Some questions concerning the proposed Federal law to fine parents of non-attending students:

  1. Education is the province of the states. If the Commonwealth wants better education performance why has it not asked the states to improve their performance through the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs and enforced these measures through the existing Commonwealth/state funding agreements.
  2. Why have other approaches, such as the range of activities in Victoria that have lifted attendance, retention and completion in the last 10 years, been ignored?
  3. Educators around the country recognise the limited effectiveness of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to children’s education especially when addressing the needs of students at risk of disengaging with education. Why then has the Commonwealth decide to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a difficult and complex area of education policy?
  4. What ever happened to the concept of evidence based-policy? Is there one single piece of evidence that says this approach will work? Does it outweigh the evidence against such a scheme?
  5. 5. Data from the NT seem to indicate that about 450 more children are now going to school in the NT in 2008 than in 2007.
  6. Is this legislation and the location of the trial supported by any data? In Wallace Rockhole enrolment has increased from 22 children in 2007 to 33 in 2008 and attendance from 19 to 24, Ntaria (Hermannsberg) is stable at around 65% attendance, Katherine South Primary has an attendance rate of 91% and Katherine High has gone 84% to 82% (compared to the two major Darwin schools Darwin High and Casuarina 86% & 84% respectively). These figures are far from terrible. Why then is this latest intervention focussed on the NT? As for Cannington, its attendance is fairly steady at around 92-93% for primary and 88-90% for secondary which is about the state average.
  7. How does this statement by NT Department of Education fit with the proposed law: “School attendance rates during the school year may vary due to the transient movement of Indigenous populations, particularly in Very Remote locations. Important activities such as cultural events and ceremonies are recorded as absent from school for the purpose of recording classroom attendance but form an important part of an Indigenous child’s education.”
  8. Are the current facilities a factor in non-attendance? For example, after a recent drive to improve attendance in Wadeye (Port Keats) over 700 children attended a school built for 250. Will the Commonwealth (after decades of miscounting the number of children who live there) build a school big enough to accommodate all of Wadeye’s?
  9. Isn’t this law at odds with the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century?
  10. What will be the social effect of taking welfare away from families for whom it is there only means of support? Who will be worst affected by this drop in income?
  11. As the “progressive” side of Australian politics, how can the ALP countenance this kind of black bashing? The initiative was first announced back in July. Was it cobbled together for the sole purpose of helping out the WA and NT governments win difficult elections?

Peter Fray

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