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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
Educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

BAXTER, Mr Stephen, Executive Director, Statewide Planning and Delivery, Western Australian Department of Education

HALE, Mr Lindsay, Executive Director, Statewide Services, Western Australian Department of Education

O'NEILL, Ms Sharyn, Director General, Western Australian Department of Education


CHAIR: Welcome. As these proceedings are public, they are being broadcast, and recorded by Hansard. If you wish evidence to be taken in private, please let the committee know and we will consider your request. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, you must understand this hearing is a formal proceeding of the federal parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. If you object to answering a question, please state the reasons for your objection and the committee will take that into consideration. Do you have an opening statement?

Ms O'Neill : No, we thought we would respond to the questions of the committee.

CHAIR: That is fine. I am not quite sure where to start. We are aware of a few things that the state Department of Education are involved in. Maybe I will start from the beginning. The focus of this inquiry is trying to find out what the good ideas are and why they are working. Our objective is to go away and ensure that those solutions are funded. Would someone like to tell us a bit more about KindiLink?

Ms O'Neill : KindiLink is a pilot, 2016 to 2018 at this stage. It arose from a commitment of the previous government and department to early childhood, particularly in the area of Aboriginal student outcomes. We are of a firm belief that to make any long-term change to the outcomes of Aboriginal students we need to intervene, invest and support much earlier. Under our act we have always been responsible for school-age children—five-year-olds more recently; four-year-olds previously—but it is absolutely evident to us that by the time a child is four years old their disposition for learning is well formed. It does not mean it cannot be ongoing, formed and changed, but disposition for learning, preparedness for learning and ability to understand concepts the other children would ordinarily gain before they get to school.

We wanted to make some greater difference in those early years, not just through the kids coming and having more kindergarten and pre-primary—more of the same—but by approaching it in a different way. It is voluntary, it is for Aboriginal families, and importantly it goes to the heart of trying to role model to Aboriginal families—mothers, but not only mothers: grandmothers and other caregivers—that kind of interaction that you would have with young children that would help form some of those predispositions for early learning, particularly literacy. It is voluntary play and learn. You do not come and sit in formal desks and pretend you are in year 2 or something; it is very much based on exploration and play, but has built into it structured literacy based learning as well. So we have 37 selected public schools and, from all accounts coming to me—and it is reported to me monthly—parents and caregivers are engaged. They really enjoy the support. They are pretty shy at first, as you would expect. Some of them feel a bit intimidated—I do not mean in a truly negative sense, but it is a new environment. Remember that many Aboriginal people—perhaps not so of this age, but still of this age—have not had a great personal experience at school themselves, so coming back is a bit challenging. We have spent quite a lot of time with the teachers in those KindiLink programs to ensure that they have the skills not only to teach the literacy learning for children of that age but also to facilitate the learning of the parents/caregivers. So we are really pleased with what is going on there. We have got 344 children registered to participate. It is voluntary, so they are not there all of the time, but in fact they are there a good amount of time. We have advisory groups. We have Professor Colleen Hayward, who I think you would know—

CHAIR: I do know.

Ms O'Neill : involved; Playgroup WA; local government; and a range of other stakeholders and agencies are to be involved, and we are undertaking an external evaluation with Edith Cowan University, due sometime mid-2018, I think.

The sessions are planned and facilitated by an early childhood teacher, but we also have an Aboriginal and Islander education worker in those sessions. Some of the parents find that to be a great support. But it is also about role modelling, to our Aboriginal workforce, some of the skills required.

So we see it as comprehensive. It is about children's learning. It is about their capacity, capability and confidence. But it is also about the capacity, capability and confidence of the caregivers. Our very strong view is that it is about—I will go back to where I started—the shaping, the approaches and the prelearning skills that Aboriginal children, by and large, though not exclusively, do not have; some do have them when they come to school, but, by and large, they are already well behind their age related peers.

CHAIR: Is the model located at a school where there is already some spare room?

Ms O'Neill : Yes—located at schools. That was a really interesting part of the debate about whether you have it off-site or on-site. Importantly for us, we believed it should be on-site so that we could have Aboriginal young children and their parents become more comfortable with engagement with school, because that is always a big issue, so that they understand the social mores of schooling, which some children and their parents are less familiar with, and it is not such a big gap in their experience when they come to school. So, yes—a vacant or underutilised space. In some places, that was assisted with some conversions or minor, not major, capital works. We try and co-locate or have the programs near our existing preprimary, because that is all about role modelling—seeing what the other kids do when they go to school, which some young Aboriginal kids are less familiar with.

CHAIR: And you are located the city and also further out?

