Australian Education Union slams Wilson Review of Northern Territory Indigenous education

ABC News

A review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory has been labelled a "sham" by the NT's education union.

But NT Education Minister Peter Chandler has strongly rejected the claims and said he would "not apologise for spending money on a strategy that is giving our Indigenous students a share in the future".

At the annual meeting of the NT branch of the Australian Education Union, president Jarvis Ryan said the NT Government did not adequately consult remote communities.

The NT Government-commissioned Wilson Review recommends sending Indigenous high school students to boarding schools in regional centres.

"People in communities are saying we don't feel like we've been consulted," he said.

"The Government has come and told us, 'This is what we're doing'."

Prominent Indigenous educator Yalmay Yunupingu, a former teacher at Yirrkala school in East Arnhem Land, also said there had not been enough consultation.

"We want them to come to the community and sit down with us and talk face-to-face," she said.

"That's what a real consultation means."

The Wilson Review found that the longer an Indigenous child stays at school the further they drop behind their non-Indigenous classmates.

According to the review, by Year 3 Indigenous students in very remote schools in the NT are already two years of schooling behind Indigenous students in very remote schools in the rest of Australia.

By Year 9, the gap is about five years.

There are about 15,000 Indigenous students enrolled in the Northern Territory and more than half are in remote and very remote locations.

Mr Ryan said the Government had already decided the outcome of the review before it began consultation.

"The Government announced the review but already said what it wanted," he said.

"Lo and behold the final strategy is in line with that."

He said the AEU NT, which has about 2000 members across the NT, continued to support remote schooling.

"There's actually a lot of problems with the boarding school model," he said.

"We believe it's possible to have viable secondary programs in remote communities."

Global budgeting creating stress for teachers: AEU

The meeting also passed unanimous potions condemning global school budgeting (GSB) and calling on unions to start discussions with other parties to develop a better school-funding model.

The NT Government's global school budgets mean schools will be responsible for all of their budget, including the teacher payroll, rather than relying on a centralised bureaucracy.

The change has been resisted by the teachers' union and school councils, who have said the new system was a smokescreen for cuts to funding.

"We've seen over last two years 300 positions lost from education," Mr Ryan said.

"According to staffing figures another 150 jobs have gone this year.

"We need to give schools the resources they need so they can focus on teaching and learning,

"Instead there's more administrative workload on schools and principals. That's flowing down to classroom teachers and creating stress."

NT Education Minister rejects claims

In a statement, Minister Peter Chandler said he was "absolutely astounded at the Australian Education Union (AEU), the union that claims to be the organisation that represents Australian public school and TAFE teachers and education support staff industrially and professionally – they are doing the complete opposite".

Mr Chandler said the unions words and actions were "telling two completely different stories but, sadly this is the same old rhetoric we are used to hearing year after year".

"Labor and the AEU need to stop this pathetic scare campaign that is resulting in a dramatic reduction in students enrolled in our public schools," he said.

"GBS has given schools a new level of autonomy which has resulted in decisions being made by schools for schools. The NT Government is providing $40 million over four years to support schools transition to global school budgets and a new student needs-based funding model.

"This is not about cuts, it is about removing red tape and improving student outcomes."

Mr Chandler said the new model had been in schools for four months and was "addressing many of the stop/start funding issues schools have experienced in the past".

"I will not apologise for spending money on a strategy that is giving our Indigenous students a share in the future of the Territory through a better quality education."

NT Education Minister Peter Chandler

"Schools can now set an educational plan, staff the plan and put it in train without layers of red tape and reference to head office to seek approval to alter staffing arrangements," he said.

"It is still in the early stages and is not perfect, but make no mistake principals are supporting this change and the autonomy global school budgets confers.

"There will be no going back to the old system of stop/start funding and a bloated central office."

Mr Chandler rejected claims the NT Government was imposing the new strategy on communities from above, instead of consulting.

"Extensive consultation took place, over 30 schools were visited, over 500 people attended consultations across the Territory (and) 118 written submissions were received."

He said the NT Government was not "closing any schools in any locations".

"What the review is saying is that we cannot continue to claim we are offering a high quality secondary programs in 48 remote and very remote locations - this is not possible."

"No remote school will close. The first boarding facility will be built at Nhulunbuy High School and opened in 2017. This will be followed by boarding facilities constructed in Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek. The boarding facilities will be linked to Regional High Schools."

He accused the AEU of "politicising and turning a positive 10-year strategy into a negative story".

"I saw firsthand yesterday at Warrawi School on Goulburn Island the effects the strategy is already having on students' learning and pathways," he said.

"I would like to see Labor and the union go out to a school that use this strategy and tell those teachers and students that what they are doing is just not good enough.

"I am the Minister for Education; all schools, all teachers and all students and I will not apologise for spending money on a strategy that is giving our Indigenous students a share in the future of the Territory through a better quality education."