At the end of the 2013 school year, teachers at Bremer State High School in Ipswich took a look at their results for Indigenous students. It was a sobering assessment. In some year levels, academic performance was dismal. Just half of the school’s Indigenous Year 9 students were passing their classes, and 20 per cent of Aboriginal Year 12 students were not showing up to school in their crucial final year. “There was a sense that there was a lot of things being done but not very well coordinated,” said Daniel Pym, the school’s head of the department for Indigenous outcomes. So the school, south-west of Brisbane, set about changing the way it did business with its 217 Indigenous students, which is 10 per cent of its student population. It managed vast improvements in just two years.


In 2015, 92 per cent of the school’s Indigenous teenagers passed Year 12, compared with 78 per cent in 2013. And academic performance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Year 7 is up by 30 per cent. The secret to the school’s success can largely be attributed to the work it did in listening to the concerns and suggestions coming directly from Aboriginal families at the school. The Federal Government would no doubt like to see this school’s improvements mirrored in thousands of others across the country, but so far it has had little success. It has got a huge task ahead if it, by 2020 an extra 31,300 Indigenous students will need to complete Year 12 to meet the Government’s own target, and that’s just to halve the gap that already exists.


The Government has conceded a disappointing lack of progress in two of its Closing the Gap education targets: to boost school attendance and improve literacy and numeracy skills. In his Closing the Gap speech last year, Prime Minister Turnbull lamented that the education gap remains “sizeable”. But the implications of actually closing that gap could be enormous, said Darren Godwell, CEO of the Stronger Smarter Institute. He leads an organisation that is training teachers to encourage Indigenous students to have high expectations for themselves. If you want to get Indigenous people feeling healthier, into work and living longer, there is a body of research that suggests that schools are the engine rooms for change, Mr Godwell said. “The number one vehicle to change life outcomes is education” he said.


At Bremer, staff have driven the change in a multitude of ways, but it all started with getting the kids to class. Australian research shows that attendance matters for achievement. The more a child misses school, the worse things get for academic performance. At Bremer State High School, truancy was the school’s trickiest problem when it came to lifting grades for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teenagers. “Because just getting them here can be something that’s out of our control. Once they are here at school, we can do a range of things with them,” said Mr Pym. Teachers began keeping more detailed records of attendance and they asked students why they were not coming to class often enough. Sometimes the answer was as simple as they had not been able to get a lift to school.

Attendance records showed that Friday was the worst day for the attendance of Indigenous students. That started changing when the school offered a free cooked breakfast every Friday morning. Students, too, noticed a change when attendance started becoming a regular talking point. “They encourage you to come to school and bring your attendance up,” Year 10 student Bethany Langwe said. Mr Pym said involving parents and asking for their input was another important step. The school invited families to join an Indigenous Parents Council held once a term at a sports club in Ipswich. Local elders are now also invited to the school once a month, most are grandparents of children at the school. The school wants every child attending 90% of the time and figures for this year show it is nearly there.


Since the school began actively involving Indigenous students and parents in the conversation, attendance at Bremer State High School has risen in every year level. Engagement of families outside the school gates is critical if schools genuinely want to address poor attendance, said Mr Godwell. “Attendance is actually a lag indicator of something greater, and that is confidence. The confidence of the parent in the worth of the education, the school and the teacher that they’re supposed to be sending their children to. “If the parents are not confident in each of those, they will not push their kids into that environment. No parent would.” When more students were showing up every morning, Bremer State High School looked at new ways to lift their academic performance.


Teachers took a forensic approach: they drilled down into individual test results and kept detailed records of their Aboriginal students’ progress. “Even looking at their NAPLAN tests to see exactly what questions they got wrong, and what type of skills sets that question was looking for,” said Mr Pym. The school then appointed a teacher aide to work exclusively with Indigenous students who were failing English, maths and science, and in all year levels, there has been a marked improvement. Mr Pym said it was a work in progress. “It’s been an ongoing effort. I’ve never felt like the job is done. We have worked every single week on the next thing and the next thing.” 


Sandra Anderson plays a critical role helping Indigenous students at Bremer. Sandra Anderson is a mum to three kids, and when she gets to work she is unofficially a mother figure to another couple of hundred more. As Community Education Counsellor at Bremer State High, her job is to look after all of the Indigenous students at the school. She thinks of herself as their “backbone”. “To me, it’s a valuable position. To speak frankly, to have the black face around the school works for the kids,” she said. At lunchtimes her office, in the school’s Indigenous Hub, is flooded with a dozen noisy teenagers, until the bell signals it is time to get back to class. During quieter times Sandra sits one-on-one with students, counselling them through their worries about school and family life.

