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Port Augusta Secondary School, South Australia

Be methodical and start with individuals

The context | Indigenous education: A priority | Case management and the SACE | The Indigenous School to Work Project

The context

Port Augusta is an industrial and service city, 310 kilometres north of Adelaide, 75 kilometres from Whyalla and 98 kilometres from Port Pirie. The Flinders Ranges provide the backdrop to the town. The total population is about 14,000 with an increasing number of transient and mobile families. Over 3,000 Aboriginal people live in the town or the Davenport Aboriginal Community. The two main employers are the Electricity Trust of South Australia (Flinders Power) and Australian National, but both have reduced staff in recent years and employment prospects are a cause for concern.

Port Augusta Secondary School is an amalgamation of Augusta Park High School and Port Augusta High School which occurred in 1995. As a result, there are now separate Year 8-9 and Year 10-12 campuses, approximately two kilometres apart and with a total student population of well over 500.

The teaching staff is characterised by a large number of beginning teachers in either permanent or contract positions. As a result, there is a regular turnover of staff. Port Augusta SS has the largest number of Aboriginal students in any secondary school in South Australia, and about 30% of the school population is Aboriginal.

More details about the school (and Indigenous Education initiatives not featured below) can be found in an extract from the school's annual report.

Indigenous education: A major priority


Darryl Ashby

Principal, Darryl Ashby, had this to say about the priority accorded to Aboriginal education at Port Augusta Secondary School.

I have genuine concerns about the lack of equitable outcomes, which is well documented across this state and across Australia generally. I think schools can implement programs and put in place structures which can, to come degree, address that, and that's what we're trying to do here in Port Augusta.

There's an Aboriginal Education team that works across both campuses to support the work of Aboriginal students. It consists of the Aboriginal Education Coordinator, three Aboriginal Education Workers (AEWs), an Aboriginal mentor, the Indigenous School to Work Project coordinator and a representative of the school administration.

We want to be methodical and start with individuals. So it's talking to kids about future directions, getting mentoring programs going, putting in place tracking processes to make sure nobody gets lost in the system, getting real about attendance.

And then there's the Aboriginal perspective across the school. We've got seven Aboriginal staff members at the moment and we employ others as needed. The other side is that we've made Aboriginal Cultural Studies compulsory in Years 8 and 9. Every kid does it and as part of that they go out and do cultural field days where local Elders and respected people in the community come along and work with them, telling stories, cooking roo tail, digging for bush foods, showing bush medicines.

Case management and the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE)


Sally-Ann Geddes

Sally-Ann Geddes is Aboriginal Education and Special Needs Coordinator. She talks about how an individual-focused approach was developed.

Having worked in the primary sector since 1987 (and particularly in Port Augusta since 1994) I had seen a number of our Aboriginal students move into high school, but not go on to complete Year 12. I couldn't understand why they weren't making it through when they left with so much promise from the primary school. So when the opportunity came up for the Aboriginal Education position at Port Augusta SS, I hoped the climate would be right to come over and see what could be done.

In the past, there had been a culture which accepted that we would only get a maximum of one Aboriginal student completing their SACE [South Australian Certificate of Education] every year. I thought that meant that either the curriculum wasn't matching their needs or that the way it was being delivered wasn't working.

Attendance had been shocking and there seemed to be an acceptance that a low standard of attendance, participation and achievement went with being an Aboriginal student. Some people said that SACE isn't relevant for Aboriginal kids. That was a red rag to me because I knew there were SACE arrangements that could be relevant.

We had to look at what we were offering. Why on earth should an Aboriginal student not find SACE relevant? Anything else is just an acceptance of being a victim within the school. Our students had to be case managed in such a way as to make sure that they did have the chance to complete their SACE.

Over a period we've changed things so that the SACE has become more of a focus and we're now offering more diversity within the SACE offerings. A big push has been the mainstreaming of Aboriginal learners. They're not separate from our school, they are part of our school and we provide a service that meets their needs within the context of our whole school. But Aboriginal culture and events are mainstream too. Crocfest, for instance... in 2001, 34 students and two teachers participated. In 2002, the whole of Port Augusta Secondary School went to the Crocfest. That's what I mean about mainstreaming Aboriginal education and Aboriginal students' learning needs.

