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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs - 21/03/2016 - Educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

CHEREDNICHENKO, Professor Brenda, President, Australian Council of Deans of Education

DONOVAN, Mr Michael, Lecturer, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

FORD, Dr Margot, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Newcastle

GRUPPETTA, Associate Professor Maree, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

HUNTRISS, Miss Belinda, Indigenous Academic Engagement Officer, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

JOHNSON, Mr Peter, Chair, MATSITI Evaluation Panel

MORGAN, Professor Bob, International Engagement Officer, The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle

PARKES, Dr Robert, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Newcastle

TEMPLEMAN, Mr David, Executive Director, Australian Council of Deans of Education

[11:47]

ACTING CHAIR: I remind everybody that these are formal proceedings of parliament, so everything you say should be factual and honest. It is considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. As I mentioned before, these hearings are public hearings. There will be a transcript made available of everything that is said in this session and that will come to you in around 10 days time after today's hearings and you will have an opportunity to make any corrections that might be required.

We had a terrific welcome to country earlier this morning, but I again extend the committee's respects to the Pambalong clan and the Awabakal people on whose land we meet today. Has anybody prepared an opening statement?

Mr Templeman : The simplest way to describe the Australian Council of Deans of Education is representative on behalf of all deans of education nationally. It has a board made up of those deans of which the current executive dean of education at the Australian Catholic University, Professor Tania Aspland, is the president. I am here in that capacity.

I think it is important for today, especially when we are talking about teacher education, to put on the table where the whole issue of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers sits within a national context. We have about 450,000 registered teachers in Australia and about 300,000 of those are in work. There are 40,000 initial teacher education students and 76 per cent of those get a job when they finish their teacher training. However, we have some problems. In the first two to five years, we have a pattern of about three to five per cent of them leaving the workforce. As an example, in 2014, an average of 5.7 per cent left the workforce: 21,500 teachers left the workforce in that time. In the Northern Territory, around 16 per cent left the workforce. When we relate this to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, we have about 3,500 teachers and 60 per cent of those teachers graduate and get employment but 70 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers leave their course during the training they are undertaking. I know that issues were raised by my colleagues here this morning, but I think it is important to put on the table some data and statistics which are relevant to this committee of inquiry when it is looking at an overall context and, more importantly, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers.

Mr PERRETT: Just to clarify: what was number for current teacher students?

Mr Templeman : Forty thousand in initial teacher training in total. My colleagues here may want to amplify on some of the data that I have provided to reinforce some of the things that are relevant to this inquiry.

ACTING CHAIR: Who would like to follow on from Mr Templeman's evidence?

Prof. Cherednichenko : I can add something specific on teacher education. I am the immediate past president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education. I am also the Executive Dean for Arts and Education at Deakin University. David has raised a number of points. I would like to add some comments about the inclusion and success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander initial teacher education students in university programs, their journey through the profession and some of the huge challenges that face us as a nation in changing the profession, the look and feel of the profession, and the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers very respectfully in both programs and as part of the teaching profession.

For me, it is a case of we are all in this together. This is not just an issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; this is an issue for Australia. This is an issue for all teachers in Australia and for all teacher educators in Australia. How do we provide initial teacher education and their whole professional learning journey so that we can grow and have flourish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in our profession so that they may grow and have flourish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the school system, the education system? There are a number of layers to this and it is really important that we consider the whole breadth of the context and the environment and consider our solutions as whole-of-profession solutions, not just solutions for our colleagues in Indigenous centres in universities but for the whole of universities. It is not just initial teacher education; it is also how we encourage and have greater success for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students in their first degrees, remembering that 40 per cent of those who come to teacher education come with prior study. They are not just coming straight from school or even straight from life experience; they have a degree or something else that they bring. So it is the entire educational journey that we need to look at if we are going to build the teaching profession.

ACTING CHAIR: Before we go on, I want to come back to something Mr Templeman raised in evidence. If I heard you correctly, you said that there is an attrition rate of something like 70 per cent for Indigenous men and women undergoing teacher training. This came up in our discussions last week in Canberra. I understand that came out of some research undertaken by the council of deans as to the current snapshot of the state of teacher training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Can the committee have access to those findings and that research?

Mr Templeman : I do not see any difficulty with the council being able to provide you with something, Chair.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. What were the take-home messages from the research? That is a pretty alarming figure.

Mr Templeman : I think there are a number of issues, building on what the professor said before, and we need to understand this nationally. This affects all of the community. There are what are referred to as particular walking points in terms of why these students might leave. As has already been mentioned, they come from a variety of different backgrounds and skill sets and things like this. We need to have a far better appreciation of impacts such as what the first year at university is like in terms of the exposure at university for not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers but all teachers. But, more importantly, we need to have a really good understanding that this is another land. There are issues around family and community that need to be appreciated by all involved in this particular activity. There are times when the idea of having an assessment due might be understood generally by other students but may not necessarily be understood by some of these people from a different background who have a different understanding.

Things occur during and after practicum where they have had opportunities to extend themselves, and sometimes that can end up raising particular issues. There needs to be careful nurturing and understanding about what sort of environment they are going into and how they will be looked after in that particular space. Of course, they see the final year being very significant in terms of pressure points. Financial hardship is another circumstance that comes up, with 41 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students leaving because of financial difficulty issues compared to 25 per cent of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Cultural safety is another big issue to be well across, and a lot of us do not understand that. We need a very careful understanding of those sorts of issues.

I think the last comment relates to issues around the academic language that we tend to use in these sorts of environments. It can be a very foreign and quite threatening. We deal with this in many institutions. We have to become very flexible in running particular programs and very aware. We see good examples where people are well aware of these particular circumstances and they are mindful of the flexibility that is needed to ensure that these people get the right level of mentoring and support. That is probably enough in answer to your question. Sorry that my response is so comprehensive and complex, but I think it is important that we have an appreciation that these are very critical issues in supporting the needs of these people.

ACTING CHAIR: When was the research completed and for how long have you known what the picture looks like?

