Inclusion
Support Officers work with children with disabilities. Early in 2003 the school
opened four new classrooms to cater for increased enrolments and secondary
school students:

At first the secondary kids were on the school balcony. Last January our
new $1.5 million secondary complex opened and our school now includes science,
IT and home economics rooms and three

The school principal is well known in the region, he has been there for 20
years. In the late 1980s and 1990s he was principal of schools in the nearby
communities of Hodson River and Ngukurr. He taught several of the parents of the
children currently at Minyerri. The principal is married to a Ngandi woman whose
sisters are married to Alawa men - she has strong family ties to Minyerri. She
is also a teacher at the school. They have been at Minyerri for more than seven
years. As school leaders they have the benefit of speaking the local language.
There are other teachers who have been at the school for a number of years:

We have a core of teachers that have been here two, three, four years. My
wife and I have been here nearly eight years. I think that continuity sort of
helps too as they get to know you as a person and as a teacher.

That continuity is basically the pulse of a good remote school. I mean
given the average rate in a remote school is seven months, we do very, very well
in keeping our teachers

The deputy principal reinforced the views of the principal saying: [We are
the] ‘only school in remote with long staying
teachers’.[83] She described
the principal’s leadership as being very important to the success of the

The principal Neil has a good attitude to the students and staff –
[he has] charisma [he likes] joking and having fun yet is firm when discipline
is required. Attendance fell to low when he went away on holidays and the
parents, community and students were happy when he returned. Family, kids feel
safe at the school - parents support kids to go to school, kids are disciplined
but still shown that the school supports them at all times – kids
don’t get away with bad behaviour – Neil has a good relationship
with the families – he knows and understands the culture and the family
connections and everyone likes

An Indigenous teacher at the school described the importance of having
secondary education at Minyerri so the students are able to stay in the home
community if they prefer:

Quite often the kids are in boarding schools and most of them last one
term. They miss home and family support and suffer the loneliness and being away
from their home and

The strong school team at Minyerri support students to take up boarding
opportunities, they also offer students the opportunity to study in their home


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11 Summary of issues: The best and brightest

  • The quality of school teachers is the most important factor impacting
    on student learning outcomes;
  • Indigenous teachers and leaders show Indigenous students that school is
    relevant and reflective of their world;
  • Changes to income support (ABSTUDY) in 2000 have had a negative impact on
    Indigenous enrolments in higher education which in turn has the potential to
    impact on the number of qualified Indigenous teachers and future school
  • Mentors assist in facilitating educational and professional achievement and
    can be role models for Indigenous students and teachers;
  • Teacher shortages have a disproportionately negative impact on remote
    schools. The shortages mean that teachers are teaching outside of their subject
    expertise. Teachers who are qualified in English as a Second Language
    methodology are required for many remote schools;
  • Placing trainee teachers in remote schools can assist with appropriate
    recruitment of graduates. Subsidised remote placements should be available for
    (suitably assessed) trainee teachers in all states and territories;
  • Teacher release programs can improve teacher retention because they give
    teachers opportunities to enhance and refresh their skills outside the
  • Industry release for Indigenous teachers could be linked to the Australian
    Employment Covenant;
  • The quality and availability of teacher housing impacts on teacher
  • Teacher housing policy in Queensland and the Northern Territory
    discriminates against Indigenous teachers. A potential solution to housing
    shortages is for governments to lease houses from housing authorities for the
    duration of the teachers’ tenure at the remote school; and
  • There is potential for governments to undertake marketing activity to
    promote and emphasise the important status of remote teaching.

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Part 5: Early childhood education

Let us resolve today to begin with the little children, a fitting place to
start on this day of apology for the stolen generations.

Let us resolve over the next five years to have every indigenous
four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal community enrolled in and attending a
proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper
pre-literacy and pre-numeracy

The above extract from Prime Minister Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen
Generations makes unequivocal the Government’s commitment to early
childhood education for remote Indigenous children.

The Australian Government’s Office of Early Childhood Education and
Child Care further commits the Government to a standard of early childhood
education and child care by declaring an intention to ‘work towards
providing the leadership to achieve a nationally-consistent system of quality,
accessible and affordable early childhood education and child care for all
Australian families.’[87]

I welcome the Government’s commitment to remote Indigenous children.
Australia has not been a big spender on early childhood education compared with
other OECD countries.[88] Remote
Indigenous children have been disproportionally affected by this
under-expenditure. Preschool attendance data confirms that children living in
very remote areas are less likely to attend preschool than children in other
locations and Indigenous children in these areas have lower participation rates
than non-Indigenous children.[89]

If we are to close the gap between the learning outcomes of Indigenous and
non-Indigenous young people, we must provide quality learning options for
Indigenous preschool aged children in all locations.

