Background of the study
For most indigenous students living in remote areas access to secondary schooling, especially to the upper levels, means leaving home to go to a school which makes provision for boarding. Some of the schools providing these sorts of opportunities have been doing so for more than 50 years, with well established links to particular communities and families. However the increase in the number of young people being born and growing up in remote communities and the higher levels of aspirations for their educational success being driven from a range of sources means that the demand for this type of provision is increasing. The Australian government provides supplementary funding to support boarding schools as well as the families of students that attend these schools. Arrival in a new setting to live and work produces challenges for anybody, especially where living in close proximity with people many of whom you don’t know is involved. These students are mostly young adolescents often confronting very new living arrangements. Peers were a crucial influence in this regard, but new students very often have a steep learning curve. However there were some comments about the number of students who had got themselves ready for this experience and were ready, and most willing, to make some substantial changes in the way they lived their lives. One principal from a large school in provincial centre noted that his new students mostly come from very small schools in small communities or towns. One school with around 50 boarders has a core staff of six or seven with another 20 people providing part-time support. The students become very attached to their school families.’ No discussion of the process of boarding would be complete without reference to extra-curricular activities. ‘A full, rich and busy program of activities out of school time is one of the keys to success’ was a common and taken-for-granted view. These students frequently love sport and it was regularly mentioned that they were very good at it. One principal who was concerned about attendance chuckled away as he said, ‘… At the one school without a set period of homework/study, ‘the kids go down to the waterhole, muck around on their bikes, they’ve got their jobs to do — plenty of those — but really they do all the things they’d do at home.’ Attendance may appear to be an odd issue to discuss for students who are boarding. It might be better described as maintaining consistent attendance over the full period of secondary schooling. Two schools provided figures of rolling enrolment. In one case in a school with 200 places, 380 spent some time in the school during last year, and with 100–120 consistent attendees the very brief period spent by the others is evident. At another school it was possible in the past to have as many as 800 students cycle through 250 places during the course of a year. In a document prepared by one of the principals contributing to this paper he suggests: ‘Student retention (or lack of student retention) is probably the biggest issue faced by schools and hostels that cater for Indigenous students. It seems to be an issue faced by all schools and hostels although some organizations have better Indigenous retention than others.’ It is not an issue faced by all the schools in this survey. A couple of the smaller schools sited in more remote locations did not identify this as an issue. The expense and difficulty of getting home was a factor. Also where students were coming from families and friendship groups where there was a longer and more substantial history of educational participation and engagement, they seem more likely to participate consistently for longer periods. But, as usual, individual responses are subject to a complex range of factors. It was suggested that older students were more likely not to return. ‘They become more engaged in other issues in their communities.’ ‘They think that they...
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