Mr Templeman : I painted a picture about 2014, which is some of the data that I last got. Peter Johnson may add more in relation to the recent evaluation of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative. It has some significant data which will reinforce some of the things that I have said. It is what we would probably draw on to provide the committee with additional information in answering your initial question about validation and what is required.

Mr PERRETT: Mr Templeman, did you benchmark that against non-Indigenous? You did say it but I did not write it down.

Mr Templeman : Those are the specific points that are really related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers. I am not saying that some of those things do apply with regard to non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers. I mentioned a figure for financial hardship of 41 per cent as opposed to 25 per cent as to why people might leave their particular program. In terms of a specific answer, everything has not been benchmarked yet about every aspect of those particular things. I just think that, from the point of view of our understanding, there are significant gaps there and we do need to have a far more appreciative understanding of this area.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. Perhaps we might open up discussion down this end of the table.

Mr Donovan : I am a Gumbaynggirr man. I work at Wollotuka. My primary role within the University of Newcastle is teaching pre-service teachers within an actual studies course that is a mandatory part of their program. Approximately 1,000 students come through our doors across the three campuses. As a mandatory program it has been a long program. It was supported by the school of education in about 1998, in their review, and it was made a mandatory program from early childhood through to secondary. It has been around for quite a while. We have adjusted accordingly and many of the staff we have had there for a while, so it has been very positive.

On top of that, I am also a PhD student completing a degree in best pedagogical practice in engaging Aboriginal students. I use student voices as evidence, so I interviewed students at a variety of sites in New South Wales and used their voices to find out what is best about schools, teachers and curricula, so my response will relate to those sorts of things. Hi Sharon, we have met a lot, with you being around this area a lot.

ACTING CHAIR: It is lovely to see you again.

Mr Donovan : In relation to pre-service teachers, we have had positive change. I have to admit that in the 20 or so years I have been involved in higher education there has been some positive change, and in 25 years in education there has been some positive change. I am still young enough to say that I am very impatient and there should be greater change. At the same time, with the issues that are drawn upon by state governments to highlight the positive success, there is no real evidence of success for Aboriginal students in closing that gap—at all. That gap has been maintained. There have been increases in Aboriginal outcomes but they increase at the exact same level as other students' increases. I will mainly talk about New South Wales as that is where I spend most of my time working. In New South Wales there was an increase in the school leaving age, but they did change the leaving age the year before and it kind of matched that. I cannot exactly state that is why it was changed, but it changed on that one year and it has kind of levelled out the following year and years after that. So as to whether or not there is any success, there is no clear evidence.

There are lots of positive teachers, really good, hardworking teachers. Through my involvement with the New South Wales AECG, I constantly speak to many schools and many teachers about positive things that are occurring. But again there is no systematic framework for everyone to change. Just to highlight that, I will quickly point to the Stronger Smarter work. The research points out that Stronger Smarter is a net success. Stronger Smarter can be a success as it occurred in the one school where Chris originally worked, because everyone got on board. Every teacher, every staff member, supported the principles and ideals and there was positive change in the engagement—not the educational outcomes. It might have taken a bit longer for that to occur but the engagement of those students occurred.

I did a review of New South Wales for Stronger Smarter as part of that research and, across all the sites that we did, we saw elements that it worked. Senior staff picked it up, certain faculties picked it up, but not the whole school—so there was no positive change. That is primarily looking at expectations of teachers—teachers having a non-deficit idea of Aboriginal students. From my research that is a really important issue. The students did say that school was good, but they also said that school was social, and that is why they engaged with the school. They engaged with certain teachers because they were people who could engage with them. Again, that is a really good educational practice. It is not just unique to Aboriginal students. It was because their identity was an element recognised by the teachers.

There is the idea of relationship. I do staff development days where I talk to teachers. They always roll their eyes when I talk about the idea of relationship. That is fair enough. It is a positive thing and they understand it is a positive thing. If you are talking to a student who is from a different cultural background to yourself, you as the educational professional do not expect them to catch up to you. You have to twist yourself around to come from the student's standpoint. In Australian society we have very limited understanding of Aboriginal society as a population, and that includes teachers. These are educational professionals who are supposed to be supporting these students. Without engagement by teachers and the change in understanding, these things will not occur. At times, it really is up to teachers. In Newcastle we do a good job. Most universities are doing positive things. I have been fortunate enough to hear the Council of Deans of Education speak at a few forums over the last few years as well as other educational professionals at different forums. Lots of positive things are occurring. Preservice teachers are stepping into the system. I speak to students on a regular basis and sometimes they say, as a student steps into the classroom, 'Yeah, that's university stuff. In the real world, we do it this way.' Making that systematic change is what needs to occur for any positive change to really work.

Who has the power to make those changes? I would love to have a big pair of boots and walk through schools, but that is not possible. Real axiology needs to be done—a value change in Australian society for it to occur. In some discussions we had earlier with Wollotuka, we talked about the idea that racism is a feature within Australian society. External bodies point their finger at Australian society. The UPR last week highlighted that again. It is not just what I feel myself. It is something that has been identified by other external bodies.

ACTING CHAIR: Dealing with how to manage the issue of racism was raised in our earlier discussion this morning. How is that dealt with in terms of teacher training now? If I were a young non-Indigenous student enrolled to become a teacher, does my course adequately prepare me for understanding what racism looks like, feels like, tastes like and smells like, I guess, in schools? How might I manage that as a teacher?

Mr Donovan : I can make a little comment about what we do at Wollotuka. We have a lecture about racism. I bring it up a couple of times during the semester and, again, students roll their eyes. We try to talk about it in an open forum. Within our school is the idea of working with students and using positive pedagogical practices. We have lots of discussions and get people to look at multiple standpoints and then discuss those standpoints. There are readings, lectures and student discussion, and students select that. I am not sure what Rob and Margaret would suggest about the school of education, but they might be able to add some more about that.

