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Models of policy development in Aboriginal education: issues and discourse.

The education of Aboriginal children in Australia has been extensively examined and reviewed. Missing from this investigative activity, however, is the attempt to critically conceptualise the current approaches to the delivery of education for this highly disadvantaged group. There are two main aims behind this paper. Firstly, it devises a framework of seven discrete models of Aboriginal education to guide policy and practice. Secondly, the paper investigates the extent to which the official discourse reflects an understanding of these models. Finally, some thought is given to implications for government flowing from an understanding of the models, especially in the areas of improving policy development and official review.


Aboriginal education

policy formulation

Aboriginal students

Aboriginal history

policy analysis race

Models of policy development in Aboriginal education

In the past two decades there has been a multiplicity of approaches to and policies for the education of Indigenous young people as the nation has tried to grapple with the gap in educational opportunities and outcomes for this group. Absent from both the official and academic literature on Indigenous education has been an attempt to draw together these approaches and polices into models of Indigenous education. This effort is necessary to facilitate a more critical understanding of the educational needs of this group of highly disadvantaged students and the adequacy of official responses to the efforts to improve outcomes. A key aim of the paper has been to develop relevant models in Indigenous education for use by schools and policy makers.

The need for the identification of such models is highlighted by the limited official discourse in Indigenous education as reflected in government reports and inquiries. Therefore, a second key aim of the paper is to investigate this discourse over the past five years for the purpose of examining the extent to which this reflects an understanding of the models devised. Reviews into Aboriginal education in this time frame have been undertaken by almost every state and the senate has conducted a detailed investigation. In addition, the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) has issued two extensive reports to the national Parliament into Aboriginal Education as part of its statutory requirements and sponsored several research projects of aspects of Indigenous education. This body of investigation amounts to well over 800 pages of information and constitutes an official discourse encompassing policy makers and interested politicians on the problems, performance, and future directions in this area.

Table 1 below identifies the types of reports in Aboriginal education and the purpose for which they were commissioned. As can be seen in the table, the variety of purposes behind the reports means that while there is an overlapping of issues discussed there is no consistency in examining approaches to this group.

Seven discrete program delivery models can be identified out of current practice in Aboriginal education: the social justice model; the community development model; the enhanced coordination model; the elitest model; the cultural recognition model; the school responsiveness model; and the compensatory skills model.

These models were devised through a critical understanding of the literature in Indigenous education (for a summary of this literature see Beresford and Partington, 2003) and through an interaction between this literature and extensive research undertaken by the authors in the area (Beresford, 2001, 2004; Beresford & Partington, 2003; Gray & Beresford, 2001, 2002; Gray, 2000; Gray & Partington, 2003; Partington & Gray, 2003).

Each of the identified models has been examined in terms of capacity to systematise the model; critical perspective on the discourse surrounding each model; and effectiveness of each model to deliver outcomes for Indigenous students (see Table 2 below).

Our contention is that while each of the identified models is discrete, they are not mutually exclusive; each can, and should, coexist with a range of other models. All models, however, are not necessarily equally effective. Table 2 summarises the various models and the current discourse surrounding them. Each is discussed in more detail below.

The social justice model

A social justice model of Aboriginal education refers to the need to address structural disadvantages acting to impede the progression of students at school. It draws upon a range of complementary theoretical perspectives including the relationship between education and social differentiation (Welch, 1996) and the over-representation of Aborigines as an underclass in Australian society. The latter is especially prevalent among urban Aboriginal youth (Beresford & Omaji, 1996). The theoretical base of the social justice model is further exemplified by the application of parallel theories of resistance and alienation; that is, because of their marginalised status in Australian society, Aboriginal youth have, for generations, felt that education is 'white fellas' business and consequently actively and/or passively resist participation in its processes (Beresford & Partington, 2003).

The relevance of a social justice perspective to Aboriginal education needs little reminder. Various studies have highlighted that Aboriginal people experience lower incomes, higher rates of unemployment, lower rates of homeownership and more overcrowded living conditions than do non-Aboriginal people (see Gordon, 2002).

