NIT has been supplied an exclusive statement from the women of Girls Academy. It is as follows.

Girls Academy, the leading in-school mentoring program for First Nations girls, is no more. Just days before Christmas, the Federal Government, through the National Indigenous Australians Agency, informed us we were unsuccessful in our grant tender to fund the program for the next three years.

There has been no place like Girls Academy for our First Nations girls and women – we are empowered to lead and innovate programs in our communities by our Indigenous leaders. We evaluate our programs and actively seek solutions from community that are in the best interests of our girls.

We have a voice in this program and so does our community.

There is so much being said about Indigenous designed and delivered programs, but this is most certainly an argument of convenience for the government. We can genuinely say that our Girls Academy program is authentically and very carefully constructed and delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

We know this to be a place where we can lead and where we can drive our community interests in the education space. We can say this, because we are those women.

We want to make it clear we are not speaking on behalf of Girls Academy, as that is for management and the board to do. We are speaking up as women, First Nations women, mothers, sisters, daughters and aunts who care deeply about the students Girls Academy supports and the communities we serve. We are devastated.

As soon-to-be former staff members of an organisation that we know was making a real and measurable difference in meeting what the Government calls Closing the Gap targets — to improve school attendance and engagement and increase Year 12 attainment — we are stunned.

The stress and uncertainty this decision has generated among staff, schools and communities can not be underestimated. When we were told three days before Christmas that we were unsuccessful we were not given any information about what would happen after December 31.

No reason for ripping the world out from under 160 staff, the majority of whom are First Nations women.

Having read Indigenous Minister Ken Wyatt’s media release about the decision today, we have many, many questions.

We note that Minister Wyatt has promised that NIAA that it will “work closely with outgoing and incoming providers to ensure a smooth transition of services, including to ensure that existing staff are offered employment opportunities” with the new providers.

However, this has generated more questions for staff, who are still yet to receive any communication about their future from January 1.

Who are the new providers? How can there be a smooth transition when Girls Academy staff are not due to return to school until just before they re-open?

Will staff entitlements be rolled over to the new providers? Will staff get paid the same amount?

If staff choose not to go with a new provider, will they still receive their entitlements?

How will NIAA ensure a cohesive approach to supporting students in Girls Academy when it has awarded the tender to separate providers with their own programs?

Girls Academy provided a holistic program that was adapted to address the needs of individual communities. How can multiple providers, with multiple admin costs, leaders, visions and values, provide the same kind of cohesive, wraparound support?

We feel we need to stress the lack of consultation in this process. With schools, communities and existing staff. Why has a program that has done so much good over the past 16 years and is so well-regarded in the communities we serve been so easily dismissed?

A program that was recently awarded QIC accreditation, the gold standard for not-for-profits. A program that had cultural connection at its heart, driven by the knowledge that it is essential to create a culturally safe space for girls.

A program that had a waiting list of about 20 schools wanting to join.

Minister Wyatt also stated that “over the last few months the NIAA ran an open and competitive grant selection process”. The grant tender was not open for applications until November 13 and closed on November 30 and was very prescriptive. And then we were told three days before Christmas we were unsuccessful.

While we are still reeling from the shock of the announcement, our biggest concern is for the girls in our care.

We have worked so hard to develop strong relationships with them, their families and their communities over many years.

We don’t simply walk into communities and announce ourselves as the mentors of choice. We knock, we are invited in, and we work together to build something meaningful and lasting because we know how many times they have been let down in the past by others promising the world and failing to deliver.

So we are raising our voices to ask: Why?

Why has the wellbeing of our girls been treated so casually?

Why weren’t communities consulted in this decision-making process? Why weren’t the opinions of principals who support our program sought?

Are all staff in the Academies guaranteed jobs with the new providers, including our non-Indigenous staff?

Will they be supported to return to work as soon as the new school year starts with these new providers, including being paid through the school holiday period? What about staff in non-government schools?

And if staff choose not to transition — because surely this is their choice — what happens to their leave and entitlements?

Girls Academy also ran a post-school program, supporting at least 340 graduates, which was funded by partners.  The post school team helped these graduates find employment, or go on to further education and training, as well as help prepare senior students prepare for life after school.

Will one of the providers Ken Wyatt mentions run this program or will it simply fall by the wayside?

Above all, we want to know did the Government consider for one minute the devastating impact this would have on the girls?

You can’t just superimpose new providers on top of a successful program and expect those connections to remain. The girls will feel abandoned once more. And that is the real tragedy of this decision.

We deserve answers. Our communities deserve answers. Most importantly, our girls deserve to know why we will not be there for them in 2021.