Dr Ford : At the University of Newcastle, we do a reasonably good job. We mapped the courses for our teacher education programs a couple of years ago for the MATSITI project. I think they were mapped across the country. We found that there is a considerable percentage of courses that specifically address Indigenous issues here. As well as having the course that is run through Wollotuka, we have several other courses where it is mentioned specifically, so it is embedded in our programs. My field of expertise is race and racism. It is one of the most difficult things to address. It is very difficult. One of the things that perhaps students from an Indigenous background face is what happens when they are on their professional experiences. That is outside of the control, in a sense, of a university when they are stepping into schools. Those can be very difficult places for Indigenous students and, more generally, students of colour.

In the conversations I have had, they are very reluctant to mention that a specific incident may be racist; in fact, they do everything to try and argue that it is something else. It is an issue and I completely agree that what is going on in schools, what is going on in teacher education and what is going on with the teachers and the communities needs to be looked at holistically.

I worked at Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education for quite a while and I also worked at Charles Darwin University, so I have quite a bit of expertise of the Northern Territory. The inequality of achievement in the Northern Territory is the most serious and the most extraordinary—possibly, I would argue—in the world. I have been looking into this worldwide, and the gaps are 50 percentage points at year 3 reading, as an example, from the NAPLAN in the Northern Territory, and I have yet to find another country that has that kind of a gap with their most disadvantaged to their advantaged. So I think we have an incredibly serious problem, particularly in remote areas. And of course the Northern Territory stands out because of the nature of its remoteness, but WA and Queensland are not that far behind.

In terms of teacher preparation and teacher education, there are some communities in the Northern Territory where the turnover of teachers is eight months. In support of the idea of the development of relationships, which sits at the core of good teaching practice for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers in schools with high-density Aboriginal students. An eight-month turnover is a shocking idea, particularly in remote communities when you think about the patience of local people. Time and time and time again local people invest themselves when new non-Aboriginal teachers come to a school; to enculturate them, teach them some language, take them on a journey of being in that community. And time and time and time again, the teachers leave.

So, in terms of teacher education, we need to be doing an awful lot more in preparing teachers generally for working with Indigenous students across the board.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you have a view as to whether there is a best practice model in existence? Maybe it is here. When I put the question to MATSITI around the review they did across the nation on the universities, they were pretty frank. They said one-third of Australian universities do it well, one-third are mediocre and one-third are atrocious. For the committee, that is some pretty alarming news. But, if that is the reality we are dealing with, let's face it. Obviously there are at least some making real efforts to deliver a higher standard teacher-training experience and better outcomes for Indigenous students in both their experience of their education and the outcomes they receive. Do you have a view as to whether there exists here in Australia some best practice models, or do we look overseas?

Dr Ford : I was thinking about this. I am also part of a program called the National Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools, which is privately funded through Origin's philanthropy arm. It is now a national project. It originally came out of Queensland University of Technology. In that model, we target students with high academic achievement and we mentor them through their last two years of university and then into schools. They are specifically chosen because they indicate they want to work in low-SES schools. Therefore, we target them and we place them in low-SES schools—in their professional experiences—we support them when they are out there.

And of course some of those schools have high Aboriginal populations. However, something like that—that specifically targets Indigenous and non-Indigenous preservice teachers that have indicated an interest in working in Aboriginal schools—to support them and provide them with the kinds of targeted training embedded within their program may help to at least provide them with more preparation than they are currently getting particularly those that want go to schools like that perhaps.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Professor Gruppetta.

Prof. Gruppetta : I am acting dean so, I think, that is why they gave me the professor—it is only for a few weeks though.

ACTING CHAIR: Congratulations on the promotion.

Prof. Gruppetta : I do not think I will get to keep it.

Mr PERRETT: That is not what the Hansard will say.

ACTING CHAIR: We have got you as Professor.

Prof. Gruppetta : My regular role is research engagement but I am a teacher. I taught in primary schools. I taught in secondary schools. I teach into 3 500 with Michael, which is the Indigenous education program. One of the things I am sure that Robert will mention at some point is our concern about the new rules about testing teachers—before they come into university to enrol—on their maths and their literacy level because we really feel that is going to put a lot of our people out of the running. Not because they could not pass the test but because they will fear the test so badly they will not try.

ACTING CHAIR: Can you tell me what this new requirement is?

Dr Parkes : I will speak to that. I am the Deputy Head of School, Teaching and Learning in school education here. It is not a requirement coming in as such so that is not quite correct. We have a new requirement for three band fives one of which must be in English for the HSC before you can come into teacher education. Our university, because we are committed to a range of equity targets, allows the students to come in and we have restructured our program to meet the creditors requirements which are that they then have a full year of discipline before they move on so that we did not automatically exclude people. It does not mean that they do not exclude themselves because of the way they perceive the kind of intent. But now before students can go on their final professional experience placement in New South Wales they have to pass the national literacy and numeracy tests and there are lots of debates about that across the country. Some states want to see it as a registration requirement. In New South Wales currently it is a graduation requirement so if you do not pass the test you cannot graduate from your degree. That is the test that Mareeis talking about.

ACTING CHAIR: To be clear, we would have varying standards—each state and territory has their own take on what this requirement is going to look like?

Dr Parkes : Yes. What has happened is the state minister in New South Wales brought it in six months in advance—more or less—of other states but there is a point where they will line up. Maybe the Council of Deans want to respond to that—

ACTING CHAIR: We will have harmonising requirements.

Mr PERRETT: You can give us the federation view.

ACTING CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Johnson : I am currently chairing the MATSITI evaluation. I previously worked as executive director of people and services in the New South Wales department so looking after all the HR function within that department and within that was teacher recruitment. I represented the department in ASOCon the 98 committee through ATSIL which looked at this very issue. I have a great concern, as do some of my colleagues here, that the imposition of additional requirements on top of courses that are already very well structured will in fact impact on Aboriginal students that are going through them. In New South Wales the Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, took a step through great teaching inspired learning to what he saw as raising the bar in terms of entry to teacher education programs. It was in response to a lot of very bad press about the standard of teachers—

Mr PERRETT: For New South Wales education department employees?

