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NT Estimates hears federal school attendance scheme not value for money -

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NICK GRIMM: The Northern Territory Education Minister says a federal government program designed to improve school attendance in remote Indigenous communities has not delivering enough bang for its buck.

Around $9 million is being spent and most of it's federal money. And while attendance has risen in 70 per cent of Northern Territory schools, elsewhere there's no apparent improvement.

Sara Everingham reports from Darwin.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Northern Territory's Education Minister, Peter Chandler, has been quizzed about school attendance rates in remote Indigenous communities.

The official figures show average attendance in remote areas in the Territory is about 60 per cent.

In Senate Estimates, Peter Chandler was asked by Labor's Nicole Manison if the money being spent on programs trying to get more kids to school is working.

NICOLE MANISON: So, Minister, my next question would be: do you feel like you are getting, for the investment, the results you want to see?

PETER CHANDLER: Do you want the honest truth?

NICOLE MANISON: The value for money? Yep.

PETER CHANDLER: No.

NICOLE MANISON: I appreciate it's...

PETER CHANDLER: No.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Mr Chandler told Estimates about $9 million will be spent over the next financial year on attendance programs. Most of that is federal money for programs, including the Commonwealth's Remote School Attendance Scheme.

Under the scheme, rolled out two and a half years ago, community members employed through a remote work scheme hit the streets each morning to try to bring kids to class.

The scheme operates in more than 70 schools in 69 communities in several states and the Northern Territory. Last year the Federal Government decided to extend the program to 2018.

But is it working?

The Northern Territory Education Minister, Peter Chandler, told Estimates good work is being done but expressed concerns that the results don't match the money spent.

PETER CHANDLER: I would suggest that even some of the federal funding: I'm not saying it is misdirected. I would just see from the evidence that I am getting back, I don't... Although there are signs of improvement and I think that's - look, any new student that comes to school, I think, is valuable.

But I would expect with the amount of money that is being spent on that program, we would see better results than we are getting. So the clear answer is: no.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Mr Chandler says in 70 per cent of schools running the program attendance has improved.

But, he says, in almost one third of schools there hasn't been a change.

PETER CHANDLER: I know that in some schools we're seeing attendance rates increase by around 15 per cent. Again: fantastic, but coming off a very low base.

So we are seeing really good results in some of the communities. But again, there's still communities that we're not.

We're still investing both Northern Territory money as well as the Commonwealth money into these programs. So we've got to continue the journey of learning. We've got to continue the journey of getting more and more of these children to school.

SARA EVERINGHAM: How quickly will you and the Federal Government move to try to change the program or review it?

PETER CHANDLER: Look, I think it's an ongoing review process. And as I said: that I'm buoyed by the fact that we are going in the right direction in many communities. But that does not stop me from being frustrated as a person, as the Minister, that we're still not seeing the results that I want to achieve yet, right now.

SARA EVERINGHAM: In a statement, a spokesman for the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, says improvements in 70 per cent of schools show the program is having success at raising school attendance, which he says is ultimately the responsibility of the Northern Territory Government.

He says the Commonwealth is committed to the program and will tailor it to deliver the best results.

NICK GRIMM: Sara Everingham reporting.