One teenager was being bullied recently so he went to her for advice. “Once I dealt with that, his mother rang me and then you’re finding out there’s other issues with that child at home, he’s holding onto that as well.” Ask the Aboriginal students at Bremer State High about Sandra’s influence on their lives, and she gets a glowing report. “She really helps us with everything we need, even lifts to places, going to sports, help at home,” said Year 12 student William Duncan. “She really cares about us.” Ezekiel Langwe-Lui agreed: “No matter what, if we’re having trouble with our assignments, if we’re having trouble with choosing a university, she does go out of her way to look out for us.” For them, she has played a big part in Bremer State High School’s improved grades and attendance records.


In 2015, the school secured state and federal funding to make her position full-time instead of just a couple of days a week, and Sandra said that had helped her open the door for Murri and Koori parents who also needed some support. “I tell them, ‘You’re quite welcome to come up and have a talk’, because they could be going through issues themselves. Sometimes they’ve got nowhere to turn. “If I know the parent then I can help the child better.” In the last two years, culture has become as important to the school as the curriculum. You notice the Aboriginal flag flying as soon as you walk in the gates, the school painted a “yarning circle” for gatherings, and many of the students are now performing dances at assemblies.

“A teacher recently approached me and commented, ‘The students are now walking around the school proud of who they are and their culture. That wasn’t happening a few years ago’,” Sandra said. Year 12 student William Duncan, was teaching a mate to play the didgeridoo at school when he came up with a plan for a weekly class for boys. “I pitched the idea to them and they ended up doing it. It’s been really good actually,” he said. “We started with the history of the didgeridoo and then we went on to how to make it. You can’t learn how to play something if you don’t know the history of it.” It has given Indigenous boys something to look forward to at school, he said, to “actually learn about their culture”.


In Bremer State High School’s neck of the woods, almost 11% of adults are out of work. The Ipswich region has the second highest unemployment rate in Queensland, eclipsed only by outback towns in the state. It is also an area set for a projected Indigenous baby boom in the next decade. When you see those statistics, you get a clearer sense of why encouraging teenagers to focus on Year 12 is so crucial for Bremer State High School. Those students will be five times more likely to be employed if they complete their final year at school, which could see them buck the trend of their parents’ generation. A third of Aboriginal adults are currently out of work.

Past Bremer student Taylor Cora-Davidson wants to work in healthcare. Taylor has noticed there are plenty of jobs in health that are not being filled by an Indigenous workforce. The 18-year-old is studying a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics, after graduating from Bremer State High School last year. “We need more Indigenous students to graduate to go to different jobs to support their people,” she said. “I’m going into dietetics because my mother works in the local Aboriginal health centre, they didn’t have a dietician, so we need more Indigenous people in that area to make change.” In the past decade there has been a 70% increase in the number of Indigenous Australians finishing Year 12, and the Federal Government marks itself as “on track” to halve the gap in Year 12 completion by 2020.


Mr Godwell believes that teachers are the game changer in this area. He thinks they have the power to inspire Indigenous children to keep learning, especially those who might otherwise drop out before Year 12. Past Bremer student Javier Thompson is aiming to become a teacher. To do that, he said, teachers need to encourage Indigenous students to be positive about their potential. He said “You can have one teacher there that’s brilliant and all the kids will be lining up for their class. But you can have one redneck and you can be in some serious trouble with your school community.” Javier only had a couple of Indigenous teachers in his classrooms before he graduated Year 12 at Bremer in 2015. That is part of the reason why he is hoping to study a Bachelor of Education.

“I think I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and you have to go through schooling and university to be a teacher so I think that’s my main reason why I wanted to finish schooling. There was strong support at home from my mum and my dad.” Javier said. If he succeeds in conquering the classroom, Mr Thompson would like to work in education policy to ensure every student learns more about his people’s history. “Australia has a rich history before Captain James Cook came to Australia, and I think if people learnt about that in schools there would be a greater understanding and it would bring Australia closer to its First Nations people.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media story

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Editor’s note:  This article was written prior to the announcement of this year’s Australian of the Year Awards, which pleasingly seemed to move away from honouring activists with a particular agenda to promote.  It’s comments like those made in this article that may have resulted in the changed priorities that seem to have emerged this year.


Malcolm Turnbull wants the Australian of the Year awards to honour people who have gone out of their way to achieve extraordinary things. The Australian of the Year awards have been “hijacked” by activists choosing nominees along political and ideological lines, former winners said, after the latest finalists were announced. Mr Turnbull didn’t want to be drawn on past nominations for the annual awards. “I’d like to see Australians that have not just done their day job but have done something extraordinary,” he said. Included on this year’s list are “social innovators”, “diversity and inclusion champions”, “social entrepreneurs”, “sustainable living advocates” and a food van founder.