In December 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to a
partnership between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to pursue
substantial reform in the areas of education, skills and early childhood

To this end, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
is overseeing the development of the National Quality Framework for Early
Education and Care. Key areas of development for the Framework are quality
standards and an enhanced regulatory framework, an Early Years Learning
Framework and the development of a capable and responsive

The increased involvement of the Australian Government in early childhood
provision will provide much needed assistance; especially in terms of remote
services though I would like to see a specific focus on remote infrastructure.

Since 1986 preschool education has been the sole responsibility of the states
and territories. Up until 2007, the Australian Government has not had a role in
early childhood education, except to provide supplementary funding for
Indigenous preschool services. To date the supplementary funding has supported
programs rather than infrastructure. The supplementary funding for preschool
education was estimated at $13.8 million for 2008. To receive Supplementary
Recurrent Assistance (SRA) a preschool must have five or more Indigenous
students or have formed a cluster with other preschools to meet the enrolment
eligibility requirements. Funding is only provided to licensed or registered
preschools with accredited

Providing universal early childhood learning services in remote communities
will require large infrastructure investments in future. I am pleased to see
that the Prime Minister favours integrated models for early childhood services
which include services for parents as well as for

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1 Multi-purpose early childhood centres

There is work in progress to build multi-purpose early-childhood
infrastructure in Australia. In 2006, the Queensland Government committed $32
million over four years to develop integrated Early Years Centres where parents
can access early education services, child care, child health services,
parenting programs and other family support at one location. Two centres are now
operating in Queensland with planning underway for further

There is international evidence that supports the benefits of integrated
models. Similar multi-purpose facilities have been developed by First Nations
groups in Canada. First Nation organisations describe the facilities as a
‘hook for mobilising community commitment and... a hub for the gradual
introduction of inter-relating, inter-sectoral

The development of facilities that allow for the co-location of mothers or
carers (who are participating in training) with their children (who are
participating in early childhood learning) assists in the broader purpose of
community development. Again, international studies demonstrate that integrated
mother and child activity has the benefit of promoting maternal and child health
and development.[95]

Multi-purpose early childhood facilities can include combinations of the
following features. Two classroom sized spaces, a withdrawal area for childcare,
industrial-sized kitchen facilities, bathroom and toilet amenities, spaces for
staff, storage spaces for equipment and an outdoor play area. The classrooms can
be used for different preschool age levels as well as for vocational education
for adult members of the community. The industrial kitchen area provides
opportunities for small enterprises as well as being a site for vocational
training programs in hospitality.

Many remote communities have no purpose-built early childhood facility. Early
childhood learning happens in existing buildings such as storage areas, school
classrooms, school verandas and council spaces. In some instances there is no
facility and no place for the storage of learning materials, so activity boxes
are brought out periodically by visiting teachers. This is not ideal, and where
populations warrant facilities, governments should be working towards addressing
the infrastructure shortages.

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2 Mobile preschools

Mobile preschools programs are a method for delivering early childhood
learning opportunities to remote children where there is no facility or educator
in the community or the region. Mobile preschools are currently operating in a
number of states and territories. They provide specialist teachers who operate
across numerous sites, primarily to supplement existing local early childhood
services through the provision of educational resources such as learning
programs, books, toys and other equipment.

A ‘hub and spoke’ model is the most common form of mobile
preschool service delivery. A qualified preschool teacher takes trips from a
larger remote ‘hub’ community to the smaller satellite Homelands in
the vicinity of the main community. At the beginning of the school term the
teacher draws up a travel schedule outlining the timetable of community visits.
Teacher Assistants in the communities know when the visiting teacher will

Teachers travel between sites in off-road vehicles or light aircraft.
Communities that are closer to the hub can be visited within a day and are
visited more frequently than outlying communities. Some places are as far away
as a six hour drive and these visits require a four day trip. The teacher is
only able to visit distant communities about once every two to three weeks.
There is rarely any accommodation in outlying communities and the visiting
teacher will often camp in a swag. These places rarely have permanent equipment
so the learning resources are brought out with the visiting teacher. This is
problematic for the Teacher Assistant who may have very limited materials in
between visits from the mobile teacher.

