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

BUCKSKIN, Professor Peter, Dean of Indigenous Scholarship, Engagement and Research, University of South Australia

HUGHES, Emeritus Professor Paul, University of South Australia

Committee met at 11:44

CHAIR ( Dr Stone ): I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs for its inquiry into educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, the traditional custodians of the Canberra area. We pay our respects to their elders, past and present, and to all Indigenous peoples.

Please note that these meetings are formal proceedings of parliament. Everything said should be factual and honest. It can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. The hearing is open to the public, and we are being audio broadcast live via the internet. A transcript will be placed on the committee's website, after you have seen a draft copy in about 10 days, made any corrections that need to be done and approved the draft. Do you have any additional comment about the capacity in which you appear?

Prof. Buckskin : I am the project director of the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative.

CHAIR: Are you more South Australia focused?

Prof. Buckskin : I am nationally focused. The MATSITI project is a national initiative of the government.

CHAIR: I invite you to make an opening statement.

Prof. Buckskin : We would like to thank the committee for inviting us to appear before you to assist in the committee's deliberations on this very important reference: educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. We also wish to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people on whose traditional lands we are meeting today. We pay our respects to their elders, past and present, and their future generations who will be their cultural knowledge holders of tomorrow.

We understand the committee has received around 50 written submissions and released a questionnaire to gather further data from individuals—that is, staff, parents and the wider Australian community. We know that you have had a number of public hearings and have more to follow. We would like to make some general comments on the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education policy, because we have been involved in this space for over 30 years, before we respond to the questions on the committee addressing the terms of reference further. We believe our contribution will support a number of the points made from submissions that we have read in relation to the current policy environment that the government is working with and strategies that are in play that support improved educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners. Our observations are based on many years of experience working in the pursuit of educational excellence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners. We believe education needs to be culturally responsive and build on the cultural identity that the child brings to school.

We also acknowledge today is the 10th anniversary of Close the Gap. It is also Saint Patrick's Day. We appreciate that much has been progressed, but acknowledge that more still needs to be done. We also understand that much has been written since 1988 when governments agreed to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy with its four major themes and 21 goals. The four major aims—improving involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in education decision making, equality of access to educational services, equity of educational participation and equitable and appropriate educational outcomes—are as relevant today as they were over thirty years ago.

We would argue that when the policy was launched in 1989 it was a defining moment in history, in particular the history of Aboriginal education policy and practice. Unfortunately, the implementation of the policy has been varied across states and territories. Since its conception, despite much progress over the years, it continues to be unfinished business. Many successive reviews—I will not name them all—reports, strategies, parliamentary inquiries and affirmative action plans continue to identify—and I believe this inquiry will come to the same conclusion—three reoccurring themes if we are to realise the aims and the goals of the AEP, and, indeed, close the gap. That is our challenge.

Firstly, there is appreciating Aboriginal and Torres Islander culture. We believe this to mean a more culturally inclusive curriculum, increased employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in schools, stronger relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and stronger and respectful engagements with parents and caregivers. We believe the importance of quality teachers, teaching and school leadership is another important aim. Increasing the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers and leaders in schools needs to be a priority: ongoing professional development for all school based staff; a stronger focus on classroom practice and pedagogies; more quality approaches to flexible curriculum offerings in the classroom at the school level; and stronger focus on literacy and numeracy programs, combined with high expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners. We believe the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents in school decision making is absolutely essential. Understanding the cultural landscape and context of the school community is very important. Holding culturally safe spaces in schools for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents to meet and hold meetings within the school is also paramount. Employing local Aboriginal and Torres Islander people in the school as teaching assistants and other support staff will enable more Aboriginal voices in the decision making.

We believe there is now a real opportunity to realise the goals of the AEP and, indeed, accelerate the closure of the gap with the current work that is in play. The work of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, ACARA, on the national curriculum framework and the cross-curriculum priority, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, is a really great piece of work and a great decision of government. There is the work of the Australian Institute for Teachers and School Leadership on national standards for teachers, with their two focus areas: '1.4 Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students' and '2.4 Understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.' Lastly, there are the reforms in initial teacher education programs and teacher registration requirements.

