How Gonski funding helps to Close the Gap in Indigenous education

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Shakeela Williams, Vincentia High School, NSW at the indigenous education lobbying day in Canberra

12 February 2016

This week’s Closing the Gap report has confirmed that results for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in our schools remain unacceptably behind the rest of Australia.

It has also shown the need for greater resourcing of the schools which educate Indigenous students.

The positive difference resources can make to results for Indigenous students was demonstrated by a delegation of educators, parents and students which the AEU took to Canberra to meet politicians last week.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said ending Indigenous disadvantage was complex but that education had to be at the heart of any long-term effort to close gaps in employment, health and life expectancy.

“We know that getting Indigenous students to complete Year 12 increases their life expectancy and chance of employment, that’s why it is crucial that we give them the best education we can,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The Closing the Gap report confirms that Indigenous students are still behind the rest of Australia in results, something which we need to address through resourcing schools,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The Turnbull Government’s decision not to fund the last two years of the Gonski agreements will cost schools $4.5 billion and deny resources to the disadvantaged schools which educate the majority of Indigenous students.

“Gonski funding includes an extra loading for Indigenous students, because it recognises the extra needs they have and the importance of education in addressing Indigenous disadvantage.

Despite some progress in Year 12 retention and Literacy and Numeracy results, Indigenous students still lag behind the rest of Australia.

Closing the Gap reported that school attendance rates for Indigenous students were ten percentage points lower for Indigenous students (83 per cent versus 93 per cent), with bigger gaps in remote areas.

Although the gap in Year 12 retention is closing, only 58 per cent of Indigenous students are completing Year 12 or equivalent compared with 86 per cent of non-Indigenous students.

Ms Haythorpe said that Gonski funding was helping to close the gap by allowing schools to better support Indigenous students through one-to-one support and programs which recognised Indigenous culture and identity and strengthened links between schools and local communities.

“Schools in NSW, SA and Queensland have used Gonski to lift attendance rates, Year 12 retention and Literacy and Numeracy by investing in Indigenous students.

The AEU’s delegation of Indigenous educators travelled to Canberra and met with MPs including Labor leader Bill Shorten and Education Minister Simon Birmingham.

MPs heard stories of how schools have lifted results for Indigenous students by investing in one-to-one support, engagement and cultural programs, and targeted literacy and numeracy programs.

LeFevre High School in Adelaide has gone from a school where no Aboriginal students successfully completed Year 12, to one where the majority of Aboriginal students attempted it and the vast majority of these pass successfully, continuing on to TAFE, traineeships or university courses.

LeFevre principal Rob Shepherd told politicians that Gonski funding had allowed the school to mentoring and support for Aboriginal students, including participation in the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience program.

The school has run a Literacy Intervention program in Year 8, aimed at targeting and improving kids who are behind. This benefits all students but it is particularly important for ensuring Aboriginal students who are at risk of falling behind and becoming disengaged from school remain motivated.

The school also has a policy of encouraging respect and pride in Aboriginal language and culture and has run classes in the Kaurna language

At Vincentia High School on the south coast of NSW the school has used Gonski funding to expand its Senior Homework Centre and offer individual tutoring and support for Indigenous students, as well as programs to get disengaged students back into mainstream education.

Vincentia HS parent and educator Gai Brown said:

“I have had the joy of watching our Aboriginal students thrive and set goals for their future under Gonski funding that enables them to access quality education that is culturally appropriate. During the last few years attendance has improved from 42% to 93%, and we have 85% of Year 12 graduating students gaining entry into tertiary education. With so much success and the growing confidence amongst Aboriginal students and the belief that they can achieve anything, it would be a tragedy to revert to the cycle of unemployment and the resulting socio-economic issues which is inevitable without adequate funding support and recognition of student needs.”

Other schools told of the benefits of targeted funding to Literacy and Numeracy, and to engagement with Indigenous communities.

Ms Haythorpe said that Gonski funding was beginning to correct historic underfunding of the schools which educated Indigenous students and that the full six years of Gonski funding was required to help lift those schools to the level of resourcing they needed.

“If Malcolm Turnbull is serious about addressing Indigenous disadvantage he needs to commit to the full six years of Gonski funding which will lift results for Indigenous students,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Gonski Campaign's Indigenous Education Lobbying Day - 2016.