Mr Johnson : It is for people coming in to teach in New South Wales because—

Mr PERRETT: Non-government as well as government?

Mr Johnson : The minister has responsibility for BOSTES, which is the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards, which accredits teachers to teach in New South Wales and as—

Mr PERRETT: Is that like the board of teacher registration in Queensland?

Mr Johnson : Exactly, it is a comparable organisation. So he raised the bar there, which was above what was being proposed in the national standard. But it does present that issue that unless there are other alternatives for Aboriginal students coming into our programs in New South Wales then it could disadvantage them through that.

If I can backtrack to one of the things that the ACDE was mentioning, they actually had a very substantial project through the MATSITI project. In that project, they focused on the relationship between the Indigenous units in universities and the teacher education faculties. I think it is a fairly important part of university life that there be that relationship between those two units within the universities, that it be a positive one and that it result in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students being supported through their programs—whether it is to ensure that if they are getting a bit shaky at walking points that they are supported through those; that they are mentored; or that they are assisted with any of those difficulties that they might find which may be as result of any sort of indirect racism that might, in fact, be happening within the universities. I think that is very important part of that relationship.

Mr PERRETT: Were you in the room that I asked some questions of the preceding panel?

Mr Johnson : No, I was not.

Mr PERRETT: My question was that if you have to make a decision about where the taxpayers dollar went, a decision between academic support and cultural support, where would it go? It is a devil's advocate question. In terms of support for Indigenous trainee teachers, do they get the benefit from the academic support? Is the culture embedded in the person delivering the support? I ask because I think we heard that there is a significant number of Indigenous people providing that support. I would like Mr Donovan to answer as well.

Mr Johnson : I am not an Indigenous person.

Mr PERRETT: I know, you are dried bean counter, in a way.

Mr Johnson : Oh well—

Mr PERRETT: You have done HR for New South Wales education department. I do not say that in a pejorative way. I am interested in the empirical knowledge that comes from that profession.

Mr Johnson : Can I suggest I was a bean counter with a heart?

Mr PERRETT: There is nothing wrong with bean counters!

Mr Johnson : I actually recognise that very issue, the cultural obstacles that face a non-Indigenous person supporting Indigenous people, whether it is through university programs or through employment. I faced that in my own role that I had as director of staffing services prior to my recent one. I started in that role in 2004. We had a very poor take-up rate of teachers into employment in New South Wales, despite the fact that we had a Teaching Service Act that gave those people ultimate priority for appointment and despite the fact that we had staffing agreements with the union to give them priority. We still had a poor take-up rate. We had something like 33 new employments of Aboriginal people back in 2003.

One of the problems was that anyone trying to support those people from in that office, whether they were going into programs, finishing programs or starting teaching, was a non-Indigenous person. I identified that issue. I created five Indigenous identified positions within the team. The responsibilities of that team were to support people through education programs; to liaise with them; to mentor them; to put them onto local support from whatever mob they belonged to locally so that we could support them through those programs; and then to continue that support through their early years of teaching and beyond, if that were required. We also made sure we were very closely associated with the Indigenous officer at the New South Wales Teachers Federation so we could support them there too.

Mr PERRETT: By the time you left, had there been success?

Mr Johnson : We were averaging around 130 or 140 appointments, new employments, into teaching each year from Indigenous people—and it reaps benefits.

Mr PERRETT: I was wondering if Mr Donovan or Miss Huntriss could reply. I say this through this context. When I finished my teaching degree, I think Chris Sarra was to starting his work at the same university so I know Chris reasonably well. I know he can talk about this, but in terms of that helping hand and guidance, I saw the incredible benefits for someone who might, perhaps, like so many people have flunked out in that first six months, which is an incredibly stressful time.

Miss Huntriss : I work at Wollotuka part time as an academic engagement officer. I came through Wollotuka as a teaching student, back in 2003. I also work part time, two days a week, at a Catholic school as a teacher. I am doing my master's in Aboriginal education as well as being mum to a two-year-old. That is where I am at with everything.

Mr PERRETT: A very lazy woman, by the sounds of it!

Miss Huntriss : I can relate everything that we are talking about to a personal story of my experiences as an Aboriginal student going through uni and also being a teacher now. In terms of the academic and cultural support, when I came through Newcastle University—Michael was one of my teachers in first year and now I am teaching the class alongside him as a tutor—I was the first in my family to go to uni, but I made my mum come to university with me for the first week. That is how terrified I was. That was my first ever experience of stepping foot on university soil. For me it was not the academic support that I wanted or needed; it was the cultural support. There is the cultural support that a place like Wollotuka has provided me with over the years. I still have lifelong friends, students that have gone through as teachers. We are still connected 10 years later. I think my life would have taken a totally different path if I had not engaged with Wollotuka.

In terms of now, the financial barriers are still a big problem. I had to put my master's on hold because it is still a financial problem. I have a lot of family responsibilities and that kind of thing. My role is as an Aboriginal education teacher in the Catholic system. It is a non-identified position. It is the first year my school has had an Aboriginal person in the position. I am working with staff, students, whatever direction I want to take it in, as a teacher, not as an Aboriginal education assistant. My main focus is trying to work with staff on cultural awareness and engagement. I randomly put an Aboriginal education policy on the staffroom desk the other day and I was going around secretly trying to quiz the teachers about it. Literally the only people in my school that knew about it were the principal and the deputy principal. Those are the conversations I am having with student teachers in our Aboriginal education course.

When I have been in other departments and schools, nobody even knows that they are supposed to be doing this mandatory policy. My school is really open to everything I want to do and we have implemented a whole bunch of things. But the staff's understanding of Aboriginal culture is so limited. In one of our tutorials last week with our student teachers, I did a cultural quiz. One of the questions was: what are the colours of the Aboriginal flag and what do they mean? Not one person in my class of student teachers could tell me what that meant. That kind of broke my heart. I have a two-year-old child that can speak his own Aboriginal language at home and all this sort of stuff. For them to not even know 'this is who we are'—I said to the student teachers, 'We did this with our kindergarten and infants kids last week, and they all knew it.' So what are we sending our student teachers out with?