Former army officer Catherine McGregor, a finalist last year, said the system was “broken”­­, with award winners being used to promote special interests. The transgender ex-military figure, last year’s Queensland Australian of the Year, called for the awards to be overhauled. “I think it has been hijacked by activists. It is unrepresentative of middle Australia and I regret profoundl­y ever being involved with it,” Ms McGregor said. Ms McGregor, named Queenslander of the Year last year despite not living in the state, said people such as Turia Pitt, a burns survivor, were inspir­ations who should be championed. “I found it a disillusioning experience,” she said. “My exposure to the process led me to believe that it was used quite overtly to make political points that are actually anathema to most mainstream Australians.”

Paris Aristotle, who is Victoria’s nomination for Australian of the Year, currently chairs two federal government councils and is described as a “tireless advoc­ate for refugees and asylum- seekers”. Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, nominated by Western Australia, is described by organis­ers as a “philanthropist and anti-slavery advocate”. He was one of the few successful business leaders included in the list of finalists. Young Australian of the Year finalist Jason Ball, who was also nomin­ated by Victoria, ran for the Greens at this year’s federal elect­ion and supports the controversial Safe Schools program and same-sex marriage. Mr Ball, the first AFL player to come out as openly gay, created the Pride Cup, celebrating “diversity and inclusion in sport”. “He’s trained AFL draftees on inclusive language, and has represented beyondblue and the Safe Schools Coalition Australia,” his Australian of the Year Awards bio reads.


Another politically aligned final­ist is Andrea Mason, who runs a network of women’s councils in the Northern Territory. The former Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year was “the first indigenous Australian woman to have led a political party, after Family First chose her as its national­ leader in 2004”. Yasmin Khan, chairwoman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland, is Queensland’s finalist for the Local Hero category for her work as a “diversity champion”. Ms Khan, a long-term advoc­ate for the Muslim community, has been an outspoken critic of Pauline Hanson and warned people to “be careful” not to vote for the party. “There has been a change to the process, the introduction of the local hero has brought it back to people who contribute to a community on a local level,” Khan said.


Clean Up Australia Day found­er Ian Kiernan, named Australian of the Year in 1994, said organisers needed “to go back to the old model”. He said winners should truly represent and embody­ what it meant to give back to the whole nation, with previous awardees including Lowitja O’Donog­hue, Fred Hollows, Fiona Stanley, Kay Cottee, Cathy Freeman and Alan Bond. “I believe you shouldn’t get the award for just doing your job, you’ve got to do something significant for your country.” Since Tim Flannery was named Australian of the Year, in 2007, there has been ongoing criticism of the award being handed to recipients doing their jobs, or being rewarded for pushing a specific issue. Mr Turnbull highlighted the work of Ms Batty and Mr Kiernan and talked up the campaigning work of Mr Forrest.


Businessman Dick Smith, who won the Australian of the Year award in 1986 in between Paul Hogan and John Farnham, said Mr Forrest’s selection was a sign the awards organisers were altering their criteria. He said “it was easy to criticise” but he supported the awards. “I think Twiggy Forrest would be a pretty impressive person to be Australian of the Year because he has not only done well for himself, he has done a tremendous amount for the nation.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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A photographer who snapped controversial Safe Schools founder Roz Ward harassing a bystander at an anti-Donald Trump rally in Melbourne late last year has been forced to shut down his business after receiving “threats”. Kenji Wardenclyffe, a freelance photojournalist known for covering clashes between left-wing and right-wing protesters, took to Facebook to announce his business was on “indefinite hiatus”. The photos, published in The Australian, showed Ms Ward carrying several copies of the Marxist newspaper Red Flag and attempting to remove a Donald Trump hat from a bystander. “A lone pro-Trump supporter stood on the side of the road,” Wardenclyffe was quoted as saying. “I took a few photos, walked off, then noticed there was a commotion so I ran ­towards it and caught this.”


“Ms Ward trying to take his hat. I couldn’t see much more since after this there were a whole bunch of photographers in front of me.” The La Trobe academic is the architect of the controversial Safe Schools anti-bullying program, which has come under fire from politicians and parents for promoting radical gender theory. The federal government announced sweeping changes to the program earlier this year after an independent review found some of the lessons and content inappropriate for children. The Victorian government refused to comply with the changes. Wardenclyffe posted a follow-up message explaining his decision. “In my work I attempt to remain unbiased, and my first loyalty is to the truth,” he wrote.


“I cannot take sides or censor, it goes against my journalist ethics to remain impartial at all costs. About a week ago I got a photo and thought nothing of it, was informed who it was of and decided in spite of the fact it’d sell, not to pursue sales. “When it ended up being shared by a follower it ended up being seen by the mainstream media who were intent on running it in a story. I felt I had no options then other than see it published anyway or at least give some context. As someone who’s had work stolen before I feared it’d run regardless of my actions. “I have since received threats, abuse, harassment and been told in no simple terms I will not be welcome to cover left-wing rallies again, so I felt like I needed to remove myself from the situation. So for now, I need to sit back away from it all.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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