Trou­bled school’s re­sults plunge

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - JAMIE WALKER

Key NAPLAN re­sults have plunged in the Abo­rig­i­nal school on Cape York at the cen­tre of a bit­ter row between the Queens­land govern­ment and in­dige­nous leader Noel Pear­son, who is cham­pi­oning back-to-ba­sics ed­u­ca­tion re­form.

Au­rukun State School was closed for a tu­mul­tuous month last year af­ter vi­o­lence by youth gangs forced the evac­u­a­tion of teach­ers. In the fall­out, Mr Pear­son’s Good to Great Schools Aus­tralia or­gan­i­sa­tion pulled out of a pro­gram to lift lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy, claim­ing this had been sab­o­taged by a “takeover” by Ed­u­ca­tion Queens­land.

The read­ing scores of Year 3 stu­dents at the school have since halved, the lat­est NAPLAN data shows. This means the class­mates of the eight-year-olds who were read­ing at above the na­tional min­i­mum stan­dard two years ago are barely at preschool lev­els of com­pre­hen­sion now, the scores crash­ing from 335 in 2015 to 148.

The gram­mar and punc­tu­a­tion score for the Year 3s went from 216 in 2015 to a low 80; writ­ing scored at 192, down from 275 two years ago while the Year 5s have flat­lined on some mea­sures. But Ed­u­ca­tion Queens­land says par­tic­i­pa­tion in NAPLAN tests has in­creased from 37 per cent to 67 per cent in that time.

“I’m just com­pletely heart­bro­ken about the loss of op­por­tu­nity for those kids,” Mr Pear­son said.

Grand­mother Phyl­lis Yunka­porta, who has a grand­child at the school, where she works as a teacher’s aide, said it had “gone hay­wire” since GGSA with­drew. “Our kids are out of con­trol … they are out­side most of the time run­ning amok,” she said.

But par­ents and ci­ti­zens’ as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Stu­art Mar­quardt in­sisted there was stronger en­gage­ment between the school and the re­mote com­mu­nity than there had been when GGSA was in­volved.

Ed­u­ca­tion Queens­land as­sis­tant di­rec­tor-gen­eral Sel­wyn But- ton said GGSA had ad­vised last Novem­ber that it would cease sup­port for the school. At­ten­dance had in­creased from 52 per cent in 2015 to 59 per cent for the first term of this year, he said.

Au­rukun, 2400km north of Bris­bane, was a prov­ing site for Di­rect In­struc­tion teach­ing of in­dige­nous chil­dren. Good to Great Schools Aus­tralia, which op­er­ates Mr Pear­son’s Cape York Abo­rig­i­nal Academy, ran the pro­gram in part­ner­ship with the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment.

But in May last year, pub­lic or­der problems came to a head in the town­ship of 1200 when the prin­ci­pal and his wife were threat­ened by ma­chete-wield­ing youths dur­ing a car­jack­ing.

Ed­u­ca­tion Queens­land or­dered the evac­u­a­tion of the school’s 25 teach­ers. They re­turned only to be pulled out a sec­ond time when more trou­ble flared, forc­ing the govern­ment to close the school un­til po­lice re­gained con­trol. NAPLAN test­ing for 2016 was can­celled.

Mr Pear­son has now ac­cused the out­go­ing di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Ed­u­ca­tion Queens­land, Jim Wat­ter­ston, of “ex­ploit­ing” the cri­sis to oust GGSA.

“My dis­pute with Wat­ter­ston is pro­found, but is sec­ondary to the wel­fare of th­ese chil­dren,” he said. “I held my peace this year to al­low Wat­ter­ston and his depart­ment to do the right thing by them. In­stead, Wat­ter­ston washed his hands of that school, hav­ing caused so much dam­age last year. Now he’s walk­ing away from the ru­ins.”

Mr Pear­son’s al­le­ga­tions were put to Ed­u­ca­tion Queens­land but Dr Wat­ter­ston did not re­spond. He an­nounced on Wed­nes­day that he was leav­ing to be­come dean of the Mel­bourne Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Kate Jones said Dr Wat­ter­ston’s de­par­ture was un­re­lated to the Au­rukun dis­pute, which was also the sub­ject of a com­plaint to the Queens­land Crime and Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion by Mr Pear­son al­leg­ing that Dr Wat­ter­ston was be­hind an “un­law­ful and im­proper” re­lease of con­fi­den­tial au­dits of the Cape York Academy to the ABC, un­der Right to In­for­ma­tion pro­vi­sions.

“We are con­tin­u­ing to work with the school, com­mu­nity and par­ents to im­prove the ed­u­ca­tion per­for­mance at the school,” Ms Jones said.

“We have seen en­cour­ag­ing re­sults when it comes to the lat­est Year 5 NAPLAN data.”

A spokesman for the CCC said it had made “pro­ce­dural rec­om­men­da­tions” to Ed­u­ca­tion Queens­land about in­for­ma­tion ac­cess and se­cu­rity.

‘Wat­ter­ston washed his hands of that school ... now he’s walk­ing away from the ru­ins’ NOEL PEAR­SON GOOD TO GREAT SCHOOLS


Phyl­lis Yunka­porta with her grand­chil­dren Kay­chell, Zazarla, 4, Johnny, 5, Shon­tal­wah, 4 and Taza­yrah, 3 6,

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