Strategies for enhancing the attendance, engagement and retention of students enrolled at the Ngaanyatjarra Lands School in remote Western Australia

Year: 2015

Author: Wilson, Shane, Sharplin, Elaine, Howitt, Christine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Achieving educational equality for Australia’s Indigenous peoples remains one of Australia’s principal educational challenges. The issue of non-attendance in Australia’s remote community schools continues to be of significant concern, as one issue impacting on educational outcomes. This paper reports the findings of a study seeking educator perspectives on strategies for enhancing the attendance, engagement and retention of students enrolled at The Ngaanyatjarra Lands School (NLS) in remote Western Australia (WA) and examines factors supporting and inhibiting attendance.
The multi-campus NLS is one of Australia’s most educationally disadvantaged schools with an Index of Community Socio-Economic Advantage (ICSEA) of 619 compared to 1000 as the average for all Australian schools. This school experiences a high level of transiency and non-attendance with four per cent of students attending regularly. The Ngaanyatjarra people are highly traditional and retain a close connection to their Land and traditional customs.
This study utilised a single case qualitative research design, incorporating the perspectives of 11 practising NLS educators. Data was collected through semi-structured individual and focus group interviews, and documentary analysis.
Four key areas of intervention for enhancing the attendance, engagement and retention of students are presented: 1) school-based learning and teaching; 2) school-based personnel; 3) family and community; and 4) pre-service preparation and induction. This study supported significant change to the provision of secondary education in The NLS. It also highlighted the importance of providing a culturally relevant and enriching curriculum for enhancing attendance and engagement in schools such as The NLS. Explicit Standard Australian English programmes were recommended in providing students with personalised pathways into Vocational Education Training. The changes called for highly qualified school leaders that can integrate the students’ cultural and linguistic needs with quality personnel development strategies. Daily school programmes prioritising the health and well-being of students in this context, coupled with extensive communication between the school, family and agencies, were found to enhance the attendance, engagement and retention of students at The NLS.
The paper concludes with the implications for developing policy, practice and future research. Government agencies have a significant role to play in differentiating mainstream policy for The NLS. Human resource management policies need to prioritise the preparation, induction and development of quality NLS educators using two-way community development strategies. Further research into Ngaanyatjarra perspectives extending to student movement across the ‘culturally invisible’ borders of WA, Northern Territory and South Australia is recommended.