The Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS): Why invest in a strategy that reduces attendance?
Keywords:attendance, remote education, policy interventions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, success
In late 2013, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abbott, the Australian Government announced a new policy designed to increase attendance rates in remote community schools—the Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS). The model assumed that employing local people in the program, which was designed to support parents get their children to school, would yield significant improvements and consequently improve educational outcomes. After a slight initial increase in school attendance rates, RSAS schools have seen average attendance rates decline since 2016, which now stand more than eight percentage points lower than at commencement. This article analyses My School data for Very Remote Aboriginal schools, showing how the RSAS school attendance results compare with similar non-RSAS schools. We question why the Australian Government continues to invest in a program that is not meeting its objectives, asking, what went wrong?. We do this by critically analysing 36 policy-related documents, looking for ideological clues that show why the government continues to invest in the program and how it sees it as “successful”. We conclude by raising ethical and accountability concerns about the RSAS, which lacks evidence of attendance improvement, and which potentially causes harm to its objects: First Nations students.
Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force. (1988). Report of the Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force. https://vital.voced.edu.au/vital/access/services/Download/ngv:20015/SOURCE2
Altman, J., & Klein, E. (2018). Lessons from a basic income programme for Indigenous Australians. Oxford Development Studies, 46(1), 132–146. https://doi.org/10.1080/13600818.2017.1329413 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13600818.2017.1329413
Armstrong, S., & Buckley, S. (2011, August 7–11). An investigation into the attendance and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: Research and theory about what works [Conference paper]. ACER Research Conference 2011, Indigenous Education: Pathways to Success, Darwin, Australia. https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1120&context=research_conference
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018, 15 March). Remoteness structure. http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/home/remoteness+structure
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2020). My school. https://www.myschool.edu.au
Australian Government. (2014). Closing the gap prime minister’s report 2014. http://iaha.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Closing-the-Gap-PM-Report-Feb-2014.pdf
Australian Government. (2015a). Closing the gap prime minister’s report 2015. https://www.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/Closing_the_Gap_2015_Report_0.pdf
Australian Government (2015b). Community partnerships helping to improve school attendance [Media Release]. https://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/stories/community-partnerships-helping-improve-school-attendance
Ball, S. (2010). New States, new governance and new education policy. In M. W. Apple, S. J. Ball, & L. A. Gandin (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of the sociology of education (pp. 155–166). Taylor & Francis Group.
Baxter, L. P., & Meyers, N. M. (2019). What counts? The influence of school attendance on Australia’s urban Indigenous students’ educational achievement. The Australian Educational Researcher, 46, 511–532. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00300-y DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00300-y
Becker, G. (1993). Human capital: A theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education. University of Chicago Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226041223.001.0001
Biesta, G. (2010). Good education in an age of measurement: Ethics, politics, democracy. Paradigm Publishers.
Biesta, G. (2020). What constitutes the good of education? Reflections on the possibility of educational critique. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 52(10), 1023–1027. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1723468 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1723468
Boughton, B. (2001). Taking control: Improving secondary Indigenous education in Central Australia. Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.
Commonwealth of Australia (2017). Parliamentary Debates. The Senate: 4746-4747. https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/genpdf/chamber/hansards/d8168954-ba68-4fca-9854-908971f0f4c9/0124/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf
Council of Australian Governments. (2009). National Indigenous reform agreement (Closing the gap). http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/npa/health/_archive/indigenous-reform/national-agreement_sept_12.pdf
Crehan, K. (2016). Gramsci’s common sense: Inequality and its narratives. Duke University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822373742
Delpit, L. (1993). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other people’s children. In L. Weis & M. Fine (Eds.), Beyond silenced voices: Class, race, and gender in United States schools. State University of New York Press.
Department of Education. (2015). Student Attendance in Public Schools Policy. Government of Western Australia. http://det.wa.edu.au/policies/detcms/cms-service/download/asset/?asset_id=
Department for Education. (2018). Attendance matters in South Australian preschools and schools. Government of South Australia. https://www.education.sa.gov.au/sites/default/files/attendance-strategy-government-preschools-schools.pdf?v=1542340494
Department of Education. (2019). Every day counts. Queensland Government. https://education.qld.gov.au/initiatives-and-strategies/initiatives/every-day-counts
Department of Education and Training. (2020). School policy: Attendance. Victorian Government. https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/participation/Pages/attendance.aspx
Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, (2018). Prime Minister and Cabinet: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19. https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/department/statements/2018_2019/ministerial-statement/prime-minister-cabinet.aspx
Easton, S. (2014, 28 November 2014). "Back to school: why attendance is up in the Top End." Retrieved 20 March 2020, from https://www.themandarin.com.au/12454-nt-chief-ministers-awards-good-news-top-end/.