At the same time, from the other perspective, as the only Aboriginal person in my school, I feel like I do not want it to rest upon me, because my job is only a contract; it is not permanent position. If I leave, I am worried that it is all going to crumble. That is why I am trying to get the whole school involved and say: 'This is not just up to me to do. It is up to everybody to be doing this.' I think it is a big problem that a lot of our Aboriginal teachers are facing—all of the pressure and everything Aboriginal comes our way, and really it is everyone's responsibility. I do not know whether you agree with that or not, but that is my experience. I just wanted to say my part.

ACTING CHAIR: It is a point very well made. I am very conscious that I chopped you off midstream, Professor, so please go on.

Prof. Gruppetta : I would add to what Belinda was saying in terms of people relying on the one person in the school, and that is the other reason for the high attrition rates for beginning teachers. The Aboriginal representation in the teachers union tells them when they go out in the first year not to take on an ATSI role, because they cannot do it while they are learning to teach—it is too hard.

In relation to the percentage that leave during training, the other thing was financial issues. I thought carer roles might be a problem for practicum for students as well. That is what we get anecdotally from students. They cannot actually do a prac when they have to leave their children at eight o'clock in the morning and they have no way of paying. How do they do their prac in the school with their other sorts of roles? If they have an elderly person in their family or they have some other kind of carer roles, then it does make it very difficult, particularly for the internship which is a 10-week practicum. They are not getting any financial support for that and they cannot work, but they still have to somehow manage their children, their families and other things, or possibly lose their jobs if they are casual positions. Apart from the financial issues, there are also a lot of carer roles that would contribute to that, which they may say is a financial issue but it might actually be because they need the money to pay for the carer if they are not doing the carer role—I think that is another matter. Lastly, the other thing I want to mention is the issue of preschooling. Interestingly, in the last two weeks, Wollotuka has had three calls from preschools asking us whether we do in-service training for cultural competency in teaching about Aboriginal knowledge or for teaching Aboriginal children. It is not something that we actually do but we might have to look at it because there seems to be a need.

ACTING CHAIR: Professor Morgan.

Prof. Morgan : There are some things that have been said this morning that I generally support. I know the journey that Belinda spoke of. It is the common experience and the common journey for too many of our Aboriginal people in the academy. I am going to take us back to why we opened universities to Aboriginal people. It was fundamentally about teacher education. In 1979, the national inquiry into teacher education identified, at that time, that there were probably only 72 trained and qualified Aboriginal teachers in Australia—not in New South Wales, but right across Australia. So the National Aboriginal Education Committee, which I was a member of at the time, argued for the development of a strategy to rapidly increase the number of teachers in classrooms. That became known as the 1,000 Aboriginal Teachers by 1990 strategy. We did not achieve 1,000 teachers by 1990 but it was a target that we thought might bring some attention to the needs of Aboriginal people in respect of teacher education. There were a number of assumptions made at that time around teacher education. One was that if we had more Aboriginal teachers in classrooms then that would in and of itself bring about improving the educational and learning experience of our kids. There is no empirical evidence, anywhere that I am familiar with, that says that that is true; in fact, we spoke some while ago about the number of Aboriginal teachers who are exiting the profession. Just this morning, it was reported to me that there are three Aboriginal teachers on the Central Coast of New South Wales who have decided to drop the profession of teaching because of racism. I do not think we are prepared, as a nation, to really look at this elephant in the room called racism and deal with it effectively. I think we would all like to pretend that it does not exist. It does exist for our people, particularly those people who are visibly Aboriginal. I mention this because in respect of the question of identity and the whole question of Aboriginality I know that when we did a review and report on Aboriginality we demonstrated empirically that that there were a number of people claiming to be Aboriginal who were applying for teacher scholarships that were offered by the department. We pointed that out in the report. I think the whole question of ethnic fraud is an issue that needs to addressed.

The number of people who are saying that they are Aboriginal who are now influencing and shaping public policy, whether it is in teacher education or what have you, is a critical issue for our country to address. In terms of best practice, I think there is no best-practice model, that I am aware of, in Australia, where teacher education institutions are getting it right. We do it reasonably well at Newcastle but we are just scraping the surface. We are scraping the surface for a number of reasons: firstly, we are still training teachers to teach in a fundamentally Eurocentric learning environment. 'We will train you in Eurocentric way, then we will send you out to a community.' Even in some schools that I worked at, where there are 98 per cent Aboriginal enrolments, those teachers are trained to teach in a white learning environment. They might do an occasional course on Aboriginal studies, or whatever, in some of the teacher education programs but it is not enough. We need to be structuring our teacher education programs so that our teachers who do go to these places know the fullness of the journey that Aboriginal people are on.

So the policy is a farce. We have had an Aboriginal education policy in New South Wales underpinning teacher education since 1982. I was one of the people who drafted it, but it has sat on the table of the department since 1982 trying to identify the way in which systems could change their ways. One generation later, we are still sitting around trying to work out where have we gone wrong. It is a fundamental failure of systems to accommodate Aboriginal aspiration.

I heard this morning the quantitative arguments about the numbers and all that, but that only tells part of the story. I really plead that in your deliberations—and knowing some of the members as I do, I know that you will get into this—it is important not to just look at the stats. The stats will paint a picture but a certain picture. I am also concerned about the qualitative nature of our relationship. What is the relationship between Aboriginal people and schools? And when we look at the way in which we train teachers to go out and work in those systems, what is the relationship between the community, Aboriginal people and the teachers? I do not think we do that very well in Australia and I think that we are suffering the consequences of that.

With the Stronger Smarter program set up by Chris Sarra at Cherbourg in Queensland—you have to understand that Chris had total control over what happened in that school. He was able to select the teachers that he employed, that worked with him. He set in place a very strong community engagement. He employed Aboriginal people in his office and he would not meet with anyone unless the Aboriginal person also sat in on the meetings. The circumstances that were at Cherbourg are the same types of circumstances that are in many of the schools that we are training teachers to go out and teach in, but we do not train the teachers effectively enough to deal with that reality.

