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  What Works - The Work Program

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Badu Island State School, Torres Strait, Queensland

Our school is your school too

The context | The Year 8 Transition Program | The results | The future

The context

Badu Island State School is on Badu Island, which is located in the Torres Strait, approximately 45 kilometres north of Thursday Island. The island has a population of about 1200 people. Most Badu Islanders are employed through the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) scheme which is coordinated by the Community Council.

In 2000, there were 176 students enrolled at the school. Approximately 80% are Torres Strait Islanders while 20% are Papuan students. The school principal is a Torres Strait Islander, as are five of the twelve teachers. As well, there are 10 Indigenous teacher aides. Some of these are CDEP workers provided through the Community Council.

Standard Australian English is a foreign language in this community and is the third language for most students at school and fourth in a few cases. The main language spoken by the students is Torres Strait Creole, now known as 'Yumpla Tok'. The main language spoken by the community adults is 'Kala Lagaw Ya', the traditional language of the Near Western Torres Strait group of islands. The Papuan residents speak their traditional language as well.

The Badu Island culture is incorporated into all school activities wherever appropriate. Cultural stories are depicted in large murals around the school buildings and there is also a large map of Badu showing significant sites and traditional place names. Community involvement in school decision making is actively encouraged and supported through various school and community committees. More details about the school can be found in an extract from its annual report.

Until 2000, all students had to leave the community after Year 7 if they were going to continue to secondary school.

The Year 8 Transition Program


Steve Foster. In the background is a painting of Athe ('Grandfather') Walter Nona.

Taking notice of the community

Badu Island State School is embedded in its community and takes its relationships with the community very seriously. It works closely with the Community Council and community involvement in school decision making is actively encouraged and supported through a variety of committees, through regular newsletters, through personal contact with principal and staff and, importantly, through the efforts of community Elder, Athe ('Grandfather') Walter Nona, who also has a variety of roles in the school.

In 1999, Principal Steve Foster arranged for a trained facilitator to visit Badu Island to work with both staff and community to identify things that were working well in the school and things that needed improvement. The community consultation revealed that, although they were quite happy with the education provided at the school, there was a concern about secondary-aged students who were remaining in the community and not undertaking any formal secondary education program. In 1999, their numbers seemed to be increasing right across the Torres Strait and many were getting into trouble or considered to be 'at risk'. Some had been to secondary schools on the mainland for some time but had not lasted a whole year. Community members identified a range of reasons for this situation.

They wanted to know what could be done, so a community meeting was held in June 1999 and attended by the District Director and other Education Queensland personnel. The meeting developed a proposal to trial a Year 8 program at the school. A community survey then identified about 20 potential students for such a program. As a group, they were having difficulty with literacy, numeracy and general readiness for secondary school and, as well, their parents preferred that they stay on Badu Island.

The proposal was then taken to the Torres Strait Islander Regional Education Committee (TSIREC), which endorsed it as a trial. The proposal then went formally to Education Queensland and it was agreed that the Year 8 Transition Program would begin in January 2000. The program is a 'trial' and a 'transition' program only: if it were a fully fledged Year 8 there would be implications for those students who choose to go away to secondary school.

Making the proposal work

Further community consultation resulted in parents saying that they wanted the students to be immersed in literacy, numeracy and technology so that they would be better prepared if and when they get to high school. All the other learning areas were to be integrated into literacy, numeracy and technology.

But it still remained to find a suitable building for the class to use. No money was available to build a new one and the proposal could have come to nothing for just that reason, at that stage. But it didn't.

Steve Foster explains what happened.

We sat down and said how are we going to do it?

We had the Community Council involved, we had other government agencies from the community sit down together with us and our ASSPA committee and our P&C committee and we said 'If we're going to make it happen and it's a high priority for us what are we going to pool to make it happen?'

We spoke about how are we going to do it without any extra cost. And if we were fair dinkum about it and it was a high priority in the community, what can we do to make it happen instead of sitting back waiting for things to happen? So we did a scan across the community and looked at what resources we've got and we pooled all our resources together to say 'Let's make it happen. It's a priority for these students.'