We appreciate much of this work is still in progress and requires careful monitoring and evaluation, but we believe we now have a critical mass of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators who have the capacity to further inform this work. Furthermore, our recent work on the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative has provided further evidence that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are respectfully heard progress is made. Over four years, we have engaged with over 1,000 Aboriginal teachers, school leaders and aspiring teachers who want to join the profession, who are all making a difference in their systems and in their communities. We are absolute in our belief Aboriginal teachers are essential to building a more culturally responsive school environment. We have worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island teacher education academics to develop an online module for lecturers in initial teacher education programs, titled Respect, Relationships and Reconciliation—we call it the triple Rs—which supports the AITSL national focus areas 2.1 and 2.4, and this has been a very successful outcome of the MATSITI project.

Our work with the Australian Council of Deans of Education, AITSL and ACARA has reignited new conversations with fresh eyes, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators making a real difference in the way they are approaching their core business, because they feel much more comfortable and confident that they are receiving informed views in their areas of work. We believe it is essential this work continue beyond 2016. The MATSITI team, on which Paul is a project consultant with me, believes its work is key to developing a more culturally diverse teaching workforce and better preparation of all education graduates to be confident, effective teachers in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education. MATSITI recommends a number of continuing priorities: increased cultural diversity of education graduates; stronger school, university and business partnerships; more evidence based curriculum, pedagogy and cultural responsiveness; and improved coordination of policy advice and accountability.

In summary, we believe the focus must now concentrate on quality teaching and quality teachers, and having clear definitions on what that means; a quality based curriculum that is culturally inclusive with strong literacy and numeracy themes; and building closer relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and caregivers. Finally, we must say that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education policy and programs must be the core business of the Minister for Education and Training. We believe that responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education policy and programs must lie within that portfolio and not with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the portfolio of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I have to rush down to the chamber; Sharon is going to continue now with the questions as acting chair. That was very useful. If you wish to table that as a further piece of documentation, that would be very helpful. Thank you. I will read the transcript.

ACTING CHAIR ( Ms Claydon ): Thank you very much. I will open it up to questions straightaway from my colleagues.

Mr NEUMANN: I would just like a background to it, because I read the paper and I am interested in where you came from to get to the point where you are today. A bit of history would be great if you could, Peter or Paul. Both of you have been across this space for quite some time. I am interested in the background. I agree with what you are saying.

Prof. Buckskin : Was this about MATSITI or the general tenet of what we are saying?

Mr NEUMANN: I am interested in the background of where MATSITI came from and how it got to this conclusion, because I agree entirely with what you are saying.

Prof. Hughes : Before Peter says his bit about MATSITI particularly, I will back up the things he said in all of that documentation. The bit about having more Aboriginal teachers comes from way back in the seventies in the National Aboriginal Education Committee days, back when I was on it and when I was chair, working with Susan Ryan. Those ideas of having teachers with knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal cultural and educational matters have been around since that time. The need for our own people to be involved in all of that process was particularly talked about even back in those days. All of that has grown into policy development as we have gone along over the years. The MATSITI project, as a particular thing, came up about four or five years ago. Peter will follow up with that.

Prof. Buckskin : Four years ago, then Minister Garrett invited us to submit a project plan that would do two things: increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in the Australian school sector and work with universities to attract and graduate more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Mr NEUMANN: Was that the $7.5 million?

Prof. Buckskin : Yes, we were very fortunate to get that up-front and have a four-year time period.

Mr NEUMANN: Tell us about the importance of partnerships with universities and other organisations. I think that is critical.

