A critical perspective: does place ‘count’ in education policy aspiring to success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students?

Year: 2019

Author: Salter, Peta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

When educational discourses seek to normalise educational ‘success’, good intentions seeking to empower previously marginalised groups can instead serve to bond them to deficit discourses. However, a critical pedagogy of place resists standardisation and pursues the contextual significance of place and community to educational success. The conditions for ‘success’ in education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are widely noted as complex, and unsurprisingly, responses to navigating this complexity vary. A common theme in recent empirical research in regards to what seeds success is engagement with community, in particular nuanced knowledge of complex community histories, contexts and aspirations.

This paper interrogates what places ‘count’ when it comes to evaluating educational success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and explores ways in which recent educational ‘Closing the Gap’ policy and outcomes engage with notions of place and conceptualise the importance of community. Firstly, this paper explores critical race theory as a framework for policy analysis. Secondly, this theoretical framework is used to critique the most recent Australian Closing the Gap reports with a close focus on Chapter 3: Education. Following, the findings of this critique are discussed in regards to the places and positioning of community this critique uncovers. Central to this discussion is racialised policy problematisations that suggest at best ambivalence towards place, and at worst, disengagement from place as necessary to ‘close gaps’ in Indigenous education. Uncritical presentations of this separation mask a ‘disturbing picture’ (Guenther, Lowe, Burgess, Vass & Moodie, 2019) of equitable outcomes for students. Consequently, education policy discourses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students construct conflicting messages regarding how place ‘counts’ and contributes to educational success.


Guenther, J, Lowe, K, Burgess, C, Vass, G & Moodie, N. 2019. Factors contributing to educational outcomes for First Nations students form remote communities: A systemic review. The Australian Educational Researcher, 46: 319-340.