Independent Schools Council of Australia urges Government to change funding levels and administration requirements of ABSTUDY if there is any hope in closing the gap for remote students.
No one should underestimate the challenges associated with providing appropriate educational opportunities for Indigenous students, especially those that come from remote communities. They represent some of the most disadvantaged children in our society and deserve every opportunity to receive an education that is both appropriate to their cultural heritage and additionally gives them every opportunity to prosper as adults in our modern society.
It is often the case that Independent schools in remote Indigenous communities are the sole providers of education for these communities; 39 schools in the Independent sector have an Indigenous enrolment of more than 50 per cent with more than 830 Independent schools around Australia having Indigenous students. Currently there are around 12,500 Indigenous students in Independent schools.
Secondary educational opportunities are especially limited for remote students and that is why there has been a continuing demand for boarding school places. This method of providing education has its difficulties in providing for all the cultural, social, health and educational needs of Indigenous students, living sometimes a long way from their home communities. The Independent sector is currently Australia’s largest provider of Indigenous boarding facilities and is frequently the only provider of educational boarding for these students in locations outside of metropolitan areas. More than 2,400 Indigenous students attend Independent school boarding facilities with the majority taking advantage of scholarship and minimal fee opportunities.
Independent schools that serve signiﬁcant or solely Indigenous student populations often have very limited capacity to raise private income through fees and fundraising; in many cases this ability is non-existent. These schools rely heavily on government assistance to maintain their operations. Most of these schools face high costs, in employment, provision of staﬀ housing, transport, and accessing professional and student learning and cultural opportunities, due to their remoteness or distance from large population centres. Schools frequently need to provide many additional educational, health, recreational, wellbeing and pastoral care services to assist students to learn successfully.
However, there is danger ahead for many majority Indigenous boarding schools. Around 250 boarding beds have already closed in the last two years with the potential for a further 200 beds to close in the next 12 months. These boarding bed closures can almost exclusively be traced back to insufficient funding levels for Indigenous boarding students, including problems with accessing full ABSTUDY entitlements. ABSTUDY is the only source of student financial support to fund the living and support costs for Indigenous students attending boarding school.
Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) has urged the Australian Government to quickly change the funding levels and administration requirements of ABSTUDY by moving these payments from being classified as a means tested family payment to a more appropriate educational scholarship arrangement. This would provide greater financial certainty for many schools and encourage ongoing investment in boarding facilities.
If improvements do not happen soon then educational opportunities for remote Indigenous students will be reduced in the Independent school sector resulting in further declines in the educational achievement. Closing the Gap educational targets have no hope of being met for remote students unless this is addressed quickly and boarding provision becomes sustainable.
Deputy Executive Director
Independent Schools Council of Australia, Barry Wallett
Barry Wallett has been for the last nine years the Deputy Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA). Since 2001, he has been engaged fulltime in the education sector; previously Chief Executive Officer of the Construction Industry Training and Employment Association (CITEA); General Manager, Australian National University College and Divisional Manager for the ANU Education Centre. His current role at ISCA means that he is involved in a range of educational policy issues on behalf of the Independent school sector. As part of his policy portfolio, he has been a strong advocate for improvements in the provision of Indigenous educational opportunities, especially through remote boarding schools.
Barry will be speaking at the National Indigenous Education and Boarding Symposium 2018 in Canberra on March 27-28.