This column was published in the Suns Newspaper (NT) in September 2016.  It revisits a hoary issue, but one in its longevity which is well and truly evergreen

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SCHOOL ATTENDANCE REMAINS A CHALLENGE

The issue of school attendance in both remote and urban school situations is quite regularly in the news. While solutions are suggested , they are rarely tested. The issue is one concerning all schools.

School attendance issues for Indigenous students are influenced by social and cultural circumstances. Sorry business and ceremonial occasion have an impact. There is also the issue of regular movement from place to place. This makes it hard to keep up with children and families. Computerisation of school records to track children from school to school has limited success.

Irregular attendance is also an issue for children attending urban schools. A major factor is that of families taking holidays during school terms when airfares and accomodation are cheaper. Time away from school also happens because of visits by relatives religious observances and families deciding to make their own long weekends. Often children return late from holidays or leave before the end of term. Truancy and non-attendance are issues for all schools.

Excuses

I have often heard people say that school is not relevant for indigenous children. Students out in the bush might be “doing traditional things”. Who is to say they are not getting a better and more enriched education than provided by school? Literacy and numeracy skills are important for all students. Without them, employment will remain out of reach.

More than slogans needed

Slogans and legislative solutions developed to solve attendance problems can be pretentious. In the Territory we have moved in slogan terms from ‘catch the school buzz’ to ‘every child, every day’, to the more recent ‘every day counts’. In some local areas there are ‘no school, no pool’ programs. We have had truancy officers in the past. There were authorised school attendance officers as far back as the 1980’s. They have been employed, albeit under varying titles, on and off ever since. The Scullion initiative is a new take on a program more than thirty years old. ‘What will make it work this time’ is a burning question!

There needs to be follow up for all students on issues of school attendance regardless of whether they are Indigenous, non-indigenous, in remote, rural, town or urban schools. Programs to date have had little impact on changing attitudes toward school attendance.

Plans need to follow through and be fully implemented. If that does not happen, planning around the issue will continue to be about wasting time and money.

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