Prof. Buckskin : Universities have the responsibility, as we know, for graduating qualified teachers. We also know that the deans of education and heads of schools of education who form the Australian Council of Deans of Education are major influencers in the way the curriculum is developed and taught. Undergraduate teachers clearly having more information on how best to engage with Aboriginal learners—understand them rather than ignore them—and their communities and develop a more sophisticated understanding around what teaching practice works, how to gather evidence and create high expectations of the Indigenous learner is a responsibility of universities. Universities need to improve their game because their attrition rate of undergraduate Indigenous students is very high across all of the schools of education.

Part of the premise was to have a really strong relationship with the Australian Council of Deans of Education. We approached them to be a significant partner in the project. We invited them to be part of our reference group and to help shape a proactive plan that was going to change the culture of their commitment and their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues so they could be able to understand and relate to the Indigenous units that exist within most universities and support Indigenous enrolments so that they would not have these high attrition rates. That partnership has grown in such a way that we have been able to do other work, such as applying for further grants—for example, the RRR project—to look at what is required to get teachers and future teachers to be competent and meet the national standards. One was to change or improve the curriculum, and what is on offer.

We did an audit of what is on offer in four-year programs. You can go from three hours a week, you can do a 13-week period and you can have a major lecture over a four-year period, or you might have a practice in an Australian school where there are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being members on the Australian Council of Deans of Education we have now been able to form an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander association of other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics that are teaching in education. That can be an advisory committee to the deans, not only working with them on the day-to-day issues, but on broader national issues such as the debate we are having now on teacher standards, the quality of teaching and the entrants issues on alternative pathways into teacher education if not through the entry from schools. We know that a cohort of teachers currently in undergraduate training—undergraduate students—are in the main mature students; they do not necessarily come directly from school. So we have to really focus on what that alternative pathway is and ensure that it is a pathway that enables people to succeed and that we are getting competent people who can actually get in and have the capacity to develop the skills to acquire the degree in the time that it is offered over a four-year program.

Mr NEUMANN: The employment rate of university graduates for Indigenous people is higher once they have a bachelor or higher degree than that of the non-Indigenous population in Australia. To what extent was the ITAS funding—the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme funding—that was provided under the former Labor government and which has been cut in a large part helpful in terms of the graduation of Indigenous teachers? Do you have any data in relation to that?

Prof. Buckskin : We have no strong correlation of data between who is in receipt of ITAS and who has successful progression through their degree to completion.

Mr NEUMANN: What about anecdotally?

Prof. Buckskin : I would say it assists. I think ITAS is an essential component. The reason I think there is underexpenditure of some of the moneys is because it is voluntary; you cannot make a student enrol in it even if you think they should enrol or engage with a tutor to assist them with their study skills, understanding academic writing and, indeed, building their confidence up to be more independent learners within the academy. The changes to ITAS, as you know, have come into play in terms of agreements with universities, but there is still sufficient money this year because there has been no major change to—

Mr NEUMANN: Yes, there has been some—

Prof. Buckskin : There have been some modifications, but the major change comes in two years, from 2017 onwards.

Mr NEUMANN: That is right. I was interested because in the community controlled health sector, there has been a major drive in employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as health workers, as allied health professionals and, increasingly, as doctors is very strong, but their employment rate as educators is still quite low.

Prof. Hughes : Yes, it is very disappointing.

Mr NEUMANN: Yes, I know. I am interested in why we are becoming far more successful in the health areas, but not in education.

Prof. Buckskin : This is a discussion we have had with the Australian Council of Deans of Education; it was about their lack of leadership, their lack of buy-in to this agenda. In health you have buy-in of the Australian Medical Association, of doctors, of GP associations. They are much more proactive in that particular space than what we are in education. Here is an opportunity to reignite the conversation with more informed data about what needs to be done to ensure there are more successful graduates. I think we surprised them with their data in terms of—of course it was their data, but we put a focus on attrition rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in training in the first year.

ACTING CHAIR: On that issue of the attrition rates, we have had a lot of evidence before the committee from both the student point of view and the academic point of view about the positive benefits of having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers and community people involved in schooling. What was the study that you were able to undertake? Did it identify those key components of what holds somebody at university? Did it give any reasons as to why we have unacceptable attrition rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at a tertiary level? Were some universities better at it than others?

