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An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 2005–2008


The following article is an edited and abridged version of the Executive Summary, Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 2005–2008, a report approved by State, Territory and Commonwealth Ministers for Education and Training at the 20th MCEETYA Meeting on 6–7 July 2006.

The educational outcomes of Indigenous Australians have improved over recent decades, including participation and achievement in early childhood, school, VET and tertiary education. Despite some gains, however, Indigenous Australians are yet to achieve educational equity. Regardless of their completion year, most Indigenous students leave school poorly prepared relative to their non-Indigenous counterparts, limiting their post-school options and perpetuating intergenerational cycles of social and economic disadvantage.

The Indigenous population is young: 40 per cent of Indigenous people are under the age of 15 years, compared with 20 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. The Indigenous population is also growing at twice the rate of the rest of the population, and Indigenous students represent an increasing proportion of all students, particularly in government schools. At the same time, the non-Indigenous population is aging and creating demand for skilled Indigenous Australians to participate in the workforce.

There is thus an urgent need to challenge the prevailing view that disparity in the educational outcomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students is ‘normal’ and that incremental gains are acceptable. Social polarisation arising from globalisation and unequal opportunities to join the ‘knowledge economies’ further underlines the importance of addressing educational disparity. It is necessary to move away from explaining educational failure by focusing on the characteristics of individual children, their families and communities (the ‘deficit’ view), towards building capacity to engage all students in learning, including Indigenous students.

This paper provides recommendations to focus national educational efforts over the 2005–2008 quadrennium. The recommendations seek to accelerate the pace of change by engaging Indigenous children and young people in learning. The recommendations align with five domains in which engagement is critical: early childhood education; school and community educational partnerships; school leadership; quality teaching; and pathways to training, employment and higher education. They are informed by system knowledge of good practice and the extensive body of research on Indigenous education.

Recommendations are systemic, as sustained engagement will not occur unless Indigenous education becomes an integral part of the core business of educators at all levels. The recommendations foster government-to-government collaboration and can be adapted by jurisdictions and schools to suit local contexts. Their implementation will enable systems and schools to better engage Indigenous children and young people in learning, as well as assisting jurisdictions to meet proposed education and training outcomes of the National Reform Agenda and address key indicators of Indigenous disadvantage.

Recommendations agreed by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA)

Early childhood education

Governments will work towards providing all Indigenous children with access to two years of high-quality preschool education, an essential precursor for success in primary schooling. By 2012, early childhood education programs for Indigenous children are to be developed that value Indigenous cultures, languages (including Aboriginal English) and contexts, and explicitly teach standard Australian English. Indigenous parents/caregivers are to be assisted to develop skills to support their children’s literacy acquisition and participate actively in their children’s education. Early childhood accreditation and quality assurance processes will be revised to ensure that such programs are implemented.

School and community educational partnerships

By 2010, agreements will be phased in between schools with significant numbers of Indigenous students and local Indigenous communities. By November 2006, an agreement template broad enough to suit all jurisdictions and geographical contexts is to be developed. Agreements will be able to be renegotiated to meet changing demands, to ensure their sustainability over time.

Expressed in plain language, the agreements will enable broad community engagement in all school planning and decision-making processes. This includes the selection of staff and agreement on school goals and policies relating to matters such as attendance and academic achievement. In liaison with Indigenous education consultative bodies, leadership training will be provided to community members to enhance their capacity to assume educational leadership roles in their communities.

Greater flexibility will be provided in curriculum, school operations and resources, allowing schools to deliver personalised learning to all Indigenous students while maintaining high educational standards. Partnerships with Indigenous parents/caregivers will also be fostered, encouraging them to hold high expectations of their children’s academic performance and increase their involvement in their children’s education. Information campaigns will be developed to promote the value of formal education to Indigenous communities.

School leadership

Learning outcomes for Indigenous students are to be included in the accountability framework for every principal and incorporated into accredited school leadership programs. Training programs are also planned to help Indigenous teachers develop the skills to successfully assume school leadership positions. Where appropriate, incentives are to be provided to attract and retain high-performing principals in schools with significant Indigenous student enrolments, along with strategies to recognise leaders whose schools achieve excellence in Indigenous education outcomes. Non-government school systems will be urged to adopt the same approach.

Quality teaching

By 2010, accredited pre-service and in-service professional learning is to be available to ensure that teachers and school leaders have the cultural understandings necessary to improve Indigenous outcomes. These programs will assist teachers to explicitly teach literacy to Indigenous students, including those from non-English speaking backgrounds, and to adopt pedagogical approaches that will improve both academic expectations and achievement by Indigenous students across all learning areas. This professional learning is to become a prerequisite for appointment or contract renewal as a teacher or principal, and is to be incorporated into performance agreements for existing school staff.

School staff will also be supported in using assessment data to undertake evidence-based improvement planning. Strategies will be developed to attract and retain high-quality teachers, especially in regional and remote communities with high Indigenous student enrolments. The need to increase the number of Indigenous teachers was identified as an issue requiring further attention.

Pathways to training, employment and higher education

Too often, Indigenous school leavers are inappropriately channelled into the lowest workforce entry options such as Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). Indigenous students and current CDEP participants will be encouraged to aspire beyond CDEP and enter into education or training. Indigenous students are to receive intensive, culturally inclusive counselling throughout their secondary schooling, including the development of personalised career pathways, to enable them to fulfil their potential and make successful transitions into training, employment or higher education.

Additional support will be provided to training providers, especially those which are publicly funded or in regions with high numbers of apprentices and tradespeople. This will enable Indigenous people to access trade training in their own regions. Training and employment considerations will also be incorporated into the negotiation of Native Title, Indigenous land use and heritage agreements and mining leases.

Partnerships between secondary schools, higher education institutions and Indigenous communities will be expanded. These provide fertile ground to develop strategies to attract, retain and successfully graduate Indigenous students across a broad spectrum of higher education courses. Advice will also be sought from Indigenous education consultative bodies, the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council, the Australian Vice Chancellors’ Committee and other higher education stakeholders.

Enabling process

The recommendations will be implemented by education systems over the next few years in ways that reflect the diversity of contexts in which they operate. MCEETYA has established a reference group to reduce duplication of effort and progress recommendations that will benefit from a national collaborative approach. The reference group, which is chaired by Western Australia, comprises senior officials from all education systems and a representative of Indigenous education consultative bodies. MCEETYA, in conjunction with other relevant ministerial councils, will develop an intergovernmental action plan on early childhood education for consideration by the Council of Australian Governments in the context of the National Reform Agenda.


References and further information 

Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 2005–2008. Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, and Curriculum Corporation, 2006. http://www.mceetya.edu.au/verve/_resources/Australian_Directions_in_Indigenous_Education_2005-2008.pdf

Apprenticeships and Trainees. Department of Education and Training, Western Australia.

Community Development Employment Project.

Communique. Council of Australian Governments’ Meeting, 10 February 2006.

Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage. Key Indicators 2005. Steering Committefor the Review of Government Service Provision, Commonwealth of Australia.



Subject Headings

Education policy
Aboriginal students
Indigenous peoples