Mobile services are expanding. In 2008 the Northern Territory Minister for
Employment, Education and Training announced six new services. Under the
Northern Territory model, teachers make regular visits to up to five remote
community sites to provide support to local Indigenous Teacher Assistants who
deliver the daily preschool
activities.[96] The Teacher
Assistants provide the foundation for the program because they are the constant
influence in the lives of the students. The visiting teacher designs the program
while the Teacher Assistant provides the hand-on management of the children as
well as interpreting from the local Indigenous language into English when

A particular problem with the model as it operates in the Northern Territory
is that up until recently there has been no training or formal mentoring for
Teacher Assistants. While some training was provided in 2008, not all Teacher
Assistants were able to take part. Training and professional learning is an
essential for all educators. It ensures quality control of service delivery.
Given the high importance of early childhood learning to a child’s
development, it is imperative that government departments make Teacher Assistant
training a priority.

The importance of the Teacher Assistant cannot be underestimated. Visiting
qualified preschool teachers have reported that if the Teacher Assistant is sick
or does not attend the scheduled session, the students will not attend, even if
the visiting teacher is

There are some advantages to the mobile model. Some families in Homeland
communities travel frequently and therefore the numbers of preschool-aged
children can vary from time to time. The mobile model has flexibility and it can
be responsive to movements in populations. In some instances a service may not
be necessary for a period of time because Homeland residents periodically leave
their communities to access services or participate in ceremony.

The other main advantage of the mobile model is that it provides a preschool
service to very small groups of children where the population sizes are so small
that that they do not warrant a full-time teacher. Many of these children would
have no other exposure to pre-literacy and numeracy activities in English
without a mobile service. However mobile preschools are not a substitute for
permanent services and should not be used as an alternative where there are
sufficient numbers to necessitate a permanent preschool service.

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3 Intensive support playgroups

Another flexible early childhood service is the Commonwealth
Government’s Intensive Support Playgroup. This initiative is designed to
engage vulnerable families with young children in children playgroup situations.
The program employs two early childhood workers to run playgroups and a family
support worker to provide intensive support to families experiencing significant
disadvantage or crisis. The playgroup is able to move to locations within a
defined area to support children and communities on a needs basis. Workers will
usually visit each location for two to three hours, once or twice a week. The
workers use a vehicle stocked with play and craft equipment to bring playgroups
to where parents or caregivers and their children live, as lack of transport is
often a barrier to

Funding is available through a tender process. Each Intensive Support
Playgroup receives up to $200,000 a year as well as up to $100,000 in start-up
funding. This provides funds for community consultations and the purchase of
playgroup equipment and a vehicle. Mobile Intensive Support Playgroups have
recently been set up in the town camps of Katherine and Tennant

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4 Indigenous staff

Evidence demonstrates that employing an Indigenous preschool worker has a
positive effect on the participation rates of Indigenous children in early
childhood education.[100] It is
essential therefore, that the Australian Government’s early childhood
workforce framework includes plans to recruit and retain Indigenous preschool
workers. Currently the Australian Government has committed to increasing the
Australian childcare workforce by:

  • additional early childhood education university places each year from 2009,
    increasing to 1,500 places by 2011;
  • removing TAFE fees for Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas of Children’s
    Services; and
  • a 50 percent HECS-HELP remission for early childhood education teachers who
    are willing to work in rural and regional areas, Indigenous communities and
    areas of socio-economic

At this stage the Government Framework does not incorporate
targeted strategies for recruiting or training remote Indigenous workers.

This issue must be addressed as Indigenous people in remote regions have less
access to training resources within travelling distance. Many people are unable
to access training in larger regional centres because they have family
obligations in their remote communities. On-the-job development and training is
the only way that some remote Indigenous childcare workers can upgrade

Ideally Indigenous childcare workers would be supported by a mentor in the
workplace while accessing Distance Education services. To this end I support the
recommendations made by the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander
Child Care Inc. (SNAICC) in its submission to the National Quality Framework for
Early Childhood Education and Care:

Workforce planning needs to drop down to the local community level with
disaggregated data that can inform funding decisions on the investment in the
establishment of additional services or expansion of existing services. Under
such a plan all existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s
services should be assisted by:

