National Report on Schooling in Australia 2009

National initiatives and achievements

2.7 Improving educational outcomes for Indigenous¹ youth and disadvantaged young Australians, especially those from low socio-economic backgrounds

The first goal of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians is that Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence.
Within the Melbourne Declaration, Ministers acknowledged that:
  • educational outcomes for Indigenous children and young people are substantially behind those of other students in key areas of enrolment, attendance, participation, literacy, numeracy, retention and completion

  • students from low socio-economic backgrounds, those from remote areas, refugees, homeless young people, and students with disabilities often experience educational disadvantage

  • Australian governments must support all young Australians to achieve not only equality of opportunity but also more equitable outcomes

and committed Australian governments to working with all school sectors to:
  • ‘close the gap’ for young Indigenous Australians

  • provide targeted support to disadvantaged students

  • focus on school improvement in low socio-economic communities.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council (CRC) defines educational disadvantage as occurring when the benefits of education are not evenly distributed within a population, where there are barriers to access and participation and when expected outcomes from education differ for particular individuals or groups.
The key indicators of educational disadvantage include:
  • low levels of participation in early childhood education

  • poor engagement at school

  • low levels of literacy and numeracy achievement

  • low educational qualifications

  • low levels of participation in post-school education, training and employment

  • labour market disadvantage, as measured by labour market participation concentrated at lower levels of skill/competency.

(Source: COAG Reform Council, National Education Agreement: Performance Report 2009, p. 56)
COAG has set targets to lift educational attainment and to close the gap between the educational outcomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. These are to:
  • lift the Year 12 or equivalent attainment rate to 90 per cent by 2015

  • halve the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade (2018)

  • at least halve the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ Year 12 or equivalent attainment rates by 2020.

MCEECDYA strategies

National strategies and actions identified in the MCEETYA four-year plan 20092012 include:
  • development of a four-year action plan to close the gap for Indigenous children and young people, building on the review of the Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 20052008

  • establishment of integrated Children and Family Centres where there is a significant Indigenous population and high general disadvantage

  • attracting high quality principals, school leaders and teachers to schools in disadvantaged communities

  • providing support and incentives to increase Indigenous participation in the education workforce, especially in remote schools

  • supporting coordinated community services for Indigenous students and their families that can increase attendance and engagement in schooling

  • enhancing professional development in the teaching of English as a second language (ESL)², literacy and assessment for teachers working with students from Indigenous language backgrounds

  • strengthening school leadership in disadvantaged schools

  • encouraging a strong focus on the educational needs, mental health and well-being of individual students

  • generating meaningful pathways for all disadvantaged students.

Low Socio-economic Status School Communities

All governments have agreed that they have mutual interest in and shared responsibility for improving educational outcomes in low socio-economic status (SES) school communities and in supporting reforms in the way schooling is delivered to those communities. In 2008, COAG agreed to the National Partnership for Low Socio-economic Status School Communities. The agreement sets out strategies that support a range of school-level and broader reforms addressing educational disadvantage associated with low socio-economic status school communities. The reforms are directed at school leadership, teaching, student learning and community engagement. One of the aims is to better equip schools to address the complex and interrelated challenges facing students in disadvantaged communities. The National Partnership facilitates reforms across six key areas:
  • incentives to attract high-performing principals and teachers

  • adoption of best practice performance management and staffing arrangements

  • innovative and flexible school operational arrangements

  • tailored learning opportunities for students

  • strengthened school accountability to parents and the community

  • external partnerships with parents, schools, businesses and local communities.

Through this partnership, the Australian Government is providing $1.5 billion over seven years (2008–09 to 2014–15) matched by State and Territory co-investment over the life of the partnership. Approximately 1,700 schools (government and non-government) will participate in the Low Socio-economic Status School Communities National Partnership and it is expected that over 400,000 students will be supported.
Schools are working with their local communities and education authorities to identify reform activities that will generate the best educational outcomes for their disadvantaged students, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students from a non-English speaking background and students with disabilities. Reforms are being implemented progressively, commencing from 2009. Full implementation is expected to occur in 2011–12.
More detailed information on this partnership is provided on the DEEWR website.
The needs of students from low socio-economic backgrounds (whether or not they attend a school participating in the Low Socio-economic Status School Communities partnership), as well as those experiencing other forms of educational disadvantage, are also addressed in the other Smarter Schools National Partnerships. Information on these partnerships – Improving Teacher Quality, and Literacy and Numeracy – is included in the Developing stronger partnerships section of this report.
The National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions, the Compact with Young Australians and the National Youth Participation Requirement are also vital to addressing outcomes for educationally disadvantaged young Australians. These initiatives are outlined in National initiatives and achievements – supporting senior years of schooling and youth transitions in this report.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth

State and Territory governments, non-government education authorities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are working in collaboration to close the gap between the outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous students.
In 2009, the review of the Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 20052008 and the development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010–2014 clearly identified actions to support improvement of educational outcomes and economic participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students over the coming years.
Schooling is one of the building blocks in the ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). It recognises that a good education is the way to jobs and opportunities in later life.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are also benefiting from the three Smarter Schools National Partnership agreements and the Youth Attainment and Transitions National Partnership that are underpinning the Australian Government’s Education Revolution. These agreements are for all Australians, but have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific measures.

More information on educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth is provided in Part 7 of this report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education.

¹ The Melbourne Declaration, MCEETYA four-year plan 2009–2012 and data collections use the term ‘Indigenous’ to refer to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Where possible, this report uses ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ in preference to the term ‘Indigenous’.
² This term has been changed to English as an Additional Language (EAL)