I am alarmed that we are not talking about the racism, as I have mentioned, and the failure of genuine engagement with our people. I do not want to be sitting in these types of forums for the next 20 years talking about 'what is' and 'if only we had done that'. For 30 or 40 years I have been doing this and it really frustrates me that we are still talking about the same old things that we talked about 40 years ago. I think that Wollotuka, and the staff at Wollotuka, do a magnificent job—but we do not control the agenda. At the end of the day, our relationship is a guest relationship with the academy. At the end of the day, the people who make the decisions are non-Aboriginal people about Aboriginal issues. That is the paradigm that has to be shifted and we will not see any progress until that guest paradigm actually shifts.

There are a number of other things but I will leave it there. I just want to vent my frustration with the way in which we are, I think, creating a picture that, 'If only we had funding to do this, then it would be better.' It is not just about funding. Or, 'If only we could do something about keeping Aboriginal people in systems.' If the system is fine and it is working to provide cultural affirmation as well as intellectual enrichment, then that is good. My argument would be: systems are not doing either of those things well enough.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr NEUMANN: Mr Donovan, you are absolutely right about the data. You mentioned closing the gap. The data for year 12 attainment was based on the penultimate year of the last Labor government in 2012-13. It was a disgrace that the government could not have up-to-date information about that.

Dr Ford, you talked about the Northern Territory government. Since 2012-13 the Northern Territory government has $272 million extra, yet they have cut the funding to government schools by $28 million and increased the funding to private school by $39 million. Some of the schools I have visited in remote communities in the Northern Territory are as bad as the houses in the Northern Territory. Thank you for your evidence. At Curtin University they have a Bachelor of Education (Regional and Remote) course, which, according to the Australian Education Union, has been cut. I am interested in your view of that type of course in preparing student teachers to go, say, to the Northern Territory and teach. Some of the teachers I have met look younger than my daughters. They have limited or no knowledge of the local language. Should we take a national approach with such courses?

Mr Johnson : The whole issue of who goes out to these schools is problematic in the first place, regardless of what program they go through. For someone to go out to a remote community or even to an isolated town in New South Wales and to teach in that area they are dislocating from their friends, their family and their community. How you incentivise them to get out there is an issue. Many governments have tried many different things to compensate people for that dislocation. They have tried various routines to have them out there for a limited tenure and then bring them back. You can go and look at that from state to state.

One of the biggest problems is that not only do you have young teachers out there but you have young leaders out there—you have inexperienced principals, inexperienced executive staff in those schools—and when issues arise, as Prof Morgan said, people do not recognise them and do not train people appropriately for them. There is no support for those people who are out there to adequately respond to that. You are looking at inexperience supporting inexperience. It is something that requires a national solution. That is evident through the work that we have looked at through the MATSITI evaluation. A national solution to all of these issues is needed, rather than look at state borders over and over again to see the kids who are going to Boggabilla Central School get a raw deal and just across the border in Goondiwindi everything is fine. It does need a national solution and it needs one that goes across borders.

Mr NEUMANN: You want to have a look at Cherbourg compared to Murgon right now.

Prof. Cherednichenko : I will chip in about the Curtin program and a different program in South Australia at Flinders around regional and remote preparation of principals. It is a graduate program and there are a number of initiatives. My experience of Western Australia is that it is very difficult to encourage teachers to work in distant places. I will not be extreme about it. I agree with Peter and I definitely agree with Bob that we have to think about a system-wide change in perspective and a different approach to the way we work in education that respects Indigenous people and cultures, regardless of whether there is one person in a school or it is a school in a remote community in the Northern Territory. It is a whole-of-system approach. Unfortunately, this is a federal government inquiry, which probably does not have the reach into the state systems. How do we bring people together nationally around this in a policy sense? That seems to me to be the best way to get systemic change because no graduate of a two-year or a four-year program is going to be ready 100 per cent for any particular environment in which they move to teach. At least one teacher on the panel will know that, no matter where you do your teacher preparation, teacher education is a journey and it is a professional lifelong journey rather than just an initial teacher education journey.

That said, I absolutely agree that universities have a much stronger role to play. I would draw your attention to some very early work that Universities Australia is doing around Indigenous cultural competence. It is a national step that started in 2013, and they are slowly ramping a national strategy up. Again, though, that is generally universities and just universities, and it is very early days. It is not enough and it is not fast enough. How do we get systems to work together? There should be a unified, bipartisan agenda for the country, I believe. I have always considered Wollotuka to be the best exemplar of partnership based teacher education in the Aboriginal space in the country—as someone has worked outside that for a long time. If is not best practice then how do we take its leadership, and the way this university has worked in partnership with its community, the centres and the School of Education, and generalise that for universities? And how do we then get the whole of our education systems across the line? Putting the start point into one space, we are waiting a long time for change. We have to do a paradigm shift. We have to see that we can invest more strongly. The MATSITI project has been a brilliant initiative and I think there is some great work to be done in that process, but it has to have everyone behind it.

Mr Johnson : Money was mentioned before. Brenda is also on the MATSITI evaluation panel. MATSITI cost $8 million over the four years, an average of $2 million a year. It is a drop in the ocean. It is a very small amount of money to invest in such a very large issue that, as Professor Morgan was saying, was first raised in the late 1970s or early 1980s by the committee, which Paul Hughes was also on, and he is involved in the MATSITI project. You can go through any number of reports, recommendations and declarations since the early 1980s and they all come up with the same issues around Aboriginal disadvantage in education and the need to have more Aboriginal teachers out there. What the MATSITI project has obviously been able to do is focus people's minds on that issue, and to get it focused over a four-year period. From our view of it, from what we have seen, it is just starting to gain momentum.