The Community Council said 'Look if we're looking for a building we've got an old child care centre down there that is not being used. We're going to shift the child care centre to a new site.' They were going to use it as a community conference room and they said 'Let's put that to the community and if they support it we trial that as the pre-school down there and we have the year 8 up here.'

We spoke to QBuild facilities and Education Queensland Facilities and they came to the aid of sponsoring to modify and just do some maintenance work on the building to bring it up to scratch with workplace health and safety. The Council chipped in by painting the building for us and QBuild gave us some building materials, the Council gave us free labour of their builders to maintain the building to bring it up to scratch. The ASSPA and P&C got together and looked at buying resources for the Year 8 program and the ASSPA people chipped in and bought a whole set of computers because the parents identified technology as a key priority in the learning areas. They bought ten computers and set up and networked them and got them on the Internet and so forth.

In fact, apart from the cost of one additional teacher, which was justified by the numbers enrolled, the program operates at no extra cost to Education Queensland. Steve knew that it was vital to get a teacher whom the kids would warm to and who could build up constructive relationships with them and their parents. After some research, a teacher was recruited from Gladstone. He had secondary school training in English and Science and a strong background in Technology.

Talks were then held with Thursday Island State High School and Bamaga High School to ensure that the program would be suitable for students who might later go on to those schools. With 20 students enrolled, the Year 8 Transition Program was ready to begin.

The program in action

The Community Council offered a CDEP worker to act as a teachers' aide in the classroom. As well, parents got together and timetabled themselves so that a particular parent was also present in the classroom every day. Thus, in addition to the non-Indigenous teacher, there were two Indigenous adults in the classroom most of the time. Parents joined in when they felt comfortable and also felt that they could monitor the program to see that it was meeting the needs of their children.

The school was keen to encourage mature behaviour in students. To this end, students were given opportunities to take various responsibilities within the school and take leadership roles. They designed their own school uniform, using the school colours but with 'Year 8' clearly written under the pocket. In ways such as this, Year 8 students were defined, and defined themselves, as high school students. This lifted their self-esteem and improved their motivation. Whereas they had not wanted to go to high school elsewhere, they wanted to go to their Year 8 classes at Badu Island and they worked well when they were there.

Increasing maturity was assumed about students when they did the wrong thing or misbehaved. Rather than 'rouse' them, school staff and people such as Athe Walter offered counselling and encouraged an understanding of the reasons such behaviour was detrimental to the individual, school and community.

The results

At the end of 2000, a review of the program was facilitated by the District Director and included interviews with students, parents and school staff. Some of the findings were as follows.

The average daily attendance was 98%. This was deemed extremely successful, considering that the students had previously not been attending school at all and many were 'at risk'.

  • Parents were very happy with the education their children had received.
  • Students who had been identified as having low self-esteem had improved markedly in this respect.
  • Students had shown leadership in various aspects of the school.
  • Students were saying they felt ready to go on to Year 9 at high school.
  • Parents were impressed with the progress made in technology, and through the use of the Internet.
  • Students felt more confident with literacy and numeracy. From a generally low base, their levels of literacy and numeracy were improving steadily if not dramatically.

Perhaps the most important outcome, however, lies in the fact that, in August 2001, 17 of the 20 students are attending secondary schools and living away from home. From the point of view of the Badu Island community, it is a considerable success that most of these students might otherwise have been lost to the education system and at further risk to themselves and their community.

Steve Foster believes that the school's use of data has been 'one of the most powerful things that have happened in the school'.

The future

Following the success of the Year 8 Transition Program in 2000, consultation with the community showed that five students would enrol for a similar program in 2001. Again, most of these had low levels of literacy and numeracy and their parents felt they were not ready for secondary school.

Since five students are not enough to make up a separate class group, the school devised a 'middle schooling' concept and created a 6/7/8 class. At the same time, cross-age groupings are being trialled in other parts of the school. Year 8 students are still clearly identified as 'high school' students and are reporting satisfaction with the arrangement. The school managed to retain the services of the teacher who had worked with Year 8 in 2000.

Preliminary data indicate high levels of attendance and that the program will be just as successful as that of 2000 in preparing students to study away from home.


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