Better practice in school attendance: Improving the school attendance of Indigenous students

Better practice in school attendance: Improving the school attendance of Indigenous students Report

  • Author(s): Bourke, C, Rigby, K, Burden, J
  • Published: 2000
  • Publisher: Monash University

Abstract: This report is based on an analysis of available data, relevant literature and wide spread consultations and site visits. The attendance rates of Indigenous students at all levels of schooling, their variation over time, and, a range of variables together with a description of the contributing factors and reasons form the body of the report. A description of initiatives and programmes to improve attendance rates and suggestions for further research and analysis complete the report. Despite initiatives which have been introduced by Commonwealth and State/Territory governments in the last 20 years to improve participation in, and outcomes from, education among Indigenous students, they continue to be the most educationally disadvantaged student group in Australia, with consistently lower levels of academic achievement and higher rates of absenteeism than among non-Indigenous students. The persistence of high rates of absenteeism is a major concern, as it is believed by educators that consistent school attendance is essential for educational success, with low standards of academic achievement, including low levels of English language and literacy skills, almost universally attributed by teaching staff to high levels of absenteeism among Indigenous students. This view, however, is challenged by some writers and researchers, who see it as a classic case of ‘blaming the victim’, and indicative of a reluctance on the part of school authorities to accept that the fault may lie within the education system itself. These authors, in pointing to the fact that the area of English language and literacy learning is a major stumbling block for Indigenous students, highlight the need for the nature of the cause/effect relationship between poor attendance and poor achievement in English language, literacy and other school skills to be established. This, it is believed, will assist in determining what strategies are most appropriate to overcome the problem of poor attendance. The extent and nature of the day to day attendance of Indigenous Australian children at schools and pre-schools is unavoidably speculative. The database is limited to about 28% of Indigenous children in the government school sector. In non-government schools the information available generally did not include the number of students upon which the estimates of school attendances were based and the comprehensiveness of the coverage cannot be assessed. Despite a lack of national school attendance data and a lack of consistency in the definition and measurement of non-attendance it is, nevertheless, clear from the literature that absenteeism among Indigenous students is markedly higher than among non-Indigenous students. Indigenous students also have higher rates of suspension and lower retention rates than non-Indigenous students. It is also apparent that there is considerable variation in the patterns of attendance within the Indigenous student population, with rates of absenteeism reported to be significantly higher in more isolated, traditionally oriented communities where family mobility is seen as a problem.

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Bourke, C, Rigby, K, Burden, J, 2000, Better practice in school attendance: Improving the school attendance of Indigenous students, Report, viewed 13 June 2024,

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