Steadfast support for closing the gap

In Australia, one person is born every one minute and 44 seconds — and based on current trends, two-thirds of those will attend public schools.

In NSW during 2018, almost 800,000 students attended NSW public schools. The Department’s Annual Report indicated that 61,933 of those students identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, 8 per cent of the total school population in NSW.

The union — with the interests of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in mind — continues to pursue policy aimed at true equity and the closing of achievement gaps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Many Aboriginal communities are disadvantaged in complex and varied ways. This has been acknowledged in successive Closing the Gap reports.

The union’s commitment to Connected Community strategy reform has, at its heart, the goal of addressing the challenges associated with attracting, supporting and retaining classroom teachers, executives and principals who have the necessary expertise to address intersecting disadvantage.

The provision of preschool to support children before kindergarten across the state, especially in Connected Community schools, continues to be a priority of the union.

NSW is the worst of any state or territory when it comes to pre-school provision. In 2018, of all early childhood education service types in NSW, government preschools account for only 5 per cent, with enrolments following a similar pattern.

The 2016 NSW Auditor-General’s Report to Parliament on Early Childhood Education revealed that while 99 per cent of children were enrolled in an early childhood program of some sort in the 12 months before starting kindergarten, only 68 per cent attended the set target of 600 hours in that year.

Federation has a long history of advocating for the provision and expansion of public preschool education. It must be free and accessible to all children for the two years before kindergarten and located within public schools. This includes the provision of targeted early intervention support.

Guaranteed access to early intervention programs is central to this policy. Such provision is one of the most critical factors in determining the prosperity of a young person’s life. In this context, the impact of the inadequate provision of free public schooling on Aboriginal children is concerning. Aboriginal people make up 3.4 per cent of NSW’s population, yet in 2019 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 23 per cent of the state’s prisoners, identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

It is unacceptable that of the 2018 short and long suspensions given by the Department more than 16 per cent were issued to Aboriginal students.

Preschooling, timely diagnosis of disability and learning difficulties, and therapeutic interventions such as speech and occupational therapy health screenings (as a minimum), may have averted the behaviours that led to the suspensions.

As a profession, and union, we must remain steadfast in support of policy and reform aimed at closing achievement gaps. We must continue to advocate for the funding provisions necessary to implement the union’s policy objectives and continue to raise awareness in our schools and associations.