Prof. Morgan : There is one thing that the Commonwealth can do in relation to teacher education, and that is that we should explore, and be prepared to explore bravely, the concept of setting up a process where not every university is going to be involved in teacher education. When we have, across this country, five or seven universities that demonstrate against a set of criteria their capacity to more effectively train teachers generally—not just Indigenous teachers but teachers generally—to work in Indigenous contexts, we should fund those universities appropriately, underpin it by research and a variety of other things, and then we might see some traction occurring across the board. At the moment, we take this blanket approach: all universities that are engaged in teacher education, we will fund.

Mr PERRETT: Are you saying that the national interest is not best served by letting the markets rip? I cannot believe it.

Prof. Morgan : Graham, I am not saying exactly that, but that may be how you interpret it. Again, coming back to the issue of racism—let us not be coy about this—remember the person from the University of Sydney who was oversighting the development of the national curriculum, and the way in which his views about Aboriginal people led to one of the reasons why he was asked to resign. Racism is very much entrenched in the Australian experience, and we suffer it every single day of our lives. If you are seriously going to address these issues around preparing teachers to deal with the educational and learning needs of our kids, embed it in the study of racism and the remedies to racism; embed it in the way that we train our teachers. I do not believe that we are doing it well enough. I work with enough schools to know, from the teachers that I work with, that they are scared as hell of transgressing.

CHAIR: Thank you. I know Mr Perrett has one more question, and we getting very close to time. Is there anyone who has not spoken who wants to add, and is there some supplementary evidence you need to get on the record?

Dr Ford : I think, in terms of a paradigm shift—and it does speak to notions of racism as well—that the wealth of knowledge in Aboriginal communities is absolutely extraordinary. There are communities in the Northern Territory where there are Indigenous—I would call them Indigenous—environmental scientists, working alongside whitefella scientists, producing extraordinary work that has benefit for everybody. In terms of flipping it over, I think that it is about time that the knowledge that is present in communities, with elders and other knowledgeable people, is recognised formally in a way that they can be paid to go into schools and act as teachers, within schools, of the Aboriginal knowledge so that there is a link between what I would call whitefella and blackfella knowledge, working together. There are people there who are wonderful teachers who will never be able to go through university and get trained in our system, but they are extraordinary teachers in their own right. We are not tapping into those resources in a way that we could be across many, many communities.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I do note that there are indeed now even some scientific academies and some profit-making corporates that are interested in traditional knowledge practices.

Dr Ford : Absolutely.

ACTING CHAIR: And there is a whole area of law now being devoted to the recognition of that. Your point is well taken. Mr Donovan, were you wanting to add something?

Mr Donovan : In relation to the earlier question, one of the benefits that Wollotuka has as an educational space compared to other centres is that it is staffed by Aboriginal people—the support staff and also the educational staff. Not that non-Aboriginal teachers cannot teach the content, but the way we teach it—again, our teaching practices are based in Indigenous understandings, but they are also from an Indigenous perspective. There is a slightly different way that we address material. We give students a different standpoint for that. That is a benefit of that. From our research, when school students talked about what they liked about schools, they talked about Aboriginal education workers. Having them in the school was very positive, because there was a person who was significant to them culturally in their school. And it was not just that one person but also academic support from the AEOs as well—Aboriginal education officers or Aboriginal education workers—in the school to support them. The other thing they also identified was a space—a room—like Wollotuka.

Having those aspects change in schools is beneficial for Aboriginal students. For any positive change, there is a need for some form of grand systemic change. Without that there will be a lingering of change. That also includes governments. You have got to measure this thing in more than a four-year time frame. If you are going to fund it, 10 years is a nice starting point, but a generation is much better. That means that both parties have to agree that they believe that this is something that, as a society, needs to be changed. Closing the gap is wonderful. Extend your understanding to a lot longer than a 10-year period as the target frame. It was not really funded that way, but it was argued that we would get it done by then—and that is wonderful. When we look at the education outcomes, if we halve the educational outcomes, using PISA as a standpoint, instead of year 9 Aboriginal students being two years behind, they are only one year behind. Good, but still much less. There is a grand need for a socially just society—as Australia believes itself to be—to step further forward. That is something that, as a society, we really need. This inquiry could possibly make a standpoint in that.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. We may be brave.

Mr PERRETT: I could have said this earlier, and I say it to many groups: we have a Constitution that has arrangements about funding. If you want to start the referendum for funding rounds to go outside of the constitutional time frames, I am happy to support it, but that is one of our hurdles at the moment.

My actual question goes to—and it is probably being devil's advocate again—the balancing of individual success, which is a big part of the educational process, and the identity that comes with the mob or the group or the collective. I am probably talking to people who have achieved individual success and who are sitting here as Indigenous representatives. I am wondering if you would like to make a comment on that. Perhaps through your work, working with schools—you said you interviewed people all around New South Wales, Mr Donovan. Would you like to make a comment on that in terms of bringing on those who are going to be the teachers, the role models of their communities, in terms of that? Unfortunately it comes down to individual success—not to the sacrifice of those around; we would like everyone to get the top mark at a school, but unfortunately that is not the case.

Mr Donovan : Our educational system has the standard that people have to win, and that is how it is measured—

Mr PERRETT: If you are the first person in your family to go to university—not everyone has a mum that will go with them for their first week at university. I was reading just last night about a phenomenon at universities—not so much in Indigenous communities—where onsite parents that will not leave their kids behind when they go to university. But that is a problem for another day. Would any of you like to make a comment on that?

Miss Huntriss : For me, the reason that I am doing what I am doing and the reason I am so passionate about it is not just for myself; it is for my whole family and for my son. He has had me that has done the education side—

Mr PERRETT: And your mob?

Miss Huntriss : Yes. It is all just for that. We have to lead the way so other people can follow us. My son's father finished school in year 9. He went to jail and matched the stereotype or the statistics and everything else. I am doing this so my son can have the academic side of things and the cultural side as well as understanding all the other barriers. That is why I am doing it. I am not doing it to become rich or anything, because I do not think that is going to happen.

Mr PERRETT: You are in academia and teaching.

Miss Huntriss : That's right. Getting rich isn't working out so well so far for me.

