Scullion rounds up remote NT school kids

May 18, 2017

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion (L) has given NT parents a wake up call about education.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion never liked school as a child, but he has given parents on a remote Northern Territory island a wake-up call about the importance of education.

The senator has spent the morning rounding up sleepy children for their school day at Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, playing truancy officer by knocking on doors and speaking to parents.

"I'm here to make sure your kid gets to school. He doesn't like it, does he? Nor did I. I used to be a bit of a runner," he said on Thursday.

Every morning, youngsters in 75 indigenous communities across the nation are encouraged out of bed and into their classrooms as part of the government's truancy program.

A group of remote school attendance officers - all indigenous community members - stroll the streets before a bus picks them up.

Yirrkala School co principal Katrina Hudson praised the scheme, saying attendance rates have risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

"Some weeks last term we were getting 75 per cent, which in mainstream schools sounds low but for this school it's a huge improvement," she said.

The strategy started in 2014, employing officers to support parents by helping with lunches, uniforms, homework and after-school care.

"They're spending time with families to create those relationships and trust," Ms Hudson said.

Co-principal Meookiyawuy Ganambarr says the respected officers represent different clans to ensure the children will respond.

"We need to work together as a community," she said.

"We're all connected with each other in everyday life - people talk and share stories."

Canberra hopes to close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018 but none of the targets around indigenous early-education enrolments or truancy are on track.

Ms Ganambarr said one of the biggest problems dropping attendance numbers is ceremonies, which take children away from their homes for long periods.

"There's lots of cultural obligations in the communities. There's funerals happening weekly," she said.

But Senator Scullion says that is no longer an excuse for non-attendance and children should attend other schools temporarily.

Since 2013, the federal government has also rolled out a program to dock the welfare payments of NT parents who do not oversee their children's school attendance.

Ms Hudson called for an inter-agency approach, saying many kids with learning difficulties still face barriers to education even if they get through the classroom door.

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