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Central Land Council urges Federal intervention in NT's "remote education crisis"

Giovanni Torre -

The Central Land Council has called on the federal government to act "quickly and decisively" to end what is describes as the Northern Territory's remote education crisis.

CLC chief executive Les Turner said federal action is needed to prevent "a total collapse of the NT's remote government education system, which is starved of funds and unable to support the needs of all children".

"We call on the Albanese government to bridge the scandalous education gap with an immediate emergency equity package that ensures our students are funded to the same level as students in the rest of the country from the start of next school year," he said.

"It needs to use all levers, including $175 million in emergency funding for the next two years, to get the NT government to fund schools based on enrolment from next January."

The Council alleged the Territory has "bloated its education bureaucracy and starved remote government schools by funding schools based on attendance, rather than enrolment, since 2015".

In a statement issued Thursday, the CLC said the Territory spends on average 20 per cent less on the education of NT children than the minimum spent on students everywhere else.

"This figure hides the true extent of underfunding, with some remote schools receiving only a third of what they would get if they were funded based on enrolments," the Council said.

The CLC said school attendance under the 'effective enrolment' policy is "plummeting" across the NT, with an average of only 41.2 per cent of students attending at least four days a week in the CLC region, the southern half of the Territory.

Mr Turner said remote students in government schools are "the biggest losers under this policy", adding that it wipes out any progress federal funding for remote and disadvantaged children could achieve.

"Remote government schools currently cannot cope with additional students because they are not be able to support them," he said.

"The policy is fuelling a race to the bottom when it comes to attendance and student achievement."

The Council noted that a 2022 review of the NT's policy by Deloitte's found the effective enrolment policy created uncertainty, prevented investment in quality engagement strategies and "led to band aid solutions to boosting attendance".

Mr Turner said even remote students with good attendance faced "enormous barriers" because their schools don't offer secondary education.

"It is deeply unfair that our children have to leave home and become boarders if they want to go to High School – a hurdle that is too high for most. This is not a real choice for Aboriginal families," he said.

"This is a clear-cut example of where a voice to parliament would hold governments accountable for the tax dollars they receive and to provide local knowledge and advice that ensures they are spent where they are most needed and make a difference on the ground," he said.

"We appeal to all Australians to vote Yes so that governments can be held accountable for education spending and meet the needs of all our children into the future."

NT Minister for Education, Eva Lawler told National indigenous Times that as a Territory Educator of over 40 years, she deeply understands "the value and importance of a quality education, but I also deeply understand the challenges surrounding delivering education in the most remote parts of this country".

"The Territory Labor Government continues to invest billions into education, and we provide the highest amount of funding per student in the country at $28,703, because we want every child to succeed in life," she said.

"We are moving away from the CLP (Country Liberal Party) introduced Effective enrolment funding model, switching to an enrolment based funding model.

"We have accepted all recommendations from the Deloitte review our government implemented, which was handed down in December 2022, and whilst we transition to the new model a number of recommendations have already been immediately implemented."

It is understood the Northern Territory government worked in partnership with the federal government to secure an additional $40 million for schools in Central Australia. National Indigenous Times has been advised that "every school in Central Australia will receive full funding from the next school year".

Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare told National Indigenous Times the government is "committed to working with state and territory governments to put all schools on a path to full and fair funding".

"On average, public schools in the Northern Territory are the most underfunded schools in the country. They receive approximately 80 per cent of their full and fair funding level, and under current funding arrangements, are not on track to achieve 100 per cent of the SRS before 2050," he noted.

"Earlier this year the Australian government announced an additional $40 million in funding to 46 schools in Central Australia to increase school enrolment and student engagement to improve learning outcomes. This funding, through the Better, safer future for Central Australia plan, will benefit all schools in Central Australia.

"This investment means that all schools, public and private, in Central Australia will get to the full funding level next year. Schools will work with their local communities to develop tailored solutions to better engage children and young people in school and provide them with the wrap-around support they need to succeed.

"The O'Brien Review will focus on driving real and measurable improvements for students experiencing disadvantage, and will help inform governments about specific reforms to pursue through the next National School Reform Agreement. This includes how to ensure public funding is delivering on national agreements and that all school authorities are transparent and accountable to the community for how funding is invested and measuring the impacts of this investment – as referenced in the Review's Terms of Reference."

Mr Clare said the review will provide advice on the specific reforms that should be tied to funding in the next National School Reform Agreement. It will not revisit how the Schooling Resourcing Standard is calculated.

Stakeholder consultations, survey results and submissions will inform the development of recommendations for the final report, to be handed to Education Ministers on 31 October 2023.

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