Prof. Buckskin : Oh, yes. We figure there is one-third doing really well, one-third that is pretty mediocre and one-third that probably needs to go and do something else. But now we have the Australian council of deans talking to each other, and that is really good in terms of shifting the cultural way of doing things. They are engaging more directly and being more responsive, rather than defensive, to the issues that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are raising with them, such as their need to culturally lift their game as a profession and as academics in terms of their scholarly academic pursuits. We now are at a stage where that is going to make a real difference. The problem, I suppose, is that some of the funding ceases this year and we are finalising our review. The evaluation is not due until the end of April, and we will make that available. Our anecdotal evidence—gathered from our focus groups, from talking to people, from having conferences and from having round tables—is that it is making a difference and, in a sense, it is enthusing experienced teachers to aspire to leadership positions. It has retained them in the teaching profession. Some who thought they might walk because it was all getting too hard can now see that there is a window of opportunity, where the systems are changing the way that they are providing professional development and engaging with them.

We are working with the national curriculum; that the curriculum is now being rolled out as a framework, and most schools are picking it up. Every teacher, including them, has to meet a national standard where they need to show that they are more culturally competent in this particular area if they are going to maintain registration. That is an agenda they think they can really contribute to and would find that really rewarding. There is also the continued trend of improvement in Aboriginal young people in terms of school retention. I mean, literacy and numeracy in some areas are bad, but in a sense we are getting better. How things have improved over the last 30 years.

We think this work that we are doing has done three things. It has really made education jurisdictions, both government and non-government, really reflect on what they do, what they have not done and what they need to do in the future; and change their practice or the way they might employ and support first-year out teachers, middle-career teachers, and those that are aspiring to leadership positions. We have done some work around that; systems are now actually counting the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers. We were unclear on the data prior to the start of this project. We knew we had 2,000 plus, and I think it is now closer to 4,000 teachers who are now involved in the schools jurisdictions, both government and non-government. We know there is an increase in Indigenous enrolments in undergraduate programs, because it is starting to become more culturally appropriate.

Mr NEUMANN: Do you have that data? Can we have that?

Prof. Hughes : It is in some of our reports and so on. Can I say the research done by the Council of Deans of Education delivered this shock: 70 per cent students never made it to the end in teacher education amongst our people.

ACTING CHAIR: Just in teacher education?

Prof. Hughes : Just in teacher education amongst our own people.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you have a stance of how that compares to other disciplines?

Prof. Hughes : It is way, way higher, although there is a fair dropout rate, I think, in the teacher education side of the world. It came as a bit of a shock to people that it was so high, and it meant that there was something not quite going right inside of universities themselves, in terms of people studying those sorts of numbers, acknowledging those sorts of numbers or recognising that amongst themselves they had some people inside of their own operations who could talk to each other and do a little bit more about that sort of thing.

The research further showed that nobody knew the flow-on in terms of the numbers that were going into employment inside of agencies and the education systems and so on. So one of the things the program has done is point out that those things are there and that people should really do something about, it if only from the point of view that 70 per cent not making it is not a good thing. Only 300 people were graduating a year. You cut that 70 in half and you have got 500 graduating a year. It makes a difference inside of our world, in terms of people with qualifications and therefore possibilities of employment. But, since that time, we do not have too much evidence that much has happened inside of the agencies, the universities themselves or educational agencies to try to do something more about advertising the fact that there are employment opportunities available, and therefore making the need to complete your teacher education a useful thing to do.

Mr NEUMANN: In terms of the partnerships, the teaching profession is one of the most heavily unionised professions in the country. In some states, I understand the rate of unionisation is up to 80 or 90 per cent. Have you had much to do with the teachers union? That is not just in actually getting through. A lot of students of course join the union when there are university—my daughter, for example, is a classic example. But are you dealing with the AEU—in my home state and Andrew's, it is the Queensland Teachers' Union—and having discussions, because the unions often have a lot of counsel, a lot of help and a lot of advice; they have people who work for them to help them through; and they obviously have Indigenous education members in the union.

