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Rural and Remote Education - WA


and Remote Education - WA

South Hedland community meeting,

21 May 1999 - notes


The Pilbara region

has four state senior high schools (Years 8 to 12) and three district

high schools (primary through to Year 10) in total. Excluding the district

high schools, there are 17 primary schools in the Pilbara. Secondary school

student numbers steadily decline after Years 7 and 8. A number of children

from the Pilbara travel to Broome or to Perth to complete their secondary

education and to take advantage of increased curriculum offerings. A large

number of children do not complete school beyond Year 8, and for some,

beyond primary school. In many communities, secondary education is not

provided. Children must travel long distances to participate in education

beyond primary school. Given that there is no public transport and the

transport facility available in the Pilbara is privately owned and run,

this makes secondary education inaccessible for remote children.

The Year 12 classes

at Pilbara schools are often very small. Schools rely on the School of

Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE) to supplement the curriculum offerings.

Insufficient student numbers seriously limit the educational options of

the children in the Pilbara. Small student cohorts and specialist teacher

shortages create a tension in the subject offerings at these schools.

Suspension rates

and absentee rates are very high from Year 8 through to Year 10 in Hedland.

Pilbara District

Office education priorities

The District Office,

Education Department Western Australia (EDWA) provides school support

and strategic initiatives and direction in the Pilbara region. The Office

provides a Psych Service and Aboriginal Liaison Officers. The Aboriginal

Liaison Officers work with teaching staff rather than with the children.

According to the

District Office, the crucial issues for education in the Pilbara are to

improve the educational outcomes for Aboriginal students and to improve

the recruitment and retention of teaching staff in schools.

The District Office

finds that the educational outcomes for Aboriginal students in the Hedland

area are unacceptable. There are very poor retention rates beyond primary

school, and high rates of absenteeism. Certain EDWA initiatives are in

place to improve this situation. Some of these initiatives include breakfast

programs and education/employment programs.

Hedland has difficulty

recruiting and retaining 'quality' teaching staff. The District Office

has encouraged EDWA to put in place initiatives to encourage teachers

to come to difficult-to-staff schools. EDWA is currently considering cash

bonuses and various rights of return strategies. According to the District

Director, the biggest fear for Hedland teachers is being 'stuck in the

bush'. An equal opportunity ruling in WA has meant that rural teachers

do not get priority transfers. Instead they have to 'merit out' in order

to move between schools.

Aboriginal Education

"On average in our

remote primary schools we have 80% Aboriginal attendance. In secondary

schools we have 30% absenteeism. We have run a number of initiatives through

Hedland High School. Rather than fining parents when children don't attend

school, (we found that it didn't work) we are looking into why children

are not attending school. We have a project in Wickham looking into these

issues and trying to make school more attractive for these children. We

are also looking into Early Childhood literacy. In Roebourne we are trialing

the Aboriginal Literacy Net program with some success."

"The paper and pen

tests do not work for Aboriginal children so we are always being hit on

the head with this. We also are running Aboriginal Awareness program for

teachers. Some of the young teachers coming here have never come across

an Aboriginal person, let alone taught one."

"There is concern

about the cultural appropriateness of strategies to encourage children

to come to school, particularly those children from itinerant families

moving through remote outlying communities and coming into town from time

to time. There is a movement of significant numbers of children moving

from one community to the next."

"We had a program

about 10 years ago where children were encouraged to come to a youth centre

and it was funded by Family and Community Services WA. It is no longer

running. There are also specific problems of attendance for children from

outlying communities such as Tjalku Wara and Tjalka Boorda. Children must

catch the bus at 6.30 in the morning if they want to come to school in

Hedland. This makes it very difficult for the children and the families.

There is no time for breakfast."

Education standards

"I'm concerned about

the level of education of Aboriginal secondary students. Our children

come up through primary school and they can barely read or write. I think

that the primary school should concentrate on literacy. There is a lot

of support given to our kids in high school and there is barely any support

in primary school."

"The CDEP [Community

Development Employment Program] has put more workers within the schools

and this seems to be working well. It helps with attendance when the children

can see someone they know."

Recruitment and

retention of teachers

"We have real difficulty

in staffing our schools here. It is the specialist areas that are hard

to staff. This includes computing and maths and science. We have advertised

interstate and internationally for teachers. There is a world wide problem

in the supply of maths teachers."

"The government has

not settled the permanency and the cash bonus issues yet and this affects

the staffing at schools. There is currently teacher permanency after 3

years of service in Western Australia."

"Permanency does

impact on placements in Hedland. This year when they announced that after

3 years you could get permanency the whole nature of applicants for positions

in the Pilbara changed. I'd been trying to get male psychologists to work

here and only had one in 6 years, as of this year I have three. All applicants

used to be first year out graduates, now we are getting people with experience.

The deciding factor for these people was that they would receive permanency.

They have families and the last thing they want to do is to come to the

bush for uncertain employment. So the 3 years permanency policy change

has made a big difference."