Ms O'Neill : Yes. We have spread, and they are typically in low SES communities. Where the numbers are a bit low, because it takes a while to build, other parents from low SES backgrounds—to use that term as an abbreviation—can participate. That is by agreement with the Aboriginal people themselves, who, from our experience, have been really open to that idea.

CHAIR: I want to move on to talking about the boarding schools. But before we move on to that, have you got something more on this?


CHAIR: So let us finish talking about this first, and then we might move on to boarding schools.

Mr SNOWDON: How does your KindiLink sit alongside family as first educators or Families as First Teachers, as it is called in other places?

Ms O'Neill : We do not have family as first educators as a specific program.

Ms CLAYDON: It may be called something slightly different. We saw it in Geraldton.

Ms O'Neill : Okay; we might be calling it something different. Do you mean like our Child and Parent Centres?

Ms CLAYDON: It is very, very close to the Territory name of the—

CHAIR: When did you see it?

Ms CLAYDON: When we had a discussion—

CHAIR: Rangeway?

Ms CLAYDON: Maybe it was.

CHAIR: Rangeway has got one of those—is it 'children and families'?

Ms O'Neill : They are different.

CHAIR: Is that what you are referring to?

Ms CLAYDON: Yes, I think so. Actually, why don't you tell us about that particular program?

Ms O'Neill : The children and families centres that you would have seen at Rangeway, and other places, depending on where you have been, build on the commitment to invest in the early years in the Aboriginal space. The government built dedicated new facilities, and in a couple of places there were refurbishments. We have 21 around the state.

CHAIR: What are they called?

Ms O'Neill : Child and parent centres.

Mr SNOWDON: These followed on from the children and family centres, which were funded by the previous Labor government.

Ms O'Neill : No, we already had these.

CHAIR: They already had them. In WA there is a mixture of both.

Mr SNOWDON: For example, there is one at Halls Creek.

CHAIR: There is one at Wyndham.

Mr SNOWDON: Sorry—one at Fitzroy, I should say. Is that now a part of your system?

Ms O'Neill : We had ours. As I understand it, the federal government withdrew from the other five, and we have now taken those over.

Mr SNOWDON: You are in them? You are funding their—


Ms O'Neill : We have now taken over that service.

CHAIR: They are now KindiLink sites.

Ms O'Neill : The child and parent centres. Multiagency services are provided at the child and parent centres: child health checks, referrals, parenting programs and mental health programs. It is an expanded service provision co-located in the school. The child health nurse is in the school. Again, it was a deliberate choice to open up the school to Aboriginal and low SES parents to be able to come into the school, have their services in a one-stop shop, and become more familiar with the school. Then, of course, the school gets early intelligence around individual children and the supports that they might need when they come to school, so we do not lose another six to eight months understanding where children are at. We have had an independent evaluation of that. It is currently with our new minister, and they will, obviously, release that when the time is right.

CHAIR: So we have 37 of the KindiLink programs, which are separate to the child and parent centres, which is more than just early childhood education. It is also relating to the parents as well.

Ms O'Neill : Yes. It is a comprehensive package of early years intervention.

Mr SNOWDON: In Albany yesterday we heard there was a FaFT, Families as First Teachers, program. I think it is at St Joseph's.

Ms CLAYDON: Yes, that is one of them. It was not Geraldton, it was at St Joseph's, so it is not in your school.

CHAIR: It is in Catholic education.

Mr SNOWDON: But Families as First Teachers is nationally funded. It sounds very much like what you are doing. I am just wondering if there has been any co-investment from the Commonwealth in these child and parent centres.

Ms O'Neill : No, they are fully state funded.

Mr SNOWDON: I am particularly interested in the program of KindiLink, because it looks very much like this other program.

Ms O'Neill : I am sure there will be similarities. The commonalities between the programs will be trying to work with parents, by helping skill those parents as support parents and caregivers, so that they can provide those preschool activities and interactions. If you go to each state, they will have a version of that kind of intervention.

Mr SNOWDON: Could we get a list of the 37 places, please?

Ms O'Neill : KindiLink? We can provide that.

Mr SNOWDON: And, once your minister decides they want to release the evaluation, if we can get a copy of that, that would be helpful.

Ms O'Neill : Sure.

CHAIR: I think the evaluation is for the child and parent centres.

Ms O'Neill : Yes.

CHAIR: They are two separate programs.

Ms O'Neill : And we do have a KindiLink evaluation for mid-2018—if you can hang on that long.

CHAIR: Yes, that is right. As I said, it is all about what is working. As you quite rightly point out, in each state there will be something similar but different. We are just trying to figure out what is working and what is the best.