It is significant that the official discourse on Aboriginal education acknowledges the importance of a social justice approach but it is unable to develop a framework to articulate either (a) the complex causes of Aboriginal socioeconomic disadvantage, (b) its links to Aboriginal youth alienation, (c) the range of school-based programs needed to alleviate its impacts on Aboriginal young people, or (d) the links between school-based and wider community programs.

Perhaps the most comprehensive understanding could be expected from the senate inquiry, given its task in overseeing the area. While it did canvass a wide range of social factors impeding education--most of which are already widely known--it offered only the briefest comment on the importance of developing strategies to deal with underlying disadvantage. The report noted that 'little progress will be made until solutions are found to wider community problems that affect education' (Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Educational References Committee, 2000, p. 44). No attempt was made, however, to evaluate current policy approaches to disadvantage or to articulate directions in which policy should proceed.

That current polices are not effective was acknowledged in the national framework for Indigenous youth (Department of Education, Science & Training, 2004b), which stated that the current inequity in education and employment 'shows that existing support structures and programs are often not providing the impetus for substantial and sustained improvements'. Six brief and general explanations were offered concerning lack of information, cultural appropriateness and coordination. Missing was a detailed explanation of which programs were failing and why.

Investigations initiated by state education departments paid little attention to the social justice model. The review of Aboriginal education conducted by the Queensland Education Department sought firstly to marginalise the utility of the model and secondly to reconceptualise it within the department's own preferred community development model. While noting that 'it is tempting for teachers, who, in the main, are people of goodwill, to try to deal with the many social issues that affect students, such practices tend to shift the focus of schools from education and "enabling" to welfare provision'. This task, the department's report further asserted, was 'rightly the province of other agencies' (Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Educational References Committee, 2000, p. 7). Moreover, these agencies are likely to be far more effective in their task by linking with industry and education to help families and communities escape poverty and welfare traps.

Government-funded Aboriginal education research projects touched on poverty, poor nutrition and other health issues (see Bourke, Rigby & Burden, 2000) but only in a limited context of the search for current best practice. Thus, several schools can be identified which provide breakfast and lunch programs, a bus pick-up for students, the appointment school/community health workers and the integration of health into the curriculum.

A long-standing component of the social justice model has been the availability of the Aboriginal and Tortes Strait Islander Study Assistance Scheme (ABSTUDY) for secondary students. This form of direct financial support to families was introduced in 1969 but no publicly available review has been undertaken since 1976. The Commonwealth government commissioned a review into ABSTUDY in 1998 as part of cutting funding to the program but the report remains confidential (NTEU, 2003).The silence of all major reports and reviews on the operation of ABSTUDY is a major failing of the official discourse.

An altogether separate strand of the justice model relates to the ongoing impact of dispossession and racial policies on Aboriginal communities, otherwise identified as transgenerational disadvantage and trauma (Beresford, forthcoming). Policies such as forced removal of children from families, segregation onto reserves, exclusion from state schools and limited access to mainstream employment have had profound intergenerational effects. Such policies have often impeded the process of parenting and socialisation of Aboriginal children across the generations. In recent years, there has been growing understanding of transgenerational disadvantage and trauma in both academic and official reports (Beresford & Omaji, 1996, 1998; Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997; Tatz, 1999) yet there is very limited acknowledgment in the official Aboriginal educational discourse about the extent of these problems (Beresford & Partington, 2003). The closest any of the reviews comes to an examination of this issue is found in the Queensland education department's review, which states that:
 Past policies of segregation, protection and assimilation formed
 the context for the relationship of Aboriginal and Tortes Strait
 Islander Peoples to school to develop. Schools and the churches
 were institutions for the assimilation of Aboriginal and Torres
 Strait Islander Peoples and, as a result, the relationship was
 troubled from both sides (Education Queensland, 2000, p. 13).

The report, however, does not attempt to apply the concept of intergenerational disadvantage--which is raised in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity report into the stolen generations--to the current educational experiences of Aboriginal children and families How many have an inherited notion of schools as hostile places for Aboriginal people? To what extent do Aboriginal communities still harbour suspicions about the underlying intentions of school? The Education Queensland report briefly acknowledged that this is an ongoing issue of real importance: 'A minority of schools have been successful in increasing the participation of Aboriginal and Tortes Strait Islander parents in school life, but most Education Queensland staff report that this is difficult' (2000, p. 13).