  • Providing on-the-job training opportunities to the existing Indigenous staff
    to train from Certificate 11 level through to degree level teaching
  • Assessing the skills and knowledge of existing staff that have been working
    for many years in the children’s services and have significant
    unrecognised qualifications;
  • Training options should include training on the job within the local service
    with services funded to provide back fill staff when other staff are
    participating in training;
  • Learning resources for students should be developed that reflect the
    cultural frameworks and local contexts within which services

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5 The imperative to act now

There is hardly a better-researched and documented aspect of education than
these significant early childhood years, including the long-term cost-benefits
of quality childcare/preschool programs and the long-tem disadvantage for
children without access to quality early childhood programs ... investment in
children at this level will pay off in myriad ways, helping to prevent child
abuse, lack of thriving, ill-health, school failure, early dropout, poor job
chances, delinquency and crime in later life

The timeframe for preschool learning is relatively short. A child’s
chance at preschool education flashes past in a matter of years. I would like to
be assured that government funding for early childhood education is targeted to
remote locations where no services exist. This should be an absolute priority
for governments as it is not acceptable for governments to consign these
children to waiting lists.

There is urgent work ahead to assess the provision of preschool services as
well as the school readiness of remote Indigenous children. The Australian
Government’s Indigenous Australian Early Development Index (I-AEDI)
project will assist in this endeavour. Its aim is to develop trial and evaluate
a culturally-appropriate measure of Indigenous children’s early
development. The I-AEDI will serve as a tool for communities and policy makers
to identify the specific challenges for children in individual Indigenous
communities.[104] The I-AEDI must
include measures of current and projected Indigenous populations and stipulate
threshold levels of staffing and services based on populations.

Early childhood education paves the way for school engagement and sets up
life learning at a crucial stage in a child’s development. Again I point
to the lower educational outcomes for remote Indigenous students across all
measured indicators. I have no doubt that these poorer outcomes correlate with
poorer levels of government service provision. We must redress the imbalance of
early childhood services and support in remote locations through:

  • Targeted actions to recruit and retain a qualified Indigenous
  • Opportunities for skill development for Teacher Assistants;
  • The provision of services that are equitable across Australia based on
    current and projected populations; and
  • Improvements in early childhood infrastructure.

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6 Summary of issues: Early childhood

  • Indigenous children living in very remote areas are less likely to attend
    preschool than children in other locations;
  • There is international evidence that supports the benefits of multi-purpose
    early childhood facilities;
  • Indigenous preschool workers (qualified teachers and Teacher Assistants)
    have a positive effect on the participation rates of Indigenous children;
  • Early childhood Teacher Assistants are the backbone preschool services in
    remote communities and should receive quality professional development and
    training. Where possible, on-the-job training should be available so that remote
    Indigenous Teacher Assistants can upgrade qualifications.

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Part 6: Education as the key to other life

Let us resolve to use this systematic approach to build future educational
opportunities for Indigenous children...

None of this will be easy. Most of it will be hard, very hard. But none of it
is impossible, and all of it is achievable with clear goals, clear thinking, and
by placing an absolute premium on respect, cooperation and mutual responsibility
as the guiding principles of this new partnership on closing the

A large part of the core business of governments is to make policy decisions
about the distribution of resources. Resource allocations are usually modelled
on formulae which stipulate the greatest good for the greatest number.
Governments will target disadvantage, but there is often a quantum aspect to
their decision-making.

Unfortunately remote communities with small populations often miss out on
infrastructure and services. Governments set policies to ensure that their
investments are viable in the long-term and this means that they are concerned
with servicing permanent populations that reach a particular threshold.

The policies affecting remote Indigenous education provision are no
exception. In terms of government agendas, Indigenous education is a subject
that is high on rhetoric and low on funding.

We don’t have good estimates on the numbers of school-aged children and
young people who have no access to school education. We know however that if all
school-aged students were to attend, the education system in remote Australia
would collapse. There are simply not the facilities and infrastructure to meet
the demand.

The Australian Education Union argues that if provision was made for all
Indigenous children to attend school in the Northern Territory, the cost of
building more classrooms and teacher housing would be in the vicinity of $375 to
$440 million.[106] It is time for
governments to do this audit and to assess the shortfall in education resources
across the country.

