Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

NT trials to boost school attendance

Joint Media Release with:

  • Marion Scrymgour MLA, Deputy Chief Minister, Minister for Indigenous Policy

The first six Northern Territory locations to trial linking school attendance with welfare payments have been selected.

Hermannsburg, Katherine, Katherine town camps, Wallace Rockhole, Wadeye and Tiwi Islands will be involved in the pilot to boost school enrolment and improve school attendance.

The trials will start in six communities, selected in consultation with the NT Government, at the beginning of the 2009 school year. The sites for two other pilot sites in metropolitan locations outside the NT will be announced soon.

Parents in these communities 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.

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.

A decision to temporarily withhold a parent’s income support will be a last resort where it can be shown the parent has failed, despite help from the school and Centrelink, to exercise parental responsibility. Full back pay will be provided when parents have met their responsibilities within a 13-week period.

Australian Government funding of $17.6 million over three years has been provided to establish and administer the trials.

The trials complement the Tiwi Islands Land Council’s plans to restrict royalty payments if parents do not ensure their children record higher than 80 per cent school attendance.

Encouraging income support recipients to send their children to school through the new measures will go some way to help turn around poor school enrolment and attendance.

While most schools in major urban centres in the NT have attendance rates comparable with the rest of Australia, rates in remote Indigenous communities must be improved.

There are an estimated 2,000 children, or 20 per cent of compulsory school age Indigenous students in the NT, who are not enrolled in school. A further 2,500 are not attending regularly. About 8,000 Indigenous children attend school only 60 per cent of the time on average.

At one of the larger trial NT schools, 39 per cent of children are failing to regularly attend while in one of the smaller schools in the trials, less than half are in class.

Boosting school attendance and student retention rates is essential if we are to meet our target to halve the gap in education and employment outcomes within a decade.