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  What Works - The Work Program

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Western Cape College, Far North Queensland

Context | Background | Getting started | Coming to agreement | Launching the agreements



The contribution of Mapoon Elders Hariett Flinders and Alma Day was recognized at the Mapoon Agreement launch

Western Cape College was created in 2001, with the official launch in 2002 by the Queensland Minister of Education. It has campuses on Cape York at Weipa, Aurukun, Mapoon and Coen and a total of between 900 and 1000 students, of whom about 50% are Indigenous. The material below focuses on school and community partnership processes that have taken place in 2010 at Napranum and Mapoon.

Napranum is an Aboriginal community on the outskirts of Weipa. The school in Napranum was closed five years ago, after the establishment of Western Cape College, the intention being to bring all Napranum students into the Weipa campus to engage them in quality learning experiences. It was felt that there was no basis on which to continue a separate school at that time.

Mapoon is a small Aboriginal community an hour’s drive north of Weipa that was closed by Premier Bjelke-Petersen over bauxite mining. Later, however, the people re-established the community, sought the return of government services and today Mapoon has a flourishing P-6 campus of about 30 students. After Year 6, students go to stay at a small hostel in Weipa and attend the Weipa campus of Western Cape College.


Ross Clark was What Works facilitator during the partnership process, and explains what happened:

In 2010, the founding Executive Principal of Western Cape College (Don Anderson) returned to the college. The Aurukun and Coen campuses are also part of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy, and have received a lot of focus through the work of Noel Pearson. The Academy has its own board, but remains a part of the Western Cape College framework.

School community partnership were seen as a way to focus on the needs of the other two Indigenous communities feeding into Western Cape College, and recognise their importance. The school was prepared to acknowledge that Mapoon had become somewhat alienated from the mainstream of the college, and that students from Napranum were not yet achieving at the levels that both school and community desired.

Another factor at play is that the college is soon to get a 120 bed hostel for students from around the Cape. To date, the small hostel in Weipa has only catered for students from Mapoon, and it was felt that it was important to work through and resolve issues related to Mapoon and Napranum well in advance of the opening of the hostel.

Getting started


Baressa Frazer at the Mapoon launch

The first step was to work with Baressa Frazer [Western Cape College Manager, Community Initiatives] to identify appropriate people on the ground to work as local consultants in a partnership process. [ All What Works partnership processes require that a local community member be employed in this position.]

Sheree Jia and Heidi Booth at Mapoon are both experienced Teacher Aides in the college and Heidi is in fact in the final year of teacher training. Kaylene Jawai at Napranum is a teacher herself and has also worked on the Parents as First Teachers program. The community consultants were chosen because of their high level of community expertise and their knowledge of schooling.

Baressa herself had been a Year 6 teacher and is a traditional Wik owner of the land who had been released by the college to work around the whole community engagement process. Overseeing the development of the two partnerships was an important part of her work.

In meeting with the community Councils early in the year there was a strong expression of the need to really build the relationships with the college and the meetings defined a range of issues that needed to be addressed.

My role was to provide structures and frameworks for Baressa, who then worked with Sheree, Heidi and Kaylene in bringing the communities together for community forums, and middle and senior college management together for planning sessions. Initially, these meetings were held separately. It was felt important at the outset to assess issues from a community perspective, while at the same time the college needed to identify its own issues.

Look at a diagram of the progress towards partnership...

Coming to agreement


Kaylene Jawai (left) with Florence Hector, the first Aboriginal teacher from Napranum

As the process progressed, joint forums were held with college staff and community members to formulate ways forward. In the end, ten formal meetings were held as well as numerous others within the college. Over 140 community members were actively engaged in this process. This was a significant contribution as these communities can experience  meeting fatigue from government and non-government organisations.

Over 130 people attended the final signoff in Napranum which was a very powerful symbol of the care and concern that community members hold for their young people. The high attendance has heightened expectations that the partnership will really deliver.

