New indigenous school attendance target
Tony Abbott adds school attendance to the 'closing the gap' goals for indigenous Australians, even as Australia falls behind on key targets including employment, education and life expectancy.PT2M12S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-32gzw 620 349 February 12, 2014
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Tony Abbott's chief adviser on indigenous policy has challenged him to close the gap on school attendance by the end of this year, four years ahead of the Prime Minister's proposed deadline.
Mr Abbott announced the bold target while conceding that efforts to end the disparity between black and white in health, education and employment outcomes would be ''doomed to fail'' unless this ''most basic target of all'' was met.
"Turn good intentions into better outcomes": Tony Abbott promises better outcomes for Indigenous education. Photo: Andrew Meares
Delivering the annual Prime Minister's report on progress in Closing the Gap, Mr Abbott told Parliament on Wednesday the target would be met when all schools achieved at least 90 per cent attendance. In some remote schools, attendance rates are half that.
Praising the Rudd and Gillard governments for trying to quarantine the welfare payments of families whose children did not attend school, Mr Abbott said the challenge was to ''break the tyranny of low expectations'' and ''turn good intentions into better outcomes''.
While Mr Abbott set a deadline of 2019 for all schools, regardless of their student make-up, to reach 90 per cent attendance, Warren Mundine said it was ''doable'' by the end of this year.
"We've got to force it to happen": Warren Mundine. Photo: Danielle Smith
''We've got to force it to happen,'' said Mr Mundine, the chairman of the Mr Abbott's indigenous advisory council. ''I'm challenging and I'm pushing. I want to see us by the end of this year, December 2014.''
Mr Abbott's government has funded local truancy officers at 41 remote schools with the poorest attendance rates.
In some remote schools, attendance rates are as low as 45 per cent. It has not yet released any attendance data, but Mr Abbott said the measure, which started in January, had boosted attendance from under 60 per cent to over 90 per cent in some places. But other indigenous leaders warned ‘‘punitive’’ measures alone would not be enough to meet the ambitious target.
‘‘We want to see as much energy and focus on making schools places that our kids want to go and our families trust and genuinely feel a part of,’’ said Kirstie Parker, the co-chairwoman of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
Indigenous educator Chris Sarra, who as principal of Cherbourg school in Queensland lifted attendance rates from 62 per cent to 94 per cent, said the underlying causes of truancy usually related to the school rather than the child or their family. ‘‘You’ve got to look at why kids have rejected school in the first place,’’ he said.
Delivering his first Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap report, Mr Abbott conceded that Australia was ‘‘not on track to achieve the more important and meaningful targets’’ that were set six years ago. These included slipping backwards on indigenous employment, making little improvement on the reading, writing and numeracy target, and making ‘‘almost no progress’’ in closing the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and other Australians.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pledged Labor’s support for the school attendance target but urged the government to adopt other new targets, relating to incarceration, disability support and higher education.
He also urged the government to put in place a comprehensive approach to tackling alcohol abuse that was on the rise in the Northern Territory, declaring ‘‘we shall support you every step of the way. The Labor Party is determined to take a bipartisan, positive and constructive approach in every facet of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy’’.
Mr Abbott said the lower attendance rates were, the more likely it was that a school was letting its students down. He said failing to give children the education they needed for a decent life was ‘‘one of the worst forms of neglect’’.
Earlier, the country’s first female Aboriginal senator, Labor’s Nova Peris, warned that progress on closing the gap was threatened by relaxation of alcohol controls in the Northern Territory.