An additional element of a social justice model of Aboriginal education needs to take account of the over-representation of Aboriginal youth in the criminal justice systems of each state, and the role of schools in both preventing anti-social behaviour among this group and responding to the needs of those Aboriginal young people forced to return to school under various community program orders. The official discourse is silent on this important area.

There are several points to be drawn down from the above discussion. The social justice model, while having strong theoretical foundations, is poorly represented in the official discourse about Aboriginal education. There is little attempt to examine the social justice model with the context of broader government policy in Aboriginal affairs, or the intergenerational impacts, despite compelling arguments for doing so. Moreover, there is a poorly conceptualised view of both the role and operation of education-specific social justice approaches. Thus, the links between social justice and Aboriginal education appears to have reached a policy impasse.

The community development model

There is an emerging consensus among those investigating Aboriginal education (and also among a number of people interviewed) that partnerships with the community are crucial to effecting improvements. This model contains two main components: the need for partnerships between schools and Aboriginal communities and the need for schools to link with the broader community to develop solutions tailored to local circumstances.

While all states operate programs to link schools with Aboriginal communities, Education Queensland has gone further than any other state education department in articulating the wider community dimension of partnerships:
 The challenge is to ensure that an effective framework exists that
 enables local communities to work with schools, community agencies
 and State government agencies locally. While interagency approaches
 are already apparent in some areas, these are often developed
 without input from the community ... The local community is
 supported by agencies to become involved in and take responsibility
 for the services used by that community. In the process, community
 members are empowered to participate in building community
 infrastructure and community capacity. Such approaches allow social
 institutions, industry and education to play a role in helping
 families and communities to escape poverty and welfare traps
 (Education Queensland, 2000, p. 7).

The interest shown by the Queensland government in the application of community development to achieve greater progress in Aboriginal education is based, in part, on the perceived success of the model operating in Cape York. The official discourse, however, takes little account of the theoretical work on community development. Iffe (2002, p. 10) has noted that there has been a growing interest in community-based programs as an alternative mode for the delivery of human services and meeting human need and especially because it is 'consistent with the idea of a 'post-welfare state' system based on principles of sustainability. Yet, as Iffe notes, the terms 'community' and 'community-based' are highly problematic with the potential for both progressive and regressive change. Among the potential problems, Iffe notes the possibility for a reduced commitment by government to welfare, an increased burden on women, and the rise in inequality based upon the varying capacities of communities. These comments are relevant to the application of community development in Aboriginal education for, as a recent Commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into urban Aboriginal communities found, enhanced coordination
 ... presupposes that the individuals, families and organisations of
 a community have the capacity and inclination to seek solutions to
 problems, take advantage of opportunities and enter into effective
 partnerships with governments. However, not all Indigenous
 communities have that capacity (House of Representatives Standing
 Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, 2001,
 p. 53).

The task of developing relations with Aboriginal communities has been the object for many years of the Aboriginal Student support and Parental Awareness (ASSPA) program which aims to formalise Aboriginal parents in school-decisionmaking through the provision of funds to ASSPA committees, which are chaired by the school principal. In spite of this, the critical comments made in the Northern Territory Education Department's Independent Review of Indigenous Education (Collins, 1999) and elsewhere about the operation of ASSPA committees demonstrate the difficulty schools sometimes have in operating in a community development framework. Collins highlighted that some schools use ASSPA funds 'as an opportunistic means of accessing Commonwealth funds', with little involvement of Aboriginal committee members, while in some communities schools struggled to attract sufficient Aboriginal parents to such committee work: 'Parents may not have much experience with administrations or comfort with formal meeting procedures, and others are just too busy to meet all the demands for volunteer effort that committee membership entails' (Collins, 1999, p. 166).Thus, there is a clear signal in the official discourse that more needs to be done to prepare schools and staff to work in this model.