Ms O'Neill : In our child and parent centres, putting the evaluation aside, we obviously have ongoing monitoring. There is a vastly increased number of services and access to services by people who ordinarily find it difficult to access those services. The parents, anecdotally and in our survey work, tell us that they find that extremely useful. It is very hard, because some of them are not mobile enough to be going off and getting appointments elsewhere. Having it at the same site is very helpful.

CHAIR: I know they certainly appreciate it at Rangeway.

Ms O'Neill : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: Just before we leave KindiLink, it is a three-year pilot project?

Ms O'Neill : It runs from 2016 to 2018. That is three years, yes.

Ms CLAYDON: Obviously, it is then contingent on the outcome of the evaluation process?

Ms O'Neill : Yes.

Mr SNOWDON: Can you give us an idea of how much it costs?

Ms O'Neill : I could give that to you out of session. I have not brought that with me.

CHAIR: That is fine. We might just turn our minds now to boarding schools. We have heard and taken lots of evidence and seen various boarding schools in action. I think it is fair to say that we have seen the best of the model and we have also seen the worst of the model. We are just trying to understand what is happening in WA, so in the last couple of days we have been to Geraldton and we have been to Albany. We have seen the one at the Albany Senior High School and we have also seen the Geraldton Residential College. We understand that they are now going to come under the responsibilities of the Department of Education. Is that correct?

Ms O'Neill : Yes, that is right. Up till now I have been the Director General of the Department of Education and, at the same time, the CEO of the Country High School Hostels Authority. That has been a longstanding arrangement—more than 10 years. In July they will be merged and they will be part of our department.

CHAIR: In terms of their governance and decisions around how they get funded, that will not change, because, effectively, either you and your board will be similar or there will not be a lot of change to these current arrangements?

Ms O'Neill : There is some change, because, at the moment, they are a statutory authority. They have their own board, so, while I am the CEO, I am the CEO to the board—unlike the department, where I work to the minister. In the new arrangements that the previous government announced they will no longer be a statutory authority and therefore there will not be the board. In the previous model they had decision-making authority at each individual residential college. That will change; there will be advisory groups.

CHAIR: I am quite confident you are not going to be able to comment on this, but I think we just want to get some things of our chest.

Ms O'Neill : Sure!

CHAIR: This is just for the purpose of being very open and transparent. One of the things we were just gobsmacked with, especially in Geraldton, is that there has been this state government investment in Geraldton into new facilities—of course, we do not know when that decision was made, and the woman who is there now did not make that decision—but we have these beautiful facilities that have never been used in Geraldton. And we talked about why we are not going and finding kids to use them. Some of the kids in Wiluna and Meekatharra would love to have those opportunities. We were really quite surprised at that. Then we saw the same in Albany yesterday. Decisions were made that state government Royalties for Regions money would be used to expand the service. Those services have not been used, or they have moved into the new services and are not bothering to upgrade the old services because there is not the need anymore. There may be many other examples like that. Can you comment? I thought that perhaps it was just that the marketing of them was lacking and that maybe, once they come under the department of education, things would change. I appreciate you are no longer going to be the CEO, but you are still the Director General of the Department of Education. Have you got any views on why that is the case?

Ms O'Neill : I have got two hats, so I will just need to be clear about which hat I have got on in this regard.

Mr SNOWDON: Either one will do.

Ms O'Neill : In regard to your comment about marketing, I think there is perhaps a matter of timing. They become a new entity in July, and at that stage we do have plans to increase visibility and information for people, so I will not say any more about that. So there is a matter of timing there. If I just step back about the overall numbers, numbers fluctuate in residence. The numbers overall are probably slightly down, and there are some issues around rural decline and changes that cause those fluctuations. It is also important for us to point out that in both Albany and Geraldton some of that residential capacity is a partnership with the Catholic Education Commission. So they have some dedicated spaces in there that are their allocation to fill, not ours—if you follow what I am saying there.

CHAIR: We did not understand that. We certainly did not get that impression from either of those organisations.

Ms O'Neill : So it is a partnership. In each college it might be different. It does seem to be strange to have Catholic Education go and build a facility when we already have one. We work quite closely with our sectoral colleagues. If you go to Broome, which I understand you might, I would certainly suggest a visit to that residential college for Aboriginal people. It is bursting at the seams. So there is something about provision and there is something about, obviously, being visible to that market. There is also something about where Aboriginal people may or may not be comfortable to go. In Broome, we cannot keep up with demand. It is not universal that numbers are down. Certainly at that one there is a great sense of comfort.

