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Home > News > Professional Issues > Professional Issues Volume 7 > Investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community education critical

Investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community education critical

indigenous.jpgLack of post-primary education options in regional and remote communities was identified as a causal factor in recent events involving teachers and students at a state school in the Far North Queensland community of Aurukun; however, this is also a significant issue for teachers and students in non-government schools.

Issue Snapshot

  • Educational and social impact of limited schooling opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students need sector and government recognition.
  • Subsidised placements at metropolitan schools can have unintended and negative consequences for ATSI students and their home communities.
  • A reliance on boarding schools cannot, and should not, replace investment in local schools and support services.
In response to a federal House of Representatives Inquiry in 2015, IEUA-QNT members working in rural and remote communities drew attention to the substantial educational and social impact of limited schooling opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.  Of particular concern to our members was a failure to recognise that access to boarding school does not negate, or compensate for, lack of access to quality education in a student’s home community.  
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said while our union recognises the good intentions behind many schemes offering subsidised placements at metropolitan schools for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, such programs can have unintended negative consequences for students and their home communities.

“While the intention may be to provide students with access to quality education and create a new generation of leaders working in a wide range of fields, the reality is that there are many reasons why boarding schools prove unsuccessful for individual students, ranging from homesickness and dislike of the boarding environment, to a lack of understanding of the boarding context and expectations,” Mr Burke said.  

Data collected to inform our union’s response to a Federal House of Representatives Inquiry into Educational Opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students indicates that up to 53 per cent of junior secondary and 63 per cent of senior secondary students from Aboriginal communities spent at least some period of time at boarding school between Term 1 2014 and Term 1 2016.  

The average duration of enrolment at boarding school for junior secondary students was 11 weeks.  For senior students, the average duration of enrolment at boarding school was six weeks.  

Mr Burke said anecdotal evidence from members also indicates that the sense of failure that some students feel upon return can translate into arrogance or aggression toward their local community school and elders, leading to long-term disengagement with education.

“The problem is often exacerbated when boarding schools from urban centres time recruitment visits to local communities prior to school census periods. As the students are enrolled at boarding schools during the census period, when students then return from boarding school and resume their studies at local community schools, allocations of staff, funding and resources are often inadequate.

“While a more ethical approach to recruitment of students and induction into the boarding school lifestyle may reduce the numbers of students who return from boarding school before completing their studies, the prevailing view of members with experience in remote communities is that a reliance on boarding schools cannot, and should not, replace investment in local schools and support services.” 

IEUA-QNT often fields enquiries from members around rules and regulations governing boarding schools, particularly around professional development for boarding house staff and whether schools are required to provide on-site medical services for students.  

Responding to such queries can be difficult as, at present, there is no federal legislation governing the operation of boarding schools. While there is state legislation in New South Wales and Western Australia, boarding school operators in Queensland and the Northern Territory have effectively no legal obligations to boarders, staff or parents beyond those specified in site-specific contracts.  

In the absence of any single piece of governing legislation, boarding schools have, instead, been covered by isolated clauses in various other pieces of legislation. In Queensland, this includes widely disparate Acts such as the Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Act 2001 through to the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian Act 2000 and Industrial Relations Act 1999.  

The gap in legislation has been partially addressed through recent development of a new Draft Boarding Standard for Australian Schools and Hostels, which provides detailed recommendations regarding: governance and management; safety, health and wellbeing of boarders; competence and professional development of staff; parent, family and community engagement; and facilities.  

It is important that the standards represent a guide to best practice within the sector, rather than legal obligations.


Australian_Institute_for_Teaching_and_School_Leadership, Accreditation of initial teacher education programs in Australia: Standards and Procedures. 2015, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership Limited: Melbourne.

Penfold, A., Schools scheme a major success, in Athe Australian. 2014, Fairfax: Sydney.

Standards_Australia, DR AS 5725:2014 Draft Boarding Standard for Australian Schools and Hostels (Project ID: 101585). 2015, ED-001 Boarding Facilities and Services Management Committee: Canberra

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.