Schools need more Indigenous staff to 'Close the Gap'

Troy AIEO

The Closing the Gap report for 2016 was released yesterday, showing important targets around education attainment and attendance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are not being met.

Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer, Troy Coleman, puts the lack of progress on these goals down to a need for more Aboriginal and Islander staff in schools.

"Indigenous staff numbers need to be increased. We need more AIEOs, but we also need more Indigenous Principals, Teachers, Admin staff and especially Indigenous people in leadership positions at the Education Department.

There needs to be a greater spread of Aboriginal people in general, so there is more of our way of doing things out there,” says Troy. 

In 2014 the Barnett Government cut over 100 AIEO positions from the education system in WA. A subsequent Productivity Commission report found WA had the lowest literacy outcomes for Aboriginal students of any state in the country.

This is not surprising to Troy.

"Indigenous people in schools are leaders, by removing us it removes many of those positive role models for our young people to aspire to. 

I see them when they’re sweet little kids who don't know anything about the world. They're innocent you know; colour, race, politics - it doesn't mean anything at that age.

But I also see those kids become aware there is a difference between being Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and I see the negative changes it can cause.

So it's important to make sure there are good role models for kids to look up to, who make them feel at home in their school community.”

“One of the things we've managed at my schools is to have kids’ paint murals. We even painted one on the side of a nearby day-care centre. What I saw was those kids begin to take ownership and see the school as 'their place', because their pictures were up.

If we did more of that work, with culture and things like speaking local dialects, the kids would feel more like the school really is 'their place' too" said Troy.

Attendance is another area in which ‘Close The Gap’ targets are not being met.

Troy believes this can be improved by increasing resources to engage with families and help kids get to and from school.

"We're lucky in our school because we’ve had a family centre set right out the front.

This meant when the department removed our full time AIEO the family centre took on some of the roles we were filling. They started picking up children and bringing them to school, doing home-visits and working with community.

Pickups work. We know they improve attendance rates and help engage the whole family in the schooling process” he says.

But for most schools when AIEO jobs are cut, pickup services suffer too.

“Not all schools are as lucky as ours. When most schools lose an AIEO they lose pickups too.

If Government engaged more with Aboriginal people, they would know we need more resources and would NOT cut AIEO jobs” says Troy.

You can find out more about the Closing the Gap 2016 report here.