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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.

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Vicki Pogulis can remember a time when not a single student at Glebe Public School had a perfect attendance record but over the past decade the principal has watched as one-time truants have been transformed into eager learners.

Almost one-third of the school's 130 students are Aboriginal and its student attendance rate of 93 per cent is regarded as a major achievement and one Prime Minister Tony Abbott wishes to replicate nationwide.

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Where the three Rs also refers to relationships: Vice-principal Bryce Walker with students at Glebe Public School where the attendance rate is 93 per cent. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Mr Abbott announced a new target to bridge the gulf between indigenous and non-indigenous school attendance in his Closing the Gap report presented in Canberra on Wednesday.

Glebe Public School is already exceeding the proposed 90 per cent attendance rate benchmark with Ms Pogulis saying it comes down to establishing strong networks with the local community.

''We teach the children reading, writing and 'rithmetic - the good old-fashioned three Rs,'' she said.

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Role models: Shandi McEwen. Photo: Kate Geraghty

''But we also observe an equally important set of three Rs - that's relationships, relationships, relationships. We have really good strong relationships with the staff, the students and the community. We create an environment where kids want to come to school.''

The school has an ''attendance bus'' which collects children from their homes and brings them to school. Red Cross provides breakfast and prizes are awarded for being at school on time. Parents and carers are involved in programming and policy-making, resulting in a curriculum that engages the children.

''The bottom line is the children want to come to school because there are good things happening at the school,'' she said. ''It's not rocket science.''

If children are absent, Ms Pogulis personally calls their family to find out why.

''I have a friendly chat with them,'' she said. ''Is there anything happening that we need to know about? How can we help?''

Similarly, the home-school liaison officer and the Aboriginal school liaison officer take a supportive approach. ''They are part of the community,'' she said. ''Our parents know them. They are not the scary people.''

The school has also achieved another target of the program, which aims to end indigenous inequality by 2031, with its above average performance in the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

Frank Hytten, chief executive of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, said the more remote the school, the poorer the turnout, with some schools' attendance rates only about 60 per cent.

He commended the aim of lifting attendance but said the government would need to resource the program with Aboriginal school liaison staff. ''The target is laudable but if they don't put the building blocks in place it's going to fail.'' he said. ''My concern is if it does fail for the Aboriginal people, they will somehow be found at fault.''

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