Education Council. (2019). Alice Springs (Mparntwe) education declaration. https://www.dese.gov.au/download/4816/alice-springs-mparntwe-education-declaration/7180/alice-springs-mparntwe-education-declaration/pdf/en
Fogarty, W., Riddle, S., Lovell, M., & Wilson, B. (2018). Indigenous education and literacy policy in Australia: Bringing learning back to the debate. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 47(2), 185–197. https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2017.18 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2017.18
Gill, S. (2008). Power and resistance in the new world order (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230584518
Gray, J., & Partington, G. (2012). Attendance and non-attendance at school. In Q. Beresford, G. Partington, & G. Gower (Eds.), Reform and resistance in Aboriginal education (rev. ed., pp. 261–303). University of Western Australia Press.
Guenther, J. (2013). Are we making education count in remote Australian communities or just counting education? The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 42(2), 157–170. https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2013.23 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2013.23
Guenther, J. (2015). Analysis of national test scores in very remote Australian schools: Understanding the results through a different lens. In H. Askell-Williams (Ed.), Transforming the future of learning with educational research (pp. 125–143). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-4666-7495-0.ch007 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-4666-7495-0.ch007
Guenther, J. (2021). Taken for a ride? The disconnect between high school completion, employment and income for remote Australian First Nations peoples. Race Ethnicity and Education, 24(1), 132–147. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2020.1753674 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2020.1753674
Guenther, J., Disbray, S., & Osborne, S. (2014). Digging up the (red) dirt on education: One shovel at a time. Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 17(4), 40–56. https://search.informit.org/doi/pdf/10.3316/informit.230322176349062
Guenther, J., Disbray, S., & Osborne, S. (2015). Building on “red dirt” perspectives: What counts as important for remote education? The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 44(2), 194–206. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/jie.2015.20 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2015.20
Guenther, J., & Osborne, S. (2020a). Choice-less choice for rural boarding students and their families. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 30(2), 111–126. https://journal.spera.asn.au/index.php/AIJRE/article/view/257/290
Guenther, J., & Osborne, S. (2020b). Did DI do it? The impact of a programme designed to improve literacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in remote schools. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 49(2), 163–170. https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2019.28 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2019.28
Hancock, K., Carrington, C., Shepherd, D., & Zubrick, S. R. (2013). Student attendance and educational outcomes: Every day counts. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research at the University of Western Australia. http://www.childhealthresearch.org.au/media/472779/final_report_2013.pdf
Harris, T. (1990). Talking is not enough: A review of the education of traditionally oriented Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. Office of the Minister for Education, the Arts and Cultural Affairs. http://www.territorystories.nt.gov.au/handle/10070/264712
Jones, S. (2006). Antonio Gramsci. Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203625521
Ladwig, J., & Luke, A. (2013). Does improving school level attendance lead to improved school level achievement? An empirical study of indigenous educational policy in Australia. The Australian Educational Researcher, 41(2), 171–194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-013-0131-y DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-013-0131-y
Lincoln, S., Lynham, S., & Guba, E. (2018). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences, revisited. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (5th Edition, pp. 108-150). Sage Publications Inc.
Lowe, K. (2011). A critique of school and Aboriginal community partnerships. In N. Purdie, G. Milgate, & H. Bell (Eds.), Two way teaching and learning: Toward culturally reflective and relevant education (pp. 13–34). ACER Press.