"The next issue is

whether these people can get back to Perth. We need to sort out the transfer

situation now. There is gridlock for rural teachers wanting to move from

one school to the next. The higher up you go in the professional hierarchy

the harder it is to move or to get a transfer back to Perth."

"We have one computing

teacher at the school and she is married to the only physics teacher at

the school. Now if they were to leave then we would lose 2 subjects at

the school. These positions would be very hard to replace."

Relief teachers

"We don't have a

pool of relief teachers to cover for teachers when needed. When staff

are ill they often go to work because they know the stress it will put

on the school. This means that it puts stress on the individual and it

is another reason that they might not want to stay in the Pilbara in the

longer term. I have known classes to be sent home because we just don't

have the teachers."

Professional development

"Since we get a lot

of new graduates here, they really need to do a lot of professional development.

Because there are not relief teachers the staff have to do their professional

development outside of school hours.

"The cost of professional

development is higher here in the Pilbara than in Perth. We don't have

access to the same resources. In my experience of working here for 30

years, I think we have the best staff that we have ever had. They are

committed and enthusiastic and at times they find themselves in very trying

circumstances. The education staff are some of the most important staff

in our community."

Teacher housing

"A trade assistant

at BHP works 48 hours per week, 4 days on and 4 days off at $73,000 per

annum. These workers will get a fully air-conditioned house that is completely

subsidised. The government workers are housed in sub-standard accommodation;

some of it appalling, and the graduate teachers are on $32,000. I don't

believe that we pay our teachers enough to come up here, to leave their

families and to work and live in such an expensive town."

Allowances, subsidies

and the cost of living

"The expense of living

here means that it not really viable for teachers to come here given the

retail monopolies and the cost of living. Teachers need the air-conditioning

subsidies. Air-conditioning is not a luxury here; it is a necessity."

"Teachers in Paraburdoo

get an $18,000 location allowance over the 3 years. In Hedland the allowance

will depend upon the 4 levels outlined by the department. In the Headland

district it is about $10,500 over the 3 years. This is allocated over

the 3 years and increases from about $2,000 in the first year to $4,000

in the second year and so on. The problem is though that you lose a lot

of this money in tax. Once you have paid for a trip to Perth to see the

family once a year the money is all gone."

"I think that the

unions should work to develop specialist packages for teachers in remote


Transfer rights

"Moves toward merit

based appointments and transfer are very important in theory, but in practice

it creates a brain drain on the bush. The transfer-merit system also relies

on professional development opportunities. Enhanced professional development

equates with enhanced merit. Clearly there is not the same opportunity

for professional development here in the Pilbara.

"People will just

not come here now because the equal opportunity ruling means that they

never know if they will be able to get back to families and friends."

Teacher demographics

"The majority of

teachers in the Pilbara are young. I think this is terrific. My children

enjoy being taught by young and enthusiastic teachers. These teachers

are role models for the children. The problem for the teaching staff is

that they don't have enough role models in older and more experienced

teachers. There are quite a few students who want to study away from Hedland

and then come back here to teach."


"There are children

who live about 3 to 4 kilometres from town. The bus service is privatised

in Hedland and it is scheduled to fit in with the movement of BHP employees.

These times do not always suit the school children. If the children miss

the bus, there are serious weather considerations if they are to walk

to school. Extreme heat and rain are a disincentive for children to attend


"At Roebourne they

have just negotiated with Onslow to put a bus back on to take the children

from Bindi to school. This bus only goes one way; it takes the children

to school and does not take them home. Public transport is an issue in

the bush because it just does not exist."

"Where there is low

motivation for school attendance from the communities and the children,

transport issues can compound the problems."

Incentives for school


"A breakfast program

at one of the local schools has doubled the student attendance from the

Twelve-Mile community. Where they were regularly getting 5 students each

day at school, they are now getting 12."

Government responsibility

"In 1992 the Commonwealth

and State provided funding for 2 school/community liaison positions. One

position was for Muslim community liaison and the other provided liaison

between schools and 'students at risk'. These positions no longer exist.

With devolution of responsibility to local schools and the Department

shedding its responsibilities to children, I think it is a furphy for

the Department to demonise schools and talk about literacy when they have

withdrawn resources. If you talk to most state school teachers they will

tell you that we do more and more with less and less. There is a terrible

shedding of responsibility and resources from the education system here

in Western Australia."

Chronic unemployment

"There are generations

of people here who walked off the stations in 1947, 1948 who have never


Standardised education

"It is not possible

to standardise education across all schools. You have a different set

of circumstances in different schools and a standard form or formula of

education does not suit all schools. We have a very multicultural society

in the Pilbara and we have a lot of itinerant people who come through

the region."

Aboriginal & Islander

Education Workers

"In the remote schools

here in the Pilbara, the AIEW's are the key personnel because they are

the constant personnel within the schools. With teachers being offered

3 year contracts through the Remote Schools Agreement, it is the AIEW's

who maintain the continuity with the school community. They are there

in the community year after year."