In the past, most Aboriginal students had a pattern of subjects that wouldn't allow them to complete the SACE. We've changed that. This year, seven students have a pattern which will allow them to achieve their SACE, but only one of them has the same pattern they had at the beginning of the year. That's because of case management.

So part of the push is setting up a vision about where we're going, what our core business is and how that is embedded in the work of the whole school. We sat down with the Aboriginal Education team and the principal and other stakeholders and put the [SA] Aboriginal Education Plan into our school context. Then we set out clear benchmarks and targets about where we wanted to get to.

For instance, we looked at attendance data, and we said, right, what should it be? And we case managed individuals and we case managed issues, and we're monitoring them as we go. Another example is just the Year 12 Aboriginal students. We had 20 enrolled at the beginning of this year and we know where each of those want to be at the end of the year. The AEWs [Aboriginal Education Workers] are great . If I go to the Year 12 AEW, she'll be able to tell me exactly where every one of those students should be in their timetable, know exactly what their attendance record is for the term and for the week.

We're interested in evidence. I believe that, for too long in this country, people have ignored the evidence. And I want to show that something is happening and I want the evidence to support it. We're not doing things because it makes us feel good. The Aboriginal community deserves more than that and we have a responsibility to provide more than that.

The Indigenous School to Work Project


Stephen Carter

Another aspect of case management is the School to Work Transition Project. This is a DEST-funded initiative under the Vocational and Educational Guidance for Aboriginals Scheme (VEGAS). Stephen Carter has been the coordinator of the project for about a year, working initially with predominantly Year 12 students, but now Year 10 and 11 as well.

The first step was that I thought I had to develop a relationship of mutual respect and trust with the Aboriginal students, and that relationship has to extend out to the wider Aboriginal community as well. So a fair bit of work went into just getting to know them and getting to a stage where Aboriginal kids felt they could just walk into my office and say, 'look, I want to be a brain scientist' or whatever the case may be and we could develop that idea and take it from there. We've also gone through a process of home visits, talking to parents, letting them know what we're about. You can't over-emphasise the importance of getting the relationship right.

You can then start talking about what they would need to undertake to achieve their career goals. Some Aboriginal students do have a defined idea of where they're going and what they want to do. But in some instances they don't fully appreciate the processes that they've got to do to get to where they want to go. And then others of course just don't have any idea of what they want to do.

So then we started going out to industries, part of the focus was to show these students specific tasks - 'this is what a person does, these are the conditions that they work in'. I wanted that rather than the general industry tour that a lot of students do. This approach is very specifically orientated towards observing what people do in those places. Industry visits would then conclude with the opportunity to talk with Aboriginal employees in those workplaces. They would talk about stories and how they got there. I remember one 55 year old employee who spoke at great length about how he got here into the workforce, what he did, how he dealt with racism issues in the workforce and how he worked within that. So from that experience a lot of students have certainly got a much bigger picture.

The other thing that I was able to do is to become virtually the job-matcher for them. I'd search for job vacancies, by going through the process of matching a student's goals and abilities with jobs that are out there. Then I assist them through the application process, resumes and so on, even at that stage involving the family again. And we start building their actual interview skills. I put great emphasis on that. It's a key.

So we take them through a process. What is the interview? What is going to happen within that interview environment? What are the types of interviews that they will face? What are the types of questions that they will face? Behavioural aspects. Interview techniques that have been used. Psychological assessments. All of that. And how to fully prepare. How to present themselves. How to sell themselves at that interview. And this is for government traineeships as well as other jobs.

But I think the students need to go through a process of continually revising those things. You can teach them the fundamentals in their first mock interview, but you need to come back and keep going through that process of re-mock-interviewing them to see the improvements and to see whether they've grasped the concepts.

And, in a lot of instances, we actually take those kids to the interview and sit with them. After they come out of the interview we can debrief them. Because I've worked on that side of the fence I know what employers are looking for. But I often go to the extent of seeking some feedback from the employer on the student's behalf.

Now, most Year 12 students might be focused on their SACE until November, and that's fine. They'll be doing little things with me along the way but after November we can work intensively with them, looking at their career options and so on.

The most fundamental thing about a project like this is that you've got to put the resources into it. Aboriginal people are disadvantaged and they deserve the resource allocation. That's first and foremost.


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