Macoun, A. (2016). Colonising white innocence: Complicity and critical encounters. In S. Maddison, T. Clark, & R. de Costa (Eds.), The limits of settler colonial reconciliation: Non-Indigenous people and the responsibility to engage (pp. 85–102). Springer. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2654-6_6
Mayo, P. (2015). Gramsci, education and power. In A. Kupfer (Ed.), Power and education: Contexts of oppression and opportunity (pp. 41–57). Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137415356_4
McCallum, K., & Waller, L. (2022). Un-braiding deficit discourse in Indigenous education news 2008–2018: Performance, attendance and mobility. Critical Discourse Studies, 19(1), 73–92. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2020.1817115 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2020.1817115
Morse, J. (2010). Procedures and practice of mixed methods design. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), SAGE handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (2nd ed., pp. 339–352). SAGE Publications. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781506335193.n14
National Indigenous Australians Agency. (2019). Remote School Attendance Strategy Operational Framework. https://www.niaa.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/RSAS-operational-framework.pdf
National Indigenous Australians Agency (2019). Remote School Attendance Strategy extended to keep kids in school [Media Release]. https://www.niaa.gov.au/news-centre/indigenous-affairs/remote-school-attendance-strategy-extended-keep-kids-school
National Indigenous Australians Agency (2020). Remote School Attendance Strategy [Media Release]. https://www.niaa.gov.au/indigenous-affairs/education/remote-school-attendance-strategy
New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education. (2015). School Attendance Policy (PD/2005/0259/V07). NSW Government. https://policies.education.nsw.gov.au/policy-library/policies/school-attendance-policy
Niddrie, N., Barnes, S., & Brosnan, K. (2018). Understanding family perspectives of school attendance in remote communities: Evaluation of the Remote School Attendance Strategy. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/rsas-evaluation-report.pdf
Northern Territory Department of Education. (1999). Learning lessons – An independent review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory. Northern Territory Government. https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20070830135448/http://www.deet.nt.gov.au/education/indigenous_education/previous_publications/docs/learning_lessons_review.pdf
O’Brien Rich Research Group. (2016). Case study research for the Remote School Attendance Strategy. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. https://www.niaa.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/case-study-research-remote-school-attendance-strategy.pdf
Osborne, S. (2017a). Kulini: Framing ethical listening and power-sensitive dialogue in remote Aboriginal education and research. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts, 22(SI), 26–37. https://doi.org/10.18793/LCJ2017.22.04 DOI: https://doi.org/10.18793/LCJ2017.22.04
Osborne, S. (2017b). Staging standpoint dialogue in tristate education: Privileging Anangu voices [Unpublished PhD thesis]. Victoria University. http://vuir.vu.edu.au/32634/1/OSBORNE%20Samuel%20-%20Thesis.pdf
Prout-Quicke, S., & Biddle, N. (2017). School (non-)attendance and “mobile cultures”: Theoretical and empirical insights from Indigenous Australia. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(1), 57–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1150831 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1150831
Rigney, L-I. (2006). Indigenist research and Aboriginal Australia. In J. E. Kunnie & N. Goduka (Eds.), Indigenous peoples’ wisdom and power: Affirming our knowledge through narratives (pp. 32–50). Ashgate Publishing. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315252414-3
Sarra, C., Spillman, D., Jackson, C., Davis, J., & Bray, J. (2020). High-expectations relationships: A foundation for enacting high expectations in all Australian schools. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 49(1), 32–45. https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2018.10 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2018.10
Scullion, N. (2014a). Minister Scullion: Minister urges parents and carers to get their children to school [Media Release]. https://www.indigenous.gov.au/minister-scullion-minister-urges-parents-and-carers-to-get-their-children-to-school
Scullion, N. (2014b). Minister Scullion: Strategy increases school attendance in NT [Media Release]. https://www.indigenous.gov.au/minister-scullion-strategy-increases-school-attendance-in-nt
Scullion, N. (2015). Going to School matters – the Remote School Attendance Strategy starts its second year [Media Release]. http://minister.indigenous.gov.au/media/2015-01-13/going-school-matters-remote-school-attendance-strategy-starts-its-second-year
Scullion, N. (2016). Minister Scullion: Adaptability key to RSAS success [Media Release]. https://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/announcements/minister-scullion-adaptability-key-rsas-success
Scullion, N. (2017). Inaugural Remote School Attendance Strategy Conference kicks off [Media Release]. https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/5633053/upload_binary/5633053.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22Remote%20School%20Attendance%20Strategy%22
Scullion, N. (2019, 4 February). Coalition Government extends $78 million Remote School Attendance Strategy [Media release]. https://ministers.pmc.gov.au/scullion/2019/coalition-government-extends-78-million-remote-school-attendance-strategy
Silburn, S., Guthridge, S., McKenzie, J., Su, J., He, V., & Haste, S. (2018). Early pathways to school learning: Lessons from the NT data linkage study. Menzies School of Health Research. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327858228_Modelling_key_drivers_of_school_education_outcomes
Waller, L., McCallum, K., & Gorringe, S. (2018). Resisting the truancy trap: Indigenous media and school attendance in “remote” Australia. Postcolonial Directions in Education, 7(2), 122–147.
Wilson, B. (2014). A share in the future: Review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory. The Education Business. https://www.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/229016/A-Share-in-the-Future-The-Review-of-Indigenous-Education-in-the-Northern-Territory.pdf
Yunupingu, M. (1995). National review of education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: Final Report. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Employment, Education and Training. http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/159911
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 John Guenther, Samuel Osborne, Stephen Corrie, Lester-Irabinna Rigney, Kevin Lowe
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education is in the process of transitioning to fully Open Access. Most articles are available as Open Access but some are currently Free Access whereby copyright still applies and if you wish to re-use the article permission will need to be sought from the copyright holder. This article's license terms are outlined at the URL above.