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Concerns raised over national test results fo -

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Reporter: Margie Smithurst

PETER CAVE: Children in remote Northern Territory schools have to sit down with their peers in
schools around the country today to take national reading, writing and maths tests.

Last year's results put the Territory's Indigenous children right at the bottom of the class,
shaming the Territory Government into introducing some measures to help improve things.

But this year the director of NT Schools admits the results could be even worse because the figures
will probably include many children who didn't take last year's tests.

Margie Smithurst reports

MARGIE SMITHURST: As director of Northern Territory Schools, Allan Green has the unenviable task of
overseeing education in the worst performing jurisdiction in the country.

ALLAN GREEN: I come to work every day thinking we can actually make a significant difference and
yes, the challenges are enormous.

MARGIE SMITHURST: He may be upbeat about his job but there's no sign yet that any real difference
has been made.

When the figures for last year's first national literacy and numeracy tests came out, the Northern
Territory was shamed by the results.

In reading, for example, almost 70 per cent of all year three Indigenous students didn't meet the
minimum standards and among the grade fives, the figure was even worse.

According to the statistics, it was mostly children in the very remote schools were barely
literate.

The chief minister - who's also the Education Minister - blames it on children not being made to
turn up to school.

PAUL HENDERSON: The appalling results in the bush for the most part can be put down to poor
attendance. That's why improving school attendance is so important because we know, unless kids are
going to school, at least 80 per cent of all of the days the school is in operation, those kids
aren't going to get to benchmark.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Trying to get tough, the Government announced that all schools had to have a 90
per cent attendance rate by the end of this year.

Allan Green says he is optimistic but realistic.

What hopes do you have of meeting that?

ALLAN GREEN: Well certainly in many of our provincial schools, we are already there.

MARGIE SMITHURST: But only 26 of 150 at the last count?

ALLAN GREEN: Yeah but in our remotes we have a number of schools where they are achieving that so
we know it is possible.

MARGIE SMITHURST: But not regularly?

ALLAN GREEN: No, not regularly, absolutely. I am not shirking that.

MARGIE SMITHURST: The Government also began trials in 14 schools linking welfare to truancy,
warning parents that if children didn't turn up, payments would be docked.

In the first couple of months of the school year, the Government reported more chairs filled, but
Allen Green says consistent attendance remains a problem.

ALLAN GREEN: It's very hard for me to say that attendance has improved in particular schools
because of this trial but certainly we are seeing some improved attendance.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Professor Helen Hughes from the Centre for Independent Studies says attendance is
just one factor contributing to the poor results.

She's long been a critic of the Northern Territory Government's handling of Indigenous education.
She says 20 per cent of Territory children didn't sit the national tests last year and many of
those absent come from remote, predominantly Indigenous schools.

HELEN HUGHES: They're not sitting because the teachers know they can't pass them because the
curriculum is such that most children cannot pass literacy and numeracy. If they can't, they can't
even read the questions. I've known little boys who are gifted mathematically who failed the maths
test because they can't read the question.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Allan Green says the Government is enforcing the compulsory nature of the tests
this year but realises that as a result, it could emerge the loser.

ALLAN GREEN: Certainly there is some logic in the argument that if in fact we have an increase, and
we are hoping for a significant increase in participation, it is possible and perhaps even likely
that our results will actually not increase in the way we want them to.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Allan Green says it's too soon to tell whether other government measures such as
scrapping bilingual teaching in the first crucial hours of the school day are working yet.

ALLAN GREEN: One of the challenges in education is that you don't see a change in performance
overnight. It really is a five to seven year change period. When we go to classrooms and we talk to
teachers and we talk to principals, we hear stories about gains for individual kids that are small
but they're there.

PETER CAVE: The director of Northern Territory Schools Allan Green ending that report by Margie
Smithurst.