Remote schools must be an option for remote students. Governments must
consider this in their future planning. It is neither possible nor practical for
all remote Indigenous young people to leave their communities for schooling.
Primary school-aged children are too young to be separated from families for
boarding school and while some secondary students may want to take up a boarding
school opportunity, there are others who will prefer to stay with their
families. It goes without saying that in the unlikely event that all remote Indigenous secondary students chose to go to boarding
school, there are not sufficient places to accommodate them. While the boarding
option is one which should definitely be available to remote Indigenous
students, it is not the only answer to remote education. This simple truth makes
it incumbent on governments and others to provide a range of educational
options, including high quality remote education.

Efforts by governments to address the considerable challenges of remote
Indigenous education have been inconsistent since education first became
available in remote regions of Australia.

We know for example that it is only in recent years that some secondary
education is being provided in remote locations with high populations of
Indigenous students. We know too that there are many remote communities across
Australia with no reasonable access to secondary education. It was only a decade
ago when we could plot secondary schools on a map of Australia based on
concentrations of non-Indigenous students. While the situation is improving,
there is still work to be done.

With few exceptions, the poor provision of school education has resulted in
poor academic achievement in remote Australia.

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1 Time to act

There is an imperative to act. There is an economic cost to the poor
educational performance of remote Indigenous students. When a Year 5 student
fails to reach the literacy and numeracy benchmarks, more often than not, there
begins a slow progression to educational underachievement. Governments should
start to see the bill rising. A lifetime dependent on social security benefits
in conjunction with poorer life chances in health and housing is costly. In
economic terms this is concerning and potentially avoidable; in human terms it
is disastrous.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (AEP) and
the MCEETYA policy provides good future direction for Indigenous education
because they underscore the basic requirements for a good educational service.

It is time to dispense with the debates about boarding schools versus
education in remote Australia. We need to focus on providing good infrastructure
and appropriately qualified teachers to remote Indigenous preschools and

If we are going to assess remote Indigenous students against all other
Australian students then we have to do better than part-time education services
of three days a fortnight delivered in a tin shed with a dirt floor. We have to
do better in our commitment to working with local communities to decide the
appropriate education services for the region. It is time to start looking
closely at the inputs as well as the outcomes.

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Part 7: Conclusion and

The case studies of this chapter show that remarkable things can happen. In
all of the case studies, Indigenous people actively participate at the local
level in designing, developing and delivering the successful program or process.
National and international research corroborates the case study findings, that
Indigenous people are best placed to be the architects of our own policies and
services. This is in keeping with human rights principles which emphasise the
right of Indigenous people to full and effective participation in decisions
which directly or indirectly affect
us.[107] But we can’t do
this alone and we can’t do this without the infrastructure and the
services which will give our children access to the best possible education. We
need support and resources from governments and others.

A partnership between Indigenous people, governments and others must be
driven by local priorities if it is to be successful in improving education in
remote Australia. Any partnership must establish common understandings of the
roles and responsibilities of all members as well as clear direction about the
objectives and anticipated outcomes. The partnership must also be measured and
monitored by assessing inputs and outcomes.

The following recommendations aim to assist governments in making education
‘available and accessible’ to remote Indigenous students in line
with their right to enjoy the full entitlements of Australian
citizenship.[108] Appendix 4 of
this report sets out definitions of ‘available’ and
‘accessible’ as defined by United Nations Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights.

I urge governments to implement the following recommendations by undertaking
audits of remote school-aged populations, and where populations reach a
threshold; providing education services of a quality commensurate with urban
schools and services.

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Recommendation 11: That all Australian governments, through the Council of
Australian Governments (COAG) commit to providing education services in remote
communities that are comparable in quality and availability to those in all
other Australian communities.

Recommendation 12: That the Australian Government, through COAG, develop a
remote education strategy and accountability framework to be embedded in the
National Indigenous Reform Agreement and in the relevant National Partnership

Recommendation 13: That COAG initiate an audit of populations and
projected populations of remote preschool and school-aged children by
statistical sub-division to be measured against the relevant education
infrastructure and services. That this audit form the basis of a national,
funded plan to upgrade or build quality preschool, primary and secondary school
infrastructure where populations warrant them.

Recommendation 14: That the strategy and accountability framework include
monitoring and assessment processes with performance measures, targets and
timeframes. Key areas for reporting include:

  • Provision of education infrastructure at the preschool, primary and
    secondary school levels to meet population requirements by statistical
  • The establishment of remote education regional partnerships between
    Indigenous stakeholders and service deliverers;
  • Assessments of the remote teacher workforce and its capacity to meet the
    specific requirements of the students cohort; and
  • Recruitment and retention actions to maintain appropriately qualified
    (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) teachers and leaders.

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