Some of the reasons why some Aboriginal people are less comfortable, as I am told, coming into residence—and our residences are separate to our schools—is it is pretty confronting, not only for the residents, that they come into a school where, usually, their performance becomes much more stark. Their lack of performance becomes much more evident. Even though we give a lot of support, there are struggles there. And you would appreciate all of the things about homesickness. We have had, in some years, almost an entire turnover of student population in Broome from beginning of the year to the end of the year—massive. But we have slowed some of that down. So it is complex. There are some reasons for the numbers, I think, being fluctuating and also, perhaps, being down. Some of that is our concern. Some of that would be other sectors.

I think we have to be really cognisant that it is not a simple matter of: there are enough beds, and you should just fill them. The cultural ramifications of Aboriginal students in boarding needs considerable thought. We have some experience with it of children coming from the north and filling places in Albany. It just needs some really careful consideration. Historically, boarding in Western Australia was set up to service, by and large, the rural sector. I do not think our staff are yet well skilled in catering for students from Aboriginal backgrounds. And the support services and infrastructure are, really, not set up for that purpose. We are on to that issue. We are speaking to the minister that we have now specifically about that issue and about some things that we can do there.

I think we are also in transition. There is a great risk of, 'Come here; we have a place for you,' and then when they arrive we do not have support services that are, I think, appropriate. So, again, I will come back. I think there are some timing issues. We have more Aboriginal students in boarding than we have ever had before. In fact, we have one hundred and fifty—

Mr Baxter : Yes—154 this year, which is up. Chair, if I could just elaborate on the partnership arrangements that we have with Catholic Education and also independent schools. For Geraldton, by way of example, the Catholic Education Office made a significant capital contribution to those new buildings that you would have seen, with the guarantee of 45 beds. That was because St Joseph's closed their boarding. You may remember that there was quite some kerfuffle around that a few years ago. This year, they have nine students enrolled at St Joseph's. So while they have 45 beds and nine students, the guarantee is still there. Not only do they pay the capital contribution but they also pay an annual maintenance levy each year.

It is a similar situation in the Kimberley where it is a partnership capital contribution and maintenance levy between us and Catholic Ed. But up at St Mary's they have a lot of Aboriginal students who are coming in. Therefore, last year we had a waiting list. With the opening of the new facilities this year, we are accommodating demand in the Kimberley. Similarly, in Albany with St Joseph's I think there are only nine students at St Joseph's in Albany attending the Amity college. So that is in part the reason in going in for those partnerships. We have them in Northam, also, with the Catholics. They have just extended to years 11 and 12 in that place. Some of the colleges will have partnerships with up to four different schools so that parents really do have a choice as to where the students may go.

One thing I would note from a positive perspective is that we also have a college in the city—the City Beach Residential College—which caters exclusively to students who go to Perth Modern or John Curtin. These are either fully or partially academic or talent-select schools, and we have usually between 50 and 60 students from regional areas going there. This year we have five Aboriginal students attending that college and going variously to Perth Modern or John Curtin College of the Arts.

CHAIR: Would they be the high-achieving students?

Mr Baxter : The high-achieving students. John Curtin also has a focus on the arts. It is a school that really does cater for—

Ms O'Neill : They cannot go there unless they are selected to the programs on a statewide basis.

Mr Baxter : Yes. While people may have a different view, there is a standard and they need to make that standard. We do not differentiate in terms of enrolment in those particular programs.

CHAIR: Okay. Ms Claydon.

Ms CLAYDON: While we are on boarding schools: to what do you put down the success or ongoing growth of the facility at Broome, for example?

Ms O'Neill : The person running it is always really important—the leadership and how they are able to work with regional or local schools to bring people in. I think that we have tried to structure it differently with the actual physical surroundings so that it is more—I would not say consistent with Aboriginal kids' experience, because it is quite different in a lot of ways, but it is sympathetic. We have taken advice about the spaces: the fire pit, the swimming pool, how to group students. So there are the physical surroundings and the leadership. We have more recently tried to put in some more resources for support services. I think the parents are getting more confident about the level of care and the openness of the administration of that college to them. It is a combination of all of the above. I might ask Stephen. Stephen was the regional executive director in both the Kimberley and Albany areas that you are interested in, and he might have something else to add to that.

Ms CLAYDON: I am trying to get a sense of why you have got some areas growing. Is it just an issue of population base, or is there something else going on? Then there are other areas that we have been to that clearly have facilities that have never been use.

Ms O'Neill : The other thing I would add is that in the Kimberley there is a longer history of people from the Kimberley leaving for school than in any other region in Western Australia.

Ms CLAYDON: But the change is that they are not now coming to Perth to do that; you have a facility in Broome, and that is growing.

