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  What Works - The Work Program

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The Murri School, Brisbane

It's an ownership thing, that's what it is

Background | Strategies | Results


The Aboriginal and Islander Community School is known as 'The Murri School'. It is an independent school and was established in 1986.

Tiga Bayles, Chair of the Board of Directors, says, 'The reason this school works where other schools don't, I believe, is situated in the fact that it is Indigenous-owned and Indigenous-controlled'.

The school grew out of the vision of Indigenous community members including Ross Watson, Mary Graham and others who, according to Tiga Bayles, 'could see the problems of families and kids and schools'. The school leased premises until 1998 when it received an IESIP SRP capital grant to purchase land and buildings at 1277 Beaudesert Road, Acacia Ridge. Both land and buildings had previously belonged to the Queensland Government. As an ex-government school site, the location provided a practical solution.


Originally a primary school, The Murri School has accepted secondary students over the last two years because of the demand at this level, although these students have been enrolled through Distance Education as the school was not registered as a high school. In 2001, the school gained registration to teach secondary students up to Year 9 level, and a provisional license to teach to Year 10. The school is currently seeking funding to establish a science laboratory, manual arts centre and home science facilities so that they will be eligible for full registration as a high school through to Year 12.

Over the four years since the school has opened its doors at Acacia Ridge, there has been a significant change in the attitude of many of the locals who had originally opposed the school. In the early days, for example, there were racist phone calls and posters plastered over the local shops but, as time has passed, the locals have realised that the school makes very positive contributions to the local community. Local business people, for example, have availed themselves of the opportunity to enrol in free computer courses at the Kulkathil Learning Centre located in the school grounds.

A more obvious example of local acceptance comes in the form of sponsorship for the school. For example, the Caltex Service Station across the road from the school sponsors the school speech night. The problem at this school is not so much students dropping out but the inability of the school to meet the demand for new places. Currently, it has 185 enrolled students, 30 of whom are secondary students and 95 percent of whom are Indigenous. There is a waiting list of students who would like to attend the school. According to the principal, 'a lot of our children on the waiting list are kids who have been excluded or whose parents are totally dissatisfied with what's happening to their children in the mainstream setting'.

Tiga Bayles:

We've capped the high school at 30 because that's all we can manage, but in reality the biggest demand on the school is coming from that area — Years 8, 9, and 10 — because kids are having problems elsewhere. Because of how the school is structured and how the secondary department operates... it gives children interests that they wouldn't be offered elsewhere. They are given far more choice; even in Year 8, they're designing their own work programs on particular days (although) they have to complete the core.


Tiga Bayles suggests that there are three main problems for Indigenous parents in mainstream schooling.

One, [there] can be a money issue, there's some cost on a family. Two is transport, how do you get them there? And three, it's a bloody foreign environment. So we've taken away those three factors.

The Murri School is more than just a school. From the beginning, the vision for the school was that it was to be a community school which involved the parents and families of the students. According to the principal, Philomena Downey, the educational philosophy includes 'looking after the whole child and not just their educational standing'.

Tiga Bayles stressed that one of the things about Indigenous culture is

We can't just isolate the educational needs or the health needs, or the spiritual needs. It's the whole person, it's the whole community and what is required to make that whole community flourish and grow and get the best out of those human beings.

Strategies adopted at the school to meet these needs include the following.


Eighty per cent of the teachers at the Murri School are themselves Indigenous, in keeping with the philosophy of 'a Murri School for Murri kids'.

The principal of the last seven years is non-Indigenous but highly respected and valued within the school community. When asked whether the aim was to have 100% Indigenous teachers at the school, Tiga Bayles replied:

It's not an issue with me any more. We've got at least 75 to 80 per cent — I think we're doing well. And I think there are good non-Indigenous people around and we've got a couple on board here who are just fantastic.

The staff/student ratio at the school at 1:28 is no different to mainstream schools. However, through the Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme, the school has twelve tutors who are able to give the students one-on-one tuition. Depending on the entry level of the students, they receive between two and four hours individual tuition per week. The school has also contracted a speech/language pathologist who assesses the children in a variety of areas, including reading and vocabulary, but also across the health areas. The school has found that it is often through this initial assessment that visual and hearing problems are diagnosed.

The School Board

The school is managed by an eight-member School Board. The responsibilities of the Board include: setting the vision for the school; being responsible for policy development; and giving direction to the staff. The role of the current Chair, Tiga Bayles, is more than a manager. He is a role model and a mentor.

Sometimes I'm called in to just sit down and have a bit of a yarn to them... talk a little bit about culture and about male responsibility and different things like that. There's no set role, but we are there to be utilised, to be accessed and to be able to spend time with kids when needed.

A group of people working together

There is no real hierarchy within the school. The staff and students view themselves as a 'group of people working together'. Although there are different roles and responsibilities, there is not a pecking order associated with seniority. The principal reinforced this.


The Kulkathil website outlines some of the achievements of The Murri School as follows.

The school has been widely recognised for its successes in literacy and numeracy education with primary age students and is now extending its expertise into the secondary and adult education fields, and also developing congruent and 'bridging' training strategies to more ably and fully serve communities. This can be seen in its successful implementation of the Department of Employment, Training and Industrial Relations Community Literacy Program on campus over the past two years.

The school enjoys an extremely high reputation among educators, funding agencies and the various Indigenous communities it serves.

It also enjoys a national reputation for excellence in Indigenous education. [Extract courtesy of the Kulkathil Skills Centre.]

Cultural inclusivity

Related to the sense of belonging is the attention to cultural inclusivity. According to Tiga Bayles it can be a daunting task for Indigenous children just to walk into a school and talk to a teacher or the principal because they are nearly always a part of a minority group. At the Murri school this is not the case. James William, himself a graduate of the school before becoming Director of the Kulkathil Centre, summed it up:

The school takes the view, and this is reflected particularly with the enrolment of non-Indigenous students in the school, that no child attending the school feels under threat because of coming from a different cultural background.

The most important thing that the school enforces is that no child has to feel that their culture is under threat once they walk into this community environment. They don't feel threatened at all. They are just children and they're here to learn and to feel safe and to enjoy their time.


The performance of the students in the Queensland literacy tests at Years 3, 5 and 7 has been excellent.

At Year 3, the students at the Murri School performed above the state average for mainstream students. At Years 5 and 7 the students performed above the average for Indigenous students in these groups.

Good as these results are, the principal was adamant that the statistics did not do justice to the very real improvements in learning outcomes of the students. She argued that there should be two separate sets of data. The first should reflect the learning outcomes of those students who had had uninterrupted schooling, and therefore reflected the 'norm' for the age cohort at the school, and the second to account for those students who, for one reason or another, have fallen significantly behind where they should be for their age.

We're not going to refuse kids entry because they're five years behind where they should be, but those kids are skewing the figures.


Latest figures indicate that the attendance rate is about 90 percent, significantly above the average attendance rate for Indigenous students.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020