Enhanced coordination model

The need to improve coordination between government and non-government services and schools has been widely recognised as a major challenge facing Aboriginal education. In 2000, the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) put the case emphatically for a community development model in Indigenous education:
 The lack of an integrated long-term plan for the provision of
 cross-portfolio services to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
 Islander community at urban, rural, and remote levels has resulted
 in services not being provided in a cohesive manner. There is a
 close relationship between low levels of educational outcomes and
 issues in other portfolio areas such as poor health, overcrowded
 housing and poor access to government services and infrastructure
 ... Any improvement in these other portfolio areas is likely to
 generate better educational outcomes (MCEETYA, 2000, p. 51).

The basis of this model lies in the policy theory that modern governments 'are networks of loosely linked organisations rather than a single hierarchy to command and control' (Bridgeman & Davis, 2004, p. 94). Departments have their own goals, statutory responsibilities and organisational cultures; nevertheless, governments require overarching policy frameworks as the needs of most target groups straddle the artificial divisions of government departmental structures.

The Ministerial Council developed a 'partnership cube' as a published model for better coordination. This aimed to focus on developing stronger partnerships between government, communities and education systems to overcome the deficiencies in the delivery of cohesive services to Aboriginal communities both urban and remote. Better coordination was a central focus in the implementation of the National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, the Howard Government's major initiative in Aboriginal education. Released in 2000, implementation of the strategy was identified as requiring 'a cooperative effort between the Commonwealth, states and territories, as well as non-government education providers and Indigenous communities, families and parents' (DEST, 2004).

Despite these efforts, problems in coordination persist. Gray and Beresford (2002) in a study of Aboriginal education in Perth found poor coordination to be one of the major obstacles facing government and non-government agencies trying to meet the needs of Aboriginal youth.

More specifically, the official discourse on Aboriginal education contains no reference to the work undertaken by MCEETYA and especially the extent to which the partnership framework is being applied, the achievements it may be producing and problems being encountered has not been the focus of investigation. In other words, the need for coordination is being regularly invoked, but little effort is being made to study its development on the ground.

There are likely to be substantial problems in effecting improved coordination in Aboriginal education. Even though MCEETYA produced a compelling case for better coordination and a well-articulated framework to develop improved linkages between services, it failed to fully articulate the problems highlighted in studies that frequently bedevil efforts at coordination throughout government activity. These are summed up by Bridgeman and Davis:
 The complexity and scale of government, and the need for
 specialisation, make it impossible for any one person--or even a
 committee such as cabinet--to keep all the relevant variables in
 play. The considerable costs of perfectly meshing policies and
 programs can outweigh the benefits. Coordination may be necessary,
 but it is an ideal that can be realised only with many compromises
 (2004, p 93).

Such critical insights need to be more rigorously applied to the process of investigation and evaluation of Aboriginal education.

Cultural recognition model

The need for Aboriginal students to have access to their own language, learning styles and cultural identity has long been regarded as essential to improving their educational outcomes. In turn, this understanding is based on interactionist theory, which holds that through language and symbols people develop a shared meaning about the world (Beresford & Partington, 2003).

The official discourse on Aboriginal education has a strong focus on this issue. The senate review went to the heart of the matter: 'The central curriculum issue in Aboriginal education over the past decade has been how to provide a curriculum that is both academically rigorous and culturally relevant to Indigenous peoples'. The Review further noted the benefits of addressing this core issue: 'Teaching a culturally appropriate curriculum, which recognises and builds upon the cultural and linguistic background of Aboriginal students, could also aid learning across the curriculum. 'The review concluded, however, that 'many teachers and curricula have still not moved far in these directions' (Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Educational References Committee, 2000, pp. 60-74).

The Queensland education department's review of Aboriginal education is scathing about lack of progress in cultural recognition. This review found that there is little acknowledgment of or support for cross-cultural pedagogy; that teachers lack cultural awareness; that the distribution of education advisers is inequitable and that some of these advisers have questionable knowledge; and that teachers' pre-service education in cross-cultural pedagogy is inadequate (Education Queensland. 2000).

Similar criticisms were made by the Independent review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory (Collins, 1999). Collins began his investigations at the very time the Territory government announced a phasing out of funding for bilingual education programs. In his report, Collins argued strongly for the retention of the program on the basis of 'its value in reinforcing and strengthening Aboriginal identity in all its forms'. He went on to say that Aboriginal parents, teachers, and students 'all put to the review the importance of English acquisition, but not at the expense of their own culture and language' (1999, p. 120).

