Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student education
ACIL Allen has had the privilege of conducting a number of studies in Indigenous education, such as:
- a three year longitudinal evaluation of the implementation and outcomes of the national strategy for Indigenous education — the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014
- a three-year longitudinal evaluation of A Share in the Future, Northern Territory’s Indigenous Education Strategy (2015-17)
- evaluation of Early Years Koorie Literacy and Numeracy Program (2018), a Victorian program that provides additional funding for Victorian Koorie children enrolled during their first three years of schooling.
Together, these evaluations have identified a broad suite of school-wide configurations that influence what works for various Indigenous students in different contexts. To understand these differences, ACIL Allen has developed a student learning framework to help schools define the most influential characteristics that impact on student achievement in their communities.
This can enable each school to highlight the factors having the largest local influence, often reflecting areas towards which the school was placing the greatest degree of targeted attention. The student learning framework proved to be an effective tool for drawing out contextual differences and distilling the rationale for particular school responses.
Data measures need to also be locally defined
Contextual differences are often observed amongst schools in their measurement of outcomes achieved. While several nationally-consistent datasets — Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), NAPLAN (literacy, numeracy, reading) and attendance (by jurisdiction, by school sector) — provide an overarching view, they often do not reflect local progress.
The national level datasets generally paint a picture of continuing gaps in educational achievement between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous students. While some small improvements are identified in some areas, in general there are limited, incremental changes observable on a year-to-year basis.
At the local level, however, schools are often able to monitor achievements through datasets tied to their teaching and learning strategies, particularly in literacy and numeracy. These data are generally not reported, but are significant for schools to track students and tailor their teaching to specific learners or cohorts.
Therefore, it is important that the monitoring process at each school is also matched to the learning approach selected.
The most advanced schools demonstrate high levels of data literacy, with information about student performance used to establish high expectations for improvement among students and to inspire teachers in their classroom practice. In many cases, student achievement data was shared transparently with parents and communities. Some schools also take the step of guaranteeing a defined set of student outcomes in return for families supporting their children to attend and engage.
Beyond this, the evaluation also found a broad range of activities that are not generally measured, but are critical to engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in schooling. These include:
- celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture across the school, central to engaging both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous students
- ensuring that school leaders play a central role in establishing school-wide practices
- engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers and support staff
- forming positive, trusting relationships between school staff and parents/communities
- establishing forums across schools to learn from one another about successful practices.
Impact of mobility on attendance
Attendance is a multi-faceted challenge, extending beyond truancy and absenteeism, and regularly involving issues of situational mobility and transience that are beyond a student’s control. Family and student mobility is a critical factor impacting on attendance, along with all elements of school and student performance.
Schools and school systems are generally not well prepared to handle mobile student populations, with often insufficient data sharing between schools to help understand students’ movement between schools and associated learning needs. Significant efforts are often required to integrate students into classrooms, though these processes are not always consistent across schools. In addition, school sectors (public, Catholic and independent) generally use differing student management systems and may not be able to easily share information, despite knowledge that students often move across school sectors.
The reality is that mobility will continue in many parts of Australia. There is a need to better understand mobility, and for schools to develop systems and processes that address needs in response.
Where should education systems prioritise attention?
Several areas require continued attention over coming years, including:
- the readiness of schools to prepare for, and manage students with a diverse variety of needs, with the school system often focussing on ‘ is the child ready for school’ rather than more importantly ‘ is the school ready for the child’
- acknowledgment that attendance is broader than truancy, and often follows engagement rather than the other way around
- the importance of relationships, often facilitated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in schools
- the need for care during students’ transition points, which occur within and between the early childhood, school education and post-school systems.