Ms O'Neill : Yes. There is still an interest.

Ms CLAYDON: I am interested in whether that was a reason for some growth area as well, that you have actually located a facility—

CHAIR: In the right place.

Ms O'Neill : We have had it there for some time, but it has taken off more recently. I think that is a matter of confidence as well.

Ms CLAYDON: How long has it been there?

Mr Baxter : I was in the Kimberley around 2006-2007, and we had just kicked it back in then. We had just built it, so I was at the opening. We have had that one operating now for—

Ms CLAYDON: About 10 years?

Mr Baxter : Yes, 10 years. A lot of the reasons are not for education. I heard Colin saying the same thing: in the initial instance parents actually have the children go and board, but over time it is the quality of the educational program as much as the quality of the program at the hostel itself. With St Mary's and with Broome Senior High School you have got two very good schools. I know more about our school, obviously. They are very well led with very good programs for youth, both boys and girls. Yes, clearly Clontarf may have a higher profile than some of the other programs and be more known nationally, but some of the other programs are equally as effective. The partnership that is coming out of both the school and the hostel pre-enrolment is critical to developing a sense of relationship with people out in schools while their children are still in the primary years, working with them to understand that these are safe places. They do have some facilities at Broome residential where parents can actually come and stay. 'This is what your child will be staying in. You can see that this is a good place, a safe place.'

We do resource Broome given that it is not 100 per cent Aboriginal enrolment at the college but close to that. We resource them so the college can attend to the medical and health needs of students. That is a real issue. We all understand—

Ms CLAYDON: I do not quite understand the evaluation process that you currently use for boarding schools. Look at a residence facility like Broome? You have given me a lot of reasons why that might be a successful facility now. Would that not be a model of some sort to assist you in how you evaluate, support and resource other cases?

Mr Baxter : There are a lot of lessons to be learnt. When I as down in Albany we had fairly significant numbers of students coming from the Halls Creek area—around the East Kimberley indeed. Many of them were coming down to participate in the football program at North Albany Senior High School. These were young men. They had gone through law. They were coming into Noongar country. There had been no discussion with the Noongar as to whether or not these people were actually welcome on country. There was certainly no official welcoming to country, no endeavour to have a relationship between the custodians and these people who were coming into their country.

Ms O'Neill : That is the point I was making before. Aside from Broome, where we have learnt some things—and this amalgamation allows us to have much greater scope of how we do this in the future—I do not think we have managed it as well as we could have in some of the other places like in Albany, where some kids have had some unfortunate circumstances. My point before about uprooting kids and saying, 'There's a bed in Albany; you should come'—I do not think we are yet sufficiently and appropriately placed in those places, but we seem to be having good success in Broome. The point is that there are things we can learn from Broome.

The other context is pretty different because the demographics of the kids going there are different. It is going to be a handful of Aboriginal kids amongst the others, whereas Broome is obviously almost entirely Aboriginal kids.

CHAIR: Steve, you might know this: are there kids who actually live in Broome who board at the Broome Residential College? Can they do that?

Mr Baxter : They could. They would not get the federal allowances or the state allowances.

CHAIR: They would not get ABSTUDY for that.

Mr Baxter : We do have examples of that—some of the kids in the metropolitan area—where for a variety of reasons they go and board in our hostels in regional Western Australia. Because Northam is close, that is one that immediately comes to mind. Sometimes when speaking with the parents they will say it is to get the children away from a particular group who are having a negative influence on their development at the moment.

Ms O'Neill : The other one that I would suggest perhaps might be of interest to you is our agricultural schools. We have five agricultural colleges that used to be years 8 to 10 and now are 7 to 10?

Mr Baxter : Our ag colleges are 11 and 12 in a place like Cunderdin, and a couple of them do run with 10 to 12.

Ms O'Neill : That is right; they have year 10s now. My apologies. Historically, no Aboriginal kids were in those schools. All of those schools get very high outcomes for their students. It is a very intensive program. It is on a farm; they run a commercial operation on the farm—successful operations. More recently, we are getting Aboriginal students enrolling in those locations, and I see that as also a really nice complement to the boarding arrangements. They live at those agricultural colleges. It is a highly supportive environment, but again I think we have some preparatory work to do in that case. But, again, it is a live-in, highly supported arrangement.

Mr SNOWDON: You talked about the churn in Broome last year, the year before or whatever it was. Do you have any data on churn?

Mr Baxter : Hostels have not been notoriously good at keeping data. That is something that I have asked them to focus on and so I do have some limited data. I was wanting them to have data from five years ago to say—

Mr SNOWDON: What it was that happened in this cohort that started five years ago?

