Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

School attendance measure begins in NT

Joint Media Release with:

  • Paul Henderson MLA, Chief Minister - Acting Education Minister

A new approach to encourage parental responsibility and boost school enrolment and attendance begins today in the Northern Territory.

Parents in Hermannsburg, Katherine, Katherine town camps, Wallace Rockhole, Wadeye and Tiwi Islands who are receiving income support will be required to tell Centrelink where their children are enrolled and to take reasonable measures to ensure their children attend school regularly.

The measure aims to encourage parental responsibility. Parents who do the right thing and try to get their children to school have nothing to be concerned about.

Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children will be part of this trial.

Parents who fail to enrol their children or take reasonable measures to get their children to go to school, may have their income support payments suspended until their children are enrolled or attend school.

Schooling is key to improving children’s chances and directly impacts on their employment opportunities and financial independence.

The Federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, the NT Chief Minister, Paul Henderson and the Director of the Catholic Education Office have signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian and NT Government and the Catholic Education Office.

Negotiations are well-progressed with the Tiwi Education Board and the trial arrangements will be considered at their next board meeting on the 16 February 2009.

The trial will start in Katherine and Katherine town camps from today and will be gradually rolled out to other trial communities over the next six weeks.

A decision to temporarily withhold a parent’s income support will be a last resort.

The school attendance measure will only be used after a series of steps have been taken to increase parental responsibility including developing an attendance plan with the parent, clearly setting out actions parents should take to improve school attendance.

Where it can be shown the parent has failed, despite help from the child’s school and Centrelink, to exercise parental responsibility to ensure the child is enrolled and attending school, payments may be suspended.

Full back pay will be provided when parents exercise parental responsibility within a 13 week period.

Centrelink is currently visiting all trial communities to inform parents of the school attendance measure.

The Australian Government has increased education funding in the NT, including $100 million to place 200 extra teachers in remote schools and funding for the construction of extra classrooms.

An estimated 1300 parents in the NT are expected to be included in this trial.

Around 2,000 Indigenous children, or 20 per cent of compulsory age Indigenous students, are not enrolled in school, and there are a further 2,500 not attending regularly.

The NT education authorities will refer any attendance concerns to Centrelink to follow up.

The Northern Territory Government has a range of measures in place to boost attendance, including a community information campaign, extra teachers and classrooms in remote communities, case management by schools and initiatives to address health and social issues as they affect school attendance.