Prof Buckskin : They were part of our reference group. We have a pretty rigorous management process of having major stakeholders being part of the reference group. They had access to data when we saw data. So, for example, when we talked about employment opportunities, we saw blocks and we saw some good practice, where the union and the department worked together to attract newly-graduated teachers and had strategies in place. The New South Wales government is probably better than any other government in the way that they are attracting, retaining and promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers within that sector. So they have that level of information.

But to go back to the work of the Australian Council of Deans: we gave them a good slice of our money—nearly $800,000—to do some assessments. They came back with a whole range of what they called 'walking points', where they knew what the stresses were when people started to say, 'No, this is not for me.' Part of the deal was to develop action plans around how to address those walking points. One of the walking points, for example, was the practicums—that is, when the graduate was out in a practicum, they had a bad time and that did not work. So that meant you needed to talk to their employer—the education department—in terms of the supervision of the teacher and the principal in terms of the leadership that they were showing. So we got them to talk about that.

We have yet to see the outcomes of that work, but the evaluation was looking at those reports. The minister wanted to have suggestions around, and to point to, the cultural need for change, what has changed and whether that is going to be sustainable into the future. So they now know some of the major walking points and they now have a critical mass of Aboriginal academics and scholars that can inform the way that they are reshaping their undergraduate programs to meet the new national standards and registration requirements for teachers—and we are on the ground floor in that because of all the changes that that have been happening centrally over the last four years.

Mr NEUMANN: Do we know where a lot of the Aboriginal teachers are employed? When I was in an Indigenous community fairly recently they were saying that there are lots of Indigenous kids in the school, and I said, 'There are 200—nearly 300—Indigenous kids in one of my high schools in Ipswich.' A lot of Indigenous people live in Newcastle, Ipswich, Brisbane and those areas; they are not just in Yarrabah, Cherbourg or Aurukun. So do we know where Indigenous teachers are actually going and the impact that they are having in not just remote and regional communities but urban areas as well?

Prof. Buckskin : Yes. In the main, the education unions know that data quite well. I suppose it is individual choice—

Mr NEUMANN: Yes, of course.

Prof. Buckskin : where teachers want to go. But we know from the work that we have done that Aboriginal teachers want to work with Aboriginal kids. So it is really for the department—the employer—to develop strategies for locating those teachers where they want to go and where the critical mass of Indigenous kids are. That is something that state and territory jurisdictions have to take on board in terms of their employment strategy. There are just too few.

Mr NEUMANN: One of the problems we found, Peter, in a previous inquiry some years ago—the 'our land, our languages' inquiry—was the challenge of language in different communities but also not locating teachers who had the local language back into those communities—and I am just plucking out a community—such as Hermannsburg, or wherever it might be. If they come from that community, they go to the bachelor institute; they graduate; they end up becoming a school teacher, and then they put them in Darwin rather than back in Utopia or somewhere like that. Have we done any work in that area to encourage education departments everywhere to think about going back to country?

Prof. Buckskin : A lot of our focus groups have a lot of the directors of HR—or human capital, or whatever they might call it in whatever jurisdiction. We have brought them together a couple of times over the life of the project to identify those barriers to employment and those things that impede progress and retention of teachers in the profession. Part of this evaluation will look at the projects that we have funded. They have to report back to us about what has changed and what they have done to stem attrition rates of teachers—and, indeed, to attract teachers—in the way that they practice recruitment.

Mr NEUMANN: During the course of this inquiry we have discovered that. Also, from my travels around communities I can think of discussions I have had in places like Cherbourg in South-East Queensland, where teachers will last for a couple of years or a year or something and then leave. There is no real knowledge of the local community and very little understanding. They cannot embed themselves in local communities. It is very challenging, and then they are off.

Prof. Hughes : It is common.

Mr NEUMANN: It is very common around the country. How is that the best educational outcome for our young people?

Prof. Hughes : It has been that way for many, many years.