Thus, while strong on articulating the problems of cross-cultural education, the official discourse represented in the reviews of Aboriginal education contains no comprehensive new policy thinking or directions on this issue. Collins makes the strongest statement in his endorsement for the adoption of two-way learning in schools where the local community wants such a program; yet, the support and resources needed to implement such a policy are not clearly identified. Further ignored are the tensions between the adoption of new policy and the shift in education systems towards outcomes-based learning. Outcomes-based learning has the potential to undermine alternative approaches that are deemed less capable of achieving the required 'outcomes'.

School responsiveness model

The importance of developing positive relationships between Aboriginal students and schools hardly needs much elaboration. The Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia's study of the forty-six Aboriginal students in that state who completed the Certificate of Education in 1999 found that the extremely low figure highlighted the crisis factor in Aboriginal education and confirmed that support from school was crucial to success.

The significant challenges schools face in responding to the needs of Indigenous and minority youth has attracted the attention of researchers for several decades. Ogbu (1978) questioned the capacity of schools in the United States to respond to the reform agendas of governments to improve minority education. He claimed that implementation of compensatory programs was impeded by inadequate understanding of the problems of minority failure in education, lack of clear goals and strategies and lack of prior preparation of local school officials. Similar problems have been noted by the reviews under discussion. The 2002 New South Wales Public Education Inquiry (p. 21) argued that the strategic problem 'is how to change the social relations around teaching and learning within mainstream schooling to engage Aboriginal students, strengthen their identity and increase their level of success) The inquiry noted that three factors were crucial to the ability of schools to engage in change to meet to help improve outcomes for Aboriginal people: a committed principal, well trained Aboriginal education workers, and adapting schools to the needs of Aboriginal learners. Broadly similar findings were made in the Northern Territory report.

These findings may well have every appearance of rationality, but do they go far enough in highlighting the challenges facing schools? The Senate inquiry into Aboriginal education stated that there are deeper forces at work. 'Although education systems no longer take a deliberately oppressive role,' the report noted, 'they retain elements of assimilation and internalised racism that can make them alienating environments for many Indigenous people.' (Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Educational References Committee, 2000, p. 61). Despite acknowledging the problem, the report did not include a chapter on schools and the problems they face in addressing the criticisms made.

The aforementioned study by Gray and Beresford noted teachers' lack of deep awareness of the social and cultural contexts of Aboriginal students' lives; their lack of appreciation of equity in their dealings with these students; and their lack of recognition of Aboriginal culture and preferred learning styles. Of particular significance, the Gray and Beresford note that;
 It is common for children in Years Eleven and Twelve to perceive
 that teachers did not encourage them to take of TEE (West
 Australian Tertiary Entrance Examination) subjects. Many are being
 told it is too difficult for them. Whether or not this was the best
 available advice in individual cases is impossible to tell.
 However, it is important to note that students felt that they were
 being stereo-typed and that they might benefit from positive
 encouragement (Gray & Beresford, 2001, p. 17).

It is relatively clear what a model of school responsiveness needs to take into account: the socioeconomic context of Aboriginal students, the importance of recognising culture, adapting curricular to Aboriginal learning needs, dealing with racism, and meeting the opportunities and the requirements of community participation. These issues are widely represented as key challenges for Indigenous education in all the reports under discussion. Under-represented as an issue in this official discourse is consideration of the inherent difficulties schools experience in developing responsiveness. The clearest acknowledgment of the problem was made in the Education Queensland report, which stated that: 'successful reform is ... dependent upon acknowledging the challenges posed by change ... Educational reform (like other social change) is complicated, so the process must be evolutionary and flexible enough to adapt to unexpected events and local contexts' (Education Queensland, 2000, p. 9).

In can be seen that while the need for school responsiveness is widely acknowledged, there is little consideration of the progress being made at achieving it or the ongoing obstacles being experienced. There is no qualitative or qualitative data on the effectiveness of cross-cultural training on Aboriginal youth and cultural issues; the extent to which Aboriginal learning styles and languages are recognised; the effectiveness of Aboriginal involvement in school decision-making; or the impact of anti-racist policