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.
and absentee rates are very high from Year 8 through to Year 10 in Hedland.
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.
"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."
"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."
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."
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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
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
"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."
"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."
"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."
"There are generations
of people here who walked off the stations in 1947, 1948 who have never
"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
Aboriginal & Islander
"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."
"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."
"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
"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."
"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.
"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
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
"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.