Mr NEUMANN: Of course it has.

Prof. Hughes : Finding the numbers of people who might have that sort of background qualification has been a challenge.

Mr NEUMANN: Very challenging. As you were saying, Paul, it is critical mass. If we had more and more people going through—

Prof. Hughes : If you have more of them they have a chance of doing it.

Mr NEUMANN: You get a chance; that is exactly right. I cannot believe the number of people who I have met over the years who get a certificate IV and they end up becoming a nurse or an enrolled nurse and they are working in their local communities in a health clinic, an AMS, but you do not find that—

Prof. Hughes : They do much better than us.

Mr NEUMANN: They do much better than education.

Prof. Hughes : That is for sure.

Mr NEUMANN: And this is the challenge we have—getting local people in local schools teaching local language bilingually and understanding local culture, law and custom.

Prof. Hughes : At least we have that stuff identified now, quite particularly, through these types of projects. What happens afterwards is, I guess, over to you guys.

Mr NEUMANN: Thanks for the responsibility, Paul.

Prof. Hughes : That is all right.

ACTING CHAIR: There are a couple of things I am interested in, given that the funding for this initiative is now at an end. My first question is: what next? Do you have any thoughts about that? Having done all this work over the last four years, what is required to maintain that kind of momentum, and do you have funding and resources to do that?

Prof. Buckskin : At the moment, as I said, there is no life beyond April this year. That is when our report is due. Within my office, we—with the interest of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics who we have now engaged in that association, and other people who have become buddies and mentors of each other amongst the 3,000+ teachers that are out there—identify some further work that they can do and sustain that work by talking to each other and having advisory committees in education systems. Again, that is an outcome of systemic change. We know the Australian Council of Deans of Education have changed their constitution to include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic on their board, and have established an advisory committee made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff who are working in faculties of education. That work will continue, and when they win grants or do research projects they will have a group of Aboriginal people who can help them focus on the needs of Indigenous learners. And, as I said, universities have changed in the way they are attracting new students into the faculties.

ACTING CHAIR: We have been doing that overview of the performance of Australian universities in attracting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and the issue around the attrition rates. Whose role is that currently? You have been doing some research on that. When MATSITI comes to an end, who will do the oversight work then?

Prof. Buckskin : We would hope that it will be the Department of Education and Training—

ACTING CHAIR: Will you make some recommendations in your report about that?

Prof. Buckskin : We hold the strong view that the money came out of Indigenous moneys allocation, and that program, when it was in DET, supported it. Then it got moved. We are saying to the Minister for Education and Training that this work has just begun. We now know what works and we know what needs to be done. It just needs to be done. Get on with it! Be very explicit about the expectation of jurisdictions in terms of the national policies that we have. We have the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan strategy for the next three years. That talks about the same things we talked about: more culturally responsive teaching and more engagement with parents. But it just needs to be done. The federal government has a key responsibility to continue monitoring and evaluating outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I am of the strong view that that is what the 1967 referendum was about. State and territory governments are letting us down. Education systems are the key authorities in that space. Things have improved, but we need an explicit focus and a central point that can do, and monitor, this work so, that we can build our expertise and our confidence in engaging with a group, other than allowing that stuff to lapse. This is why we would like to see a response to the recommendations. I have not seen them all yet because that is an independent group to us. The report is going to be handed over next week and we will be seeing the first drafts. Part of it is making sure, as the minister of the day, Garrett, said, 'I want sustainable outcomes from this. I want sustainable strategies and to get buy in from the jurisdictions.' We hope with the work we have done that we have shown that if you do X, Y and Z, you are going to have a better outcome.

ACTING CHAIR: You say that things are improving, but it is pretty shocking to have a 70 per cent attrition rate in teacher education at university. It is equally shocking to me that your evidence suggests if we were to look at Australian universities that only one-third are doing their jobs especially well in this area, which means that another third are mediocre and another third are atrocious. That is clearly not a very good starting place. Whilst, yes, there have been some improvements, there is clearly an enormous workload ahead and that is why I was asking the question. We would have to be very confident around the commitment of who is monitoring and evaluating progress, given the good work of your initiative and what has come out of that, so that the momentum does not stop there.