Mr Baxter : Yes. Here is Bill back in year 7. How do we track him through to year 12 and what happens beyond year 12 too? That is an element of the Clontarf program.

Ms O'Neill : We must have some preliminary data about people who have enrolled and left, so we probably could give you an indication.

Mr SNOWDON: That would be helpful, because one of the things that is pretty obvious—not only here, by the way—is that we get kids who start in these places, and some will stay a week, some might stay a month, some might even stay a term, and then they are off.

Ms O'Neill : We could give you some data around that and it will mirror that which you see in other states, particularly at the holiday period. They go home for holidays, some kids get involved in law or other things—

Mr SNOWDON: Or they go to a ceremony.

Ms O'Neill : and then do not come back.

Mr SNOWDON: In terms of Albany, I would have thought that the Goldfields might be, you know, Warburton and south—

Ms O'Neill : They will go to Esperance.

Mr Baxter : They tend to go to Esperance.

Mr SNOWDON: Is there a boarding college in Esperance?

Ms O'Neill : Yes.

Mr Baxter : We have one and there is also an independent one out of the town.

Mr SNOWDON: How does that look in comparison to Albany, for example?

Mr Baxter : The Esperance one?


Mr Baxter : Esperance, as a school, is a very good school. It is a very good college. It is co-located. The numbers of kids are good there and they have been growing—83 per cent. This year we have 95 kids down there.

Ms O'Neill : Any Aboriginal kids?

Mr Baxter : Yes, quite a group of Aboriginal kids are coming from that Goldfields area.

Mr SNOWDON: Could you provide us with that data at some point. We do not need it right now, but it would be useful for us so we can get a picture of who is going where. The thing that you have probably picked up from listening to what we were saying before is that we want to find out what actually works. Personally, I was very impressed with the facilities at Albany yesterday.

CHAIR: And Geraldton.

Mr SNOWDON: I did not go to Geraldton.

Ms O'Neill : It has been a very good investment.

Mr SNOWDON: We will go to Broome at some point. We have agreed on that. That is great. We worked out, roughly speaking, the cost of having a child go to the boarding facility at Albany and attend one of the high schools, as opposed to the Catholic school, is about $31,000—so 20 grand for the boarding facility. I think we got a figure of $1.2 million. Is that right, Sharon? We had to do the maths, but it is about $1,100.

Ms CLAYDON: Yes, it was around $1,100 from yesterday.

Mr SNOWDON: We are trying to work out what the costs are, because we know that there are some very good, elite boarding schools. I am referring to Perth but—

Ms O'Neill : Ours are good and elite—it's okay!

Mr SNOWDON: If they are like other jurisdictions—and one in particular we know of, where the cost of having a student go for one year at one of the schools is between 80 and 90 grand—the cost of having someone go to your schools and boarding facility is probably a third of it, so what is the difference? Is it the wraparound services? Are they more successful than you are? When I say 'you', I mean those boarding facilities.

Ms O'Neill : Are you talking about private boarding facilities versus our boarding facilities?


Ms O'Neill : Are they any more successful? It is hard. I do not know what the measure of success would be. Different kids are there for different purposes. All I can say about that is our boarding schools are well regarded, by and large. We do annual surveys of parents. They are very happy. If they had the money, would they go to St Mary's and board? I am not sure. That is the question that would have to be put to them.

Mr SNOWDON: The reason I am asking this question is so that if, for example, we get data from you which shows us that the churn rate and the retention rates are 40 per cent—maybe they are that high, maybe they are not—and we get a similar outcome from the elite private schools, and they are costing 80 grand and you are costing a bit over 30 grand—

Mr Baxter : Certainly, when I was in the Kimberley there was identification of the most capable students, who often got scholarships to go away to other schools. Were they always successful? Not necessarily. The cost that you came up with, the $21,000, is our cost for boarding—

Ms O'Neill : You were asking about value for money.


Mr Baxter : Our cost of educating secondary students, on average, would be probably closer to $17,000, if we took into account all costs. You do get the economy of scale. If you were talking to the principal of Albany Senior High School, inclusive of all students at Albany Senior High School, you would have a premium on that, because we fund Aboriginal students with a targeted initiative in our schools.

Ms O'Neill : In terms of comparisons, we have not had a closer look in terms of whether they provide different activities to ours and if they are at higher marginal costs, so it is hard to know exactly what they are getting for their money aside from the name of the school. I am sure they provide good services. That is not a commentary on them.

