The Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS): Why invest in a strategy that reduces attendance?


  • John Guenther Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
  • Samuel Osborne University of South Australia
  • Stephen Corrie Flinders University
  • Lester-Irabinna Rigney University of South Australia
  • Kevin Lowe University of New South Wales



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.


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Author Biographies

John Guenther, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education

John Guenther is a researcher with 20 years’ experience working in overlapping fields of social inquiry, typically in areas related to education and training, and its intersections with mental health and wellbeing, justice, employment, child protection and welfare. In the last 10 years he has more intentionally focused on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote parts of Australia. He led the Remote Education Systems project under the CRC for Remote Economic Participation (2011–2016) and is currently the Research Leader for Education and Training with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, based in Darwin, Northern Territory. John is a leading academic in the field of remote education and has published widely on his findings, often under the banner of “red dirt thinking”.

Samuel Osborne, University of South Australia

Sam Osborne is the Associate Director, Regional Engagement (APY Lands) at UniSA. He has worked in Aboriginal Education since 1995 in roles including teaching language, remote school principal and research. He currently coordinates Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara language programs at UniSA and has a research role in a range of projects including Culturally Responsive Pedagogies, Water Literacies, and Pedagogies for Justice. A focus of his work is to privilege Aboriginal languages, knowledges and voices in research relating to Aboriginal education. He worked on the Remote Education Systems project within the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP) from 2011-2015.

Stephen Corrie, Flinders University

Dr Steve Corrie has worked across primary, secondary and tertiary education contexts for more than 25 years. Steve’s research focus draws upon his prior experiences as a classroom teacher, middle school leader and principal to consider how educators can utilise cultural responsivity to make schooling more inclusive.

Lester-Irabinna Rigney, University of South Australia

Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney is a citizen of the Narungga Nation and Professor of Aboriginal Schooling in Education Futures, University of South Australia. Professor Rigney has worked in Aboriginal education for over 20 years. His previous appointment was the Dean of Indigenous Education at the University of Adelaide.

Kevin Lowe, University of New South Wales

Kevin Lowe is a Gubbi Gubbi man from south-east Queensland. He is a Scientia Indigenous Fellow at UNSW, working on a community and school-focused research project on developing a model of sustainable improvement in Aboriginal education. Kevin has had experience in education as a teacher, administrator and lecturer. He has expertise in working with Aboriginal community organisations on establishing Aboriginal language policy and school curriculum implementation. Recently Kevin has worked with colleagues to review research across key areas of schooling and established the Aboriginal Voices, a broad-based, holistic project developing a new pedagogic framework for teachers.


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How to Cite

Guenther, J., Osborne, S., Corrie, S., Rigney, L.-I., & Lowe, K. (2022). The Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS): Why invest in a strategy that reduces attendance?. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 51(2).




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