Shade trees

"There are no large

shady trees in this area. We are only 18 feet above sea level and we are

on the edge of a desert, but the lack of trees means that there is no

communal outdoor space. Part of the problem is that the council has to

chop all the trees down for cyclone season."

Itinerant families

"There is no appropriate

accommodation for people who come into town from the communities for a

few days. You would think that the local hotels were constantly full because

when we try to find rooms for some of the itinerant families the hotels

are always full. We have a lot of homeless people in town and that includes

a lot of homeless children. We have an APEC hostel that was built in 1946,

but we really do need some sort of short term or crisis accommodation.

We need something really simple that is designed in the appropriate manner

to suit the needs of these families."

"People here assume

that the homeless people in town are from the Western desert communities,

from Warralong or from Strelley, but this is not always true. We have

large numbers of people here who have nowhere to go. At any given night

we will have 30 to 40 homeless people and this is the average, but we

could also have 300 or 400 on some nights when there is a particular event

or if they need to come and buy food. These people sleep in cars and in


Health services

"There are also problems

with the health service. Some doctors refuse to see some of the clients.

We have a publicly funded health service here and we have a doctor working

from this facility who does not bulk bill. This is not unusual in the

Pilbara to accommodate doctors in this way to keep doctors out here."

Specialist subjects

"My daughter has

to fly to Perth to do her music exam. This is at cost to our family. My

daughter needs to be accompanied by an adult and again that is money that

we have to find."

"One group of students

is planning to participate in a band competition. They need to raise $27,000

for this activity."

"With the fluctuation

of numbers each year, some subjects may not run in Year 12 because there

are not enough numbers. An example of this would be calculus. So a kid

gets to Year 9 and the family see that a particular subject is not running

so they send the kid to Perth for the rest of their secondary education."


70% of the Year 12

Geography course requires a study of the South-West Perth Metropolitan

area. This is a daunting task for students and for teachers. Schools and

the community fundraise to send the Year 12 children to Perth so that

they can observe the geography they are required to study. Parents, teachers

and the school children expressed the inequity of this curriculum program.

Boarding schools

"Some of the companies

such as BHP, Hamersley and Woodside offer their employees a boarding school

subsidy of $3,500. Many of the parents take up this offer and this means

that some of our top end of our academic stream are sent to Perth. So

we start off with a less robust group of students anyway. This also means

less students, so less funding and less subject choices for the remaining


Children with disabilities

in schools

The Education Support

Units provide one teacher for every 8 to 12 students with disabilities.

Thirteen to 15 children with disabilities are entitled to an extra 0.5

or 1.5 teachers. Two teachers will be provided for 16 to 18 children with

disabilities. There may be additional support for children with severe

disabilities. Children with intellectual disabilities are placed in Education

Support Units. Children with physical disabilities are placed in mainstream


Some of the concerns

of parents include the need to establish Individual Education Programs

early in the schooling of children with disabilities. Currently, this

intervention is occurring late in the educational development of the child.

The other specific

problem concerns the fact that special education teachers may have a major

in recreation or primary teaching and may not have specific training in

working with children with disabilities. If these teachers are employed

in the Pilbara, the professional development offerings are non-existent.

"At Hedland a grassroots

parents group has been established to provide support to families and

to review resources, obtain funding and facilities for children with disabilities.

A recreation project has been established through the Disability Services

Commission because there is virtually no recreation for people with disabilities

here in the Pilbara. There was also an employment agency established for

people with disabilities."

"In small schools,

the formulae do not work for these children. This is a resource issue

and there needs to be differential formulae for these small schools. The

child's needs are not 0.2 of a position, or 2 hours before morning tea.

The child's needs are all day."

Schools of Isolated

and Distance Education (SIDE)

"There are 5 schools

of the Air in WA. SIDE provides its own support staff for children who

have learning difficulties.

"One of our biggest

problems is the communication issue. The High Frequency (HF) radio was

never designed for education; it was to be used in emergency crises. There

has been talk of moving over to a Tele-conference situation, though this

would cost us over one million dollars per year in telephone charges.

Yet the problem is that many children have problems hearing the HF radio."

"The programs in

Distance Education are improving all the time. We continue to move towards

individual programs."

"We run a home tutor

seminar for 4 days at the end of term one. Both the tutors and the children

attend. The children then have access to a whole range of health and support


"We have a mid-year

camp for Years 3 to 5 students. There are also some mini camps, though

this requires the support of the parents. We do get PCAP funding to assist

with these camps. We have a Point Perron camp for Year 4 to 7 and that

camp runs for 8 days."

"Our staff also visit

the children at home 3 times per year. During these visit they work with

both the children and the home tutors. This is called the Visitation program

and involves all of our teachers."

"School of the Air

provides for 44 children. Seven of these children are Aboriginal and they

are located at 3 isolated communities. We use the Aboriginal Homelands

materials for these children. The materials are adjusted for the individual

needs of the children. Unfortunately the return rates of materials are

usually very poor. The system really relies on an adult who is able to

read the materials and motivate the children. In some of the communities

there may be no adults who are able to read. This really compromises the

success of the program."


updated 2 December 2001.