My role was to help  focus the process, from both community and college perspectives. What could the community be expecting in terms of the services available through the college? What might the college reasonably expect from the community? While there was initially a lot of conversation, there was a need to drive that further in terms of actions that could result, either from the college (or other government agencies, such as Health) or from the community.

From the community side, one of the issues was 'What can we really do about attendance?' As a result Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council worked with the college to identify a series of actions that could be taken with families of non attending students. Both agreements have a goal to increase attendance to 90%. With current attendance at 46%, Napranum is a major challenge and the college has committed to a shop front in the community to provide a college presence and to work with families and suspended students.


Heidi Booth (left) and Sheree Jia at Mapoon

Apart from attendance there are different issues of interest in the two communities, and they are outlined in the respective agreements. Clearly, for Mapoon there's a real interest in support for students in their transition from Year 6 to the major campus and support for young students in the hostel is also a concern. Another community concern is that the college as a whole has had a  limited engagement with its neighbouring Indigenous communities, and consequently the cultures of these communities are not embedded  in the practice of the college. There's a strong commitment to acknowledge  the importance of cultural identity and to engage with the communities in the teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language and culture.

Baressa's role has been pivotal in terms of her depth of understanding of the community and their acceptance of her. Also vital has been her capacity to code-switch between an understanding from  an educational perspective and then from a community perspective being able to value, recognise, communicate with and draw out ideas from Elders, grandparents and family members. An outsider to the community struggles to draw out those elements and build the level of trust that someone like Baressa can do. She has been able to identify times when people have a contribution to make, even when they are not really pushing it, and then draw it out.

It's also important symbolically and practically that the college made a commitment to this program through Baressa's employment. Baressa  also became part of the college executive. Don [Anderson, Executive Principal] has had a long history in Aurukun, the Torres Strait and Weipa of bringing an Indigenous staff member into his leadership team and Baressa has had that role, which also has the capacity to provide her with mentoring and support in her own personal leadership development. The whole partnership development experience has been an opportunity for her to progress her leadership capacity in ways that really benefit the school and the community.

Further advice about developing partnerships...

Launching the agreements

The signing ceremonies were very much the work of the four women involved. They were real celebrations from the community perspective and the Mayors of both communities played significant roles. Students performed and it was an opportunity for them to present some of what they had been doing at school.

But the formal signing process meant that those members who felt significant engagement with the school could come forward and add their signatures to the agreement. In that way it became a living document, with weight and energy, and increased commitment from all parties to honour their parts in it.

The fact that the attendance at Napranum was about 130, which is a significant part of the population in a meeting-weary community, says a lot. It was wonderful to see the college coming out to the community and presenting normal school activities such as choir, in which participation is about 50% Indigenous and 50% non-Indigenous, just like the population of the college as a whole.

From my personal point of view, I saw the fact that non-Indigenous students came down and performed for the community as a very powerful expression of the fact that the best way to deal with issues around race is for people to work in constructive partnerships with people of other cultures.


Red Dust Choir from the Weipa campus at the Napranum launch

The agreement with Mapoon has already achieved a significant outcome in that it has brought that campus right back into the fold of the college as a whole. Now it is clearly seeing itself as well and truly part of the daily activity of the college. For the Napranum agreement, in areas such as attendance and student management, time will tell whether real gains are made.

The sustainability of the process is that  both the college and the community have committed in their agreements to the establishment of standing committees that will monitor the implementation of the agreements and the action plans arising from it in 2011, and will also develop action plans for 2012. So I would anticipate that all of Baressa, Sheree, Heidi and Kaylene would continue to have an interest and engagement in ensuring that the program continues.

The actions built into the agreements are supported by the fact that each of the middle and senior management people at the college have relevant actions built into their own performance agreements with the Executive Principal. This means that their own performance will in part be gauged by their commitment and contribution to the implementation of the partnership agreement.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020