What Is Working in Good Schools in Remote Indigenous Communities?

  • In remote community schools, children often miss one or two days of school a week. A majority cannot do maths or read at their age level, and few ever do so beyond the level of an eight-year‑old. As many as half do not make the transition to secondary school and only a handful obtain a Year 12 certificate.
  • School attendance, achievement and retention are among the minimum requirements for a good school education. Children who leave school unable to read or write at their age level and unused to a five-day-a-week work ethic will find only limited social and economic opportunities open to them. Knowing how schools perform on these most basic measures allows us to recognise and replicate successful programmes and to jettison programmes that might look good but are ineffective.
  • Too often, schools are making excuses. They say that even well managed schools with good teachers have little influence over attendance, are unable to disguise the plain hard work involved in phonics and times tables, and have little chance of overcoming the results of family dysfunction, violence and chronic poor health.
  • But some remote schools are reporting much higher rates of attendance, achievement and retention. So what is working in good schools in remote indigenous communities?
  • On the school side, evidence‑based remedial skills programmes, secondary school readiness programmes, and secondary boarding schools are some initiatives that have shown the potential to achieve results. In the case of literacy programmes, for example, research has shown that whole language instruction alone is not effective for 20 to 25% of children, who need intensive, systematic, skills‑based instruction. Some good schools are already seeing results from evidence-based programmes like ‘Scaffolding Literacy’ and MULTILIT.
  • On the community side, school readiness and attendance initiatives have shown promise, at least in the short term. Some school readiness programmes are now helping to develop the positive parenting behaviours that they need to achieve the mainstream outcomes to which they aspire for their children. Kuranda District State School is already seeing results from its ‘Families as First Teachers’ project.
  • Many of the school‑side initiatives at good schools are remedial and many of the community‑side initiatives only boost demand in the short term.
  • The best results come from a combination of good teaching and management on the school side, teamed with support and determination on the community side. Warrego Primary School and the ‘Every Child is Special’ programme are two initiatives that represent the way forward.
  • Good schools can and do make a difference. We need to stop making excuses for poor school education in communities and to start learning from what is working, inside and outside communities.

Kirsten Storry is a Policy Analyst with the Indigenous Affairs Research Program of The Centre for Independent Studies.