Mr SNOWDON: We are not contending they do not. We are trying to get a picture of what is happening. It seems incredibly difficult to get the data. To understand precisely what happens to kids when they go to boarding colleges, anywhere in Australia not just here, seems extraordinarily difficult.

Ms O'Neill : As a department, we have given some consideration to alternatives. We have talked so far today about full boarding versus not boarding. I am interested in those 'on and off country' models as well where there is partial time on country. It is something that we have been in discussions with the Ngaanyatjarra Lands people over as well. I think there are other ways to think about that issue.

Mr SNOWDON: We are going to visit the Victorian Wesley College.

Ms O'Neill : I have had discussions with them.

Mr SNOWDON: We are going to have a look at what they are doing. The thing that comes back to us, and Sharyn raised this point earlier, is that in terms of the total student population across the country we are talking about 1½ per cent.

Ms O'Neill : That is right.

Mr SNOWDON: What do we do for the rest? The question becomes: if we are putting a bucketload of money over here, and it is having good results for that many people, what are we doing for the rest? What do we need to do to get that group of people into this group of people in terms of their educational achievement? Do we have to concentrate on early childhood, as you are suggesting?

Ms O'Neill : From our end, we have two areas that we have particularly given focus to: early childhood, which I have already spoken about, and our Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework. I think we are the first to have something of that sort. I personally led that. The three of us have all been significantly personally involved in Aboriginal education over many years. My interest, particularly, is that there is no one program. There is no silver bullet. Every Aboriginal child is as different as any other child. So, from our perspective, it is not useful to think that you can come up with a program and cookie cutter it across every kid. Obviously, that is not going to work.

Our Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework arose from some frustration—I have been Director General here for 10 years—where everyone kept talking about 'cultural awareness raising.' We decided, as a department, to say, 'There comes a time when, if they are not aware, they are dead'—I probably should not say that on Hansard. If they are not aware then they are not paying enough attention. We want to move beyond that. So we have set a set of expectations for all of our staff to say, 'It can't just be a piecemeal program.' We've invested a lot of money in piecemeal programs, and a lot of effort, and they do not ever attend to the total. In our cultural standards framework we have tried to say, 'This is how we expect the leadership to be and the teaching to be. The relationships are foremost, and resourcing and the infrastructure of the school.' If you are only attending to attendance you are never going to make the difference. If you are only attending to boys playing football, albeit this is a good thing to do, you are never going to make the difference. You cannot just pull one little lever and expect outcomes to change. That was our attempt in this state to, I guess, put our mast in the sand and say that we expect change across a full range of areas and that it needs to be done more collectively, and other agencies can then support that. That is pretty new for us.

We are talking to schools about it. The commissioner spoke about a leadership strategy around that. He went to Statewide Services, which is part of our organisation. We have good engagement. We expect every school to do it, whether they have Aboriginal students or not. Some schools said, 'We don't have to do this. We don't have any Aboriginal students, but it is about learning and working across cultural groups. We are really interested in seeing how that works. Alongside that, we appointed two elders in residence: Colleen Hayward and Ian Trust from Wunan. That is to give some advice to me and to the minister around cultural appropriateness in the work that we do and to have senior Indigenous voices in the work that we do, and then to get it on the ground. I worked in Carnarvon, Marble Bar and other places. Teachers come into town and they cannot quite work out why people will not talk to each other and why there is no support for this and no support for that, because they do not understand the cultural history and what has gone on in a place that has led to the relationship. Ian and Colleen are both fabulous people helping us with that.

So we at times take a slightly different approach. It does not mean that we do not have programs. We do. We have targeted programs. I could list them all. They would be similar in other states. What we wanted to do differently is have a framework of meaning rather than just random programs where, if they join up, that is all good luck. We did not want to take that approach.

Mr Hale : I would like to make a couple of comments. One of the important things is the primacy we see of the school as the centre for delivering education but also as the support and connection to community. There are a number of synergies that are able to emerge. You are probably aware that we have been on a significant journey, as have other systems, but we have really accelerated the devolution agenda in recent years, which means we have put a high premium on local decision-making. One of the reasons for that is that, obviously, we want close connection with the local community. That fits perfectly with the Cultural Standards Framework. It is about direct responsiveness to the community and direct competence in that community, broadly in educational terms but specifically in terms of Aboriginal cultural terms and Aboriginal community and family terms as well.

Ms O'Neill : We have performance indicators in it, which is different to most other approaches where they want to measure the programs, program by program. We want to measure the outcomes. I am not sure that you have a copy of our Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework. We can provide you with one. Perhaps I can give you that so that at least you can cast your eye over it. We will provide other copies.

Mr SNOWDON: Staffing in remote schools is an in issue, I imagine, so how do you address the churn in teachers in the bush?