Prof Buckskin : One of the major workforces within the education jurisdiction is the paraprofessionals—the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education workers—that were out of our terms of reference—

ACTING CHAIR: Yes, okay.

Prof Buckskin : who are clearly a major cohort of people who are well positioned—

ACTING CHAIR: Do you know how many of those teachers' assistants and others are around?

Prof Buckskin : It would be thousands. They are ready-made for a teaching career because they are on-site, they understand the culture of schools and classrooms and they know their communities.

ACTING CHAIR: Are there pathways? If you were a teacher's assistant of four years, for example, at Fitzroy Crossing School, is it easy for you to become—

Prof Buckskin : That is the work that we had jurisdictions look at to see what programs are in place—at the Australian education department or whatever education department—to offer a career path into teaching from that paraprofessional workforce. We probably have some anecdotal information from some of our scholarships that universities provide that go to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education workers as a pathway to university. But there are not many of them.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I know we are about to run out of time. I will ask another question to see if there is anything further.

Mr NEUMANN: I think I dominated for most of the questions so I am fine.

ACTING CHAIR: That is okay. As to the Australian council of deans, how long has that been around for?

Prof. Buckskin : Since the beginning of time.

Prof. Hughes : Since they have had education, schools and universities.

ACTING CHAIR: How long has there been this focus, or renewed relationship through your work?

Prof. Hughes : Four years.

Prof. Buckskin : My very first meeting was with the then President, Professor Toni Downes, in a Qantas lounge coming out of an Australian council of deans executive to come on board to this project, because Minister Garrett was very keen—very, very keen. But to sign off on a four-year work plan, the deans needed to be major stakeholders for change, and so the three presidents that we have worked with over the last four years have all made an outstanding commitment to this. They got it. Their initial shock, I think, was their embarrassment. But now they understand. Now they have an Aboriginal person on the council—it happens to be me at the moment—but in a year's time it might be one of those fabulous Aboriginal academics, with their PhDs and with a real future in the profession, that would be invited to join the council. It is now in their work plans. It is now in our vision for the future.

It takes four years to get a teacher graduate. There are new national professional development standards. This group of 20 should grow to hundreds. Then the deans, and their senior people in their schools are actually going to have a critical mass of Aboriginal voices that they know are their peers, and their true peers in terms of their academic qualifications and understanding of academic targets of pedagogies, epistemologies et cetera, and they are theorists, as well as practitioners, in this space. We did not have that a long time ago, but we now have it. The deans have moved so far along this journey with a real, sustainable commitment, from what I see.

ACTING CHAIR: That was a pretty important meeting back in 2007 then, by the sound of it.

Mr NEUMANN: Exactly.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you so much for your evidence today. It is very useful for us in our deliberations. Is there anything further you wish to add as a closing statement?

Prof. Buckskin : I think we have met Minister Garrett. I hope we see him one day—Mr Garrett—and I will be telling him of a number of cultural things that we have changed. The registration authorities that we work with in the states and territories around the new approach to teacher registration—we have engaged them. Data collection of the Aboriginal workforce, both paraprofessional and professional, is clearer now than ever before, and we now have a mechanism or a tool or an instrument, but that will require continued money in the future to do that audit to show growth. There is now a plethora of education systems that have got programs to recruit, retain and promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So I think we have done those three things, and they are all asking us for support. Someone has to do the continuing work ahead, whether it is the University of South Australia and the MCEETYA team, or we invest in the council of deans, to take carriage of a project that would take this well into the future.

ACTING CHAIR: That is a point well made. Thank you very much for your evidence today. I would like to advise you that a transcript of today's proceedings will be forwarded to you, within about 10 days, I believe, and you are very welcome to make any corrections to that record if there is anything that does not accurately reflect your evidence today.

Resolved that these proceedings be published.

Committee adjourned at 12:35