Mr PERRETT: Earlier you said you put your master's on hold because of financial constraints.

Miss Huntriss : Yes. It is pretty hard at the moment for me. I cannot speak for everyone else. That is just my family. But that is the only reason I am doing any of this; to improve things for our mob. That is the only reason.

Mr PERRETT: And is every hand in the mob a helping hand trying to lift you up, or are they trying to pull you back?

Miss Huntriss : In my case they are lifting up. They kind of see me as the representative pushing through when so many other people have not got the skills to survive in the mainstream world. Again, this is just my own thing, but they are looking for someone like me in my family to voice these things because they do not have the confidence or the knowledge or they do not understand how to speak with people who are not from Aboriginal backgrounds. They want someone to voice their thoughts and follow through with that sort of stuff.

Prof. Morgan : There is no-one in this room prouder than I am of young people like Linda and Michael that are coming through. That is why we spent all of our years almost giving up everything else to create the opportunity, so we can open up the academy to allow our kids to come and train. I just want to—

Mr PERRETT: On my question, not 20 minutes ago or an hour ago, the person sitting next to you said she came from a community where no-one was supporting kids going to school. You can give the person the examples of those at the table now. That is not the data coming out of schools and communities. That is why we are having this inquiry. We are not on a frolic of our own. We are responding to pretty horrible data and some pretty horrible stories, such as people ending up incarcerated.

Prof. Morgan : But I think that is more about the system than the community. If you are living in a place where—

Mr PERRETT: And we did not name the community, so we do not need to do that.

Prof. Morgan : With the problems they are dealing with in that community, it is a wonder that kids get up in the morning and go to school or go anywhere. It is not just about attendance or absenteeism. There is a whole range of other really critical issues that need to be looked at in that picture. I defy anyone to show me anywhere in New South Wales, or anywhere in Australia for that matter, where an Aboriginal parent says, 'I do not want my kid to get the best education they can'. They may not have the skills to be able to support their children, but it is not because they are not interested or because they do not want their kid to do well. It is because they have been traumatised not just through schooling but through racism and other things that impact on our lives. I think we have to tread very carefully. I do not disagree with Aunty—it is true that a lot of our people are not equipped to provide the levels of support that are necessary. That is why I spoke earlier about the parents and teachers model. We can do that type of stuff, but only we can do it, in the community. It cannot be something that is imposed upon us from outside. I think that we need to accept that attendance is one issue—or the lack of attendance is a challenge—but let us analyse why kids are not going to school. It is not as simple as just blaming the parents, because the parents are just one part of the equation. I think we need to be realistic about the way in which the system continues to systemically fail to deliver. But we have some great teachers—

Mr PERRETT: But we are the system. It is not this other entity; we—the community, politicians, academics and families—are the system. I do not like people getting on their horse, having a tilt at the windmills and saying we slew dragons. We are the system, and we are here today to listen to the things that might be working.

Prof. Morgan : I am sorry if you interpret my comments as just tilting at windmills or whatever—

Mr PERRETT: No, I am saying that we have to change the system.

Prof. Morgan : We do not see Aboriginal people as being part of the system.

Mr PERRETT: Okay.

Prof. Morgan : I see that system, which we have to engage with, as out there.

ACTING CHAIR: This is your 'guest relationship' that you talked about.

Prof. Morgan : Yes, our guest paradigm. When I talk about the system—we have no control over the system. We may now have Aboriginal people in parliament; we do not control parliament. We may get recognised in the Constitution; that will not shift the relationship between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people in our country. The system is broken. I think the way in which it engages honourably with our people is broken. I hope your committee and your inquiry come up with some of the solutions. I really do, because as a father and a grandfather I am really worried about the next generation. How many young kids are in institutions in juvenile justice in New South Wales? Or across the country?

ACTING CHAIR: It is huge.

Mr PERRETT: That was the inquiry this committee did two inquiries ago, chaired by Mr Neumann.

Prof. Morgan : It is 50 per cent. If we have the reality in a country like Australia where we allow 50 per cent of our kids to have an experience with incarceration, what hope do they have? What hope do we have, as the first peoples of this country? I despair. I do not see the evidence that, as a country, we are willing to move forward honourably.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you Professor Morgan. We have a group of students who are outside and very keen to talk to us. I am really sad to have to bring our discussions to a conclusion. Everybody, just before you jump in, if you feel like you have not had an opportunity to get something on the record and you want to, feel completely free to contact the secretariat with any additional information or statement that you might like to put on record. We have all been pressed for time, I acknowledge that at the outset, but do not feel like you do not have an opportunity to add something further if you feel like you have not done so this morning. Mr Templeman, you get the last word.

Mr Templeman : Mr Perrett raised the question about the literacy and numeracy test, in terms of giving additional information to the committee. It is a national test. It is in the process now of being rolled out—the administration and implementation. It was agreed nationally by all ministers of education towards the end of last year. I want the committee to understand that it is a national test. There are probably some significant issues relevant to the committee's deliberations today in terms of issues concerning where the test will be delivered. There will be remote proctoring with the test and there are rural, regional and remote issues about broadband capacity. All those sorts of things come into play here.

There are issues around cost. The test cost will be $185 per time, and a student can resit this test three times. That is a significant issue which is also an impact as far as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are concerned.

I just wanted the committee to appreciate that fact that these are issues in terms of the relevance of your work as far as the rollout of this particular test. There are issues relative to language and other things that come into being here. The fundamental question, and I actually put this in a conference in a talk I gave last year, was: who is the brave registration provider or graduate determiner when you have got an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander who has cleared all pathways to go and teach in their community and they cannot pass the test? Are they going to be brave enough to actually not allow them to register or not graduate them? I doubt it. But that is just the problem we have to deal with.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you for that clarification. You should all receive copies of the Hansard transcript within about 10 days. If there are corrections to be made, feel free to do so. Thank you for your time and energy and your insight into these discussions. It is appreciated. We all have lots of learning to do, so it is very useful having evidence from a wide group of people today. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 13:06 to 13:13