Ms O'Neill : We have a remote teaching service with a distinct attraction and recruitment staffing strategy. We have had that for some time. They are obviously paid additional sums of money to be where they are and there are other benefits in terms of permanence and right of return back to the city and trips to the coast. That is a longstanding industrial agreement. In places in Western Australia, our teachers are among the best paid nationally. We work with those groups of people and graduates in particular. We have an outstanding graduate program where they have less face-to-face time and mentors and support. We have done a lot of work in the area. We are fully staffed. We had a big shortage in 2007. We have pretty good arrangements and I think our staffing is settled. That does not mean that we do not have challenges. We do, and we work with those constantly, as do other states.

Mr SNOWDON: One of the questions I want to ask is: how you guarantee cultural competency for new teachers going to a bush school, given that the cultural awareness will be different for people who live in the southwest to up in the cape?

Ms O'Neill : That is some of the work that we want to do when they are coming into the school. I would not say that we are there yet. It is part of the work that we want to do so that they can be—inducted is probably not the right word—informed around the cultural parameters in each different place, because it can be vastly different. That is the work that Colleen and Ian will help us with. Even though it is, obviously, outside some of their own cultural areas, they are going to give us assistance with that. I would hope that more of that work is done at the university level—

Mr SNOWDON: Good luck with that.

Ms O'Neill : That is what I hope. It is difficult because it is place by place and sometimes it comes down to person by person. We have AIEOs; we have our Aboriginal workers who are not always local, but many of them are and we work with them to assist us. Perhaps you could talk about the lands as a good example.

Mr Hale : I think partly where the Director General was going was that some of this can be done, and needs to be done very effectively, in the school community and in the community. A broad sense of cultural awareness might be something you can gain while you are an undergraduate teacher or as you are being inducted into the service. But the real cultural competence, connection and building of relationships has to occur in that school in that community.

However, there are some standout examples. One would be our recent executive principal out in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Kevin O'Keefe. Kevin spent four years out there for us. He was a former executive director in our department. He is now working again with us, through Statewide Services, on the Cultural Standards Framework and its implementation. At the beginning of this year, for instance, I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time at the Lands School induction here in the city, where they actually commenced that process of introducing people to the culture that they were going to experience. They had current staff—non-Aboriginal staff and, most importantly, Aboriginal staff, AIEOs and also a cultural community liaison officer—who were all in attendance. That was part of their induction. They are not all graduates, by the way. The other good news with the lands has been that we have been able to gain, largely through Kevin's efforts, experienced people—so people later in their careers who are looking for a different opportunity. Maybe their family circumstances have changed and now they feel able to not only begin a career in a remote community school, but finish one as well. There is some really good practice there. That is part of what we are doing with the Cultural Standards Framework and other changes we are making—learning from that good practice and instructing our school leaders in what that good practice looks like and how to enact it.

Ms O'Neill : As you would be aware, it is pretty challenging because in some communities there are competing—I would not say versions—groups that would have schools have different information. It needs to be worked through pretty sensitively.

Mr Hale : Similarly, that can go to the extent that in some communities—the history of the southwest of our state is a little different—there will be a number of language groups, for instance. If you want to teach an Aboriginal language, then there will have to be serious discussion about what language it will be or which languages it will be, who will teach it, who will be taught it and whether it can be taught.

Mr SNOWDON: Your Aboriginal education subcommittee—who is on it, how is it formed and what does it do?

Ms O'Neill : Cabinet in Western Australia had, under the previous government, a subcommittee about Aboriginal affairs and we were required to have a subcommittee under that cabinet structure. There is that subcommittee, but I also have a subcommittee of my corporate executive, which are the senior people around directions and programs for Aboriginal education.

Mr SNOWDON: It does not have Aboriginal people running it? It is a professional subcommittee of the department?

Ms O'Neill : Yes.

Mr SNOWDON: Many moons ago—I am not sure if they still exist; the moons that is—there used to be Aboriginal education advisory bodies in every state and territory. Do you have one of those here?

Ms O'Neill : We did have, and now we do not.

Mr SNOWDON: When did it go?

Ms O'Neill : A couple of years ago. It was called the Aboriginal Education and Training Council in Western Australia. It might be three or four years, but it was within the last five years.

CHAIR: Thanks to Sharyn, Stephen and Lindsay for joining us here today. If you have been asked to provide additional information—and there have been some further requests for information—could you provide that to the secretariat by 25 May. You will get a copy of the transcript, and if there is something on there that you did not say please let us know. Thank you very much coming here today and giving us your time; it was really appreciated.