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PISA2018-2.6 John Guenther on First Nations students in Remote Communities

John Guenther, currently the Research Leader—Education and Training for Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, based in Darwin, analysed 11 years of My School data focusing on very remote schools.

Five findings are of special importance. Disadvantage does not affect attendance rates of First Nations students; attendance makes very little difference to NAPLAN outcomes and attendance strategies don’t work. Three things do make a difference.

“While we should be careful about not attributing causality, what we can say is that schools that have higher levels of funding per student, and schools with lower staff to student ratios, have higher attendance rates..

“What My School has shown us is that a focus on attendance in remote schools is ineffectual. It also tells us that deficit discourses of disadvantage are fundamentally flawed and what we are currently measuring as ‘advantage’ fails to explain the dynamics of success and achievement in remote schools… financial investment in remote schools works, particularly where it is directed at teachers and local support staff, and apart from any other benefits, that investment is reflected in higher levels of engagement and better academic performance.

“One program that was designed to improve literacy in remote schools was the Literacy for Remote Primary School Program (LFRPSP) which was introduced as a trial in 2014 employing Direct Instruction (DI) and Explicit Direct Instruction methods. The trial received $30 million of public funding including extensions in 2017 and 2018 following an evaluation.

“Did it work? My School tells us that it did not, and that based on the findings to 2017, an extension of the trial was not warranted. NAPLAN scores in DI schools fell by an average of 23 points while non-intervention school scores increased by 4 points.”[1]

[1] The funding for this program was approved by then Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne!