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A promising start to improving Aboriginal students' outcomes, New South Wales

The Aboriginal Education Review is laying down foundations for real change in the outcomes for Aboriginal students in NSW public schools.

The data gathering and analysis stage of the Aboriginal Education Review (AER) is complete.

Since Minister Andrew Refshauge announced the review in October 2003, more than 400 meetings and field trips have been held across NSW, and more than 190 submissions have been received.

The review's Co-chairs, DET's Alan Laughlin and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group's (AECG) President, Charles Davison, said it had been one of the most extensive consultation and data-gathering exercises ever conducted by the DET.

'It's certainly driven significantly by Minister Refshauge's determination to equalise student outcomes over the next nine years,' Dr Laughlin said. 'There is a strong commitment to improving outcomes for Aboriginal students, and the review has a much wider source of data and information than we've had before.'

The importance of the processes used in the review to gain feedback cannot be underestimated, Dr Laughlin said.

'Unless you've listened to the Aboriginal community, unless you incorporate their views, then frankly you will not achieve success. Aboriginal people need to have strong ownership in what comes out of this,' he said.

Principals, teachers and Aboriginal communities were encouraged to contribute their ideas on improving educational and life outcomes for Aboriginal students. The process included analysis of attendance and student outcome measures, as well as the research of current literature, which was headed by Newcastle University's Professor John Lester.

Dr Laughlin and Mr Davison emphasised that successful outcomes would only be met through a strong DET-AECG partnership process, and again at a local level, through schools and Aboriginal communities.

The AER comes at a critical point, as current numeracy and literacy levels for Aboriginal students continue to be well below the rest of the student population in the Basic Skills Test and English Language and Literacy Assessment, Dr Laughlin said.

'The chance of Aboriginal students getting through to the HSC and, in many cases the School Certificate, is far too low. Many Aboriginal students have very low attendance rates, and unless we make that change, and unless we can all work cohesively with the communities using a whole range of positive and useful recommendations, then we're not going to get anywhere,' Dr Laughlin said.

'These are ambitious targets but unless we set the goals high then we're not going to make the necessary improvement.'

Dr Laughlin said that integral to developing approaches to meet these goals was the recognition of the unique needs of Aboriginal students, which arose as a recurrent theme in the review's data.

'What we're trying to do is bring them [unique needs] together as a comprehensive plan to drive leadership training and teaching processes in all classrooms, and also accept that local solutions will differ and are often the most effective,' he said.
'What works in some communities and with some teachers may not work with others. It is a matter of coming up with options for people to use in a whole range of circumstances,' Dr Laughlin said.

Charles Davison said that recurrent themes in the consultation revolved around notions of identity, acceptance and confidence. 'More than thirty recurrent themes have been identified,' he said.

'It's about Aboriginal students feeling confident about the learning process. It's also about Aboriginal students being accepted in terms of who they are, and that their Aboriginality will not disadvantage them.'

Mr Davison said the review would bring about much-needed changes within the education system, but it had to come from the Department itself, with the support and the assistance of the AECG members and the general community.

Mr Davison praised the DET's commitment toward the review.

'From the Minister's commitment to this whole process, to discussions with the Director-General and his views on how important this is, the need for change has filtered down through the Department.

'We'll really see how it pans out at the school level - this is where it has to make a big difference,' he said.

Mr Davison said a priority was to provide access to education for Aboriginal people in all aspects - including training and employment.

'It's about producing the best possible outcomes to ensure that Aboriginal people have the same life chances as every other Australian. It's about developing their education and life skills to ensure a better future for them.'

'The review outcomes also need to incorporate programs that addressed issues on reconciliation,' he said.

'Aboriginal education is not just about outcomes for Aboriginal people - it's about teaching and ensuring the awareness is there for all students in the education system.'

The next phase of the review will check that community feedback and submissions have been interpreted correctly. Dates and venues are currently being organised at a number of centres across the State, where key themes will be confirmed with the appropriate communities.

'Our concerns are making sure the review representatives are going back to the community with consistency. Communities will have an opportunity to clarify any points made.'

Dr Laughlin said it was one of the best opportunities DET has had to make a difference. The review was not a one-off report, but the beginning of a process designed to improve outcomes for Aboriginal students.

'This is a journey that will take us consistently forward over the next decade. Monitoring of the implementation and support for schools, principals and teachers will be fundamental to sustained change.'
Recommendations from the review should be completed at the end of Term 2.

Broad themes from the Aboriginal Education Review include:

  • Quality of teaching and leadership
  • Engagement in the learning process
  • Partnerships between school and community
  • Issues of identity and cultural awareness
  • Strategic planning and local initiatives
  • The specific needs of Aboriginal students at particular points in their education.

This article is reproduced with permission from
Inform June 2004


Subject Headings

Aboriginal peoples
Aboriginal students
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Curriculum planning
Education research
Educational evaluation
Educational planning
New South Wales (NSW)
School and community
School culture
Social justice