Boarding Schools for Remote Secondary Aboriginal Learners in the Northern Territory: Smooth Transition or Rough Ride?

John Guenther, G Milgate, T Benveniste, Sam Osborne, B Perrett, Samantha Disbray

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper presented at Conference (not in Proceedings)peer-review


After the 2014 Wilson Review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory, the Northern Territory Department of Education committed significant resources to increase the proportion of young people of secondary age who take up boarding options. The basis for these substantial investments was firstly, low retention rates of students through to Year 12, and secondly the difficulties associated with providing quality secondary education in remote communities. Beyond the Review, the Department made these decisions largely without an independent evidence base. They did not know, at the time, how many young people were going to boarding schools, where, how long they were attending or what the transformative impact (positive or negative) of the strategy would be for students, families and communities. To fill the evidence gap the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation’s Remote Education Systems project commissioned the Australian Council for Educational Research to uncover some of the missing evidence. It became apparent that finding answers to the questions posed above would be a challenge. Nevertheless, the project revealed important findings following interviews with community stakeholders, principals and heads of boarding schools. These interviews uncovered factors which smoothed the transition: young people and families being ready for transition to boarding school; and boarding schools being ready to support students from very remote locations to transition them effectively into mainstream boarding school. Recruitment processes of boarding schools supports transitioning potential students to boarding schools, particularly where there is strong school-community engagement. However, smooth transitions are not always experienced by students or parents. For example, disruptions to the learning experience can occur such that some students have multiple experiences of schools. These disruptions can be caused for a number of reasons, including behavioural issues or not returning after cultural ceremonies. The proximity of boarding schools in relation to communities was found to have an impact on students, for example difficulty of access for family members. While the research project itself cannot fill all the gaps it can offer an independent critique of a strategy designed to increasing boarding school participation. The evidence presented in this paper shows contrasting stories from stakeholders, some showing how smooth transitions can be achieved, and some revealing a rough ride for families encouraged to make decisions that involve boarding schools. It also poses questions for further research in a field where transformative impact is assumed to be positive, but where evidence for transformation is very limited.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventThe Australian Association for Educational Research - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 28 Nov 20161 Dec 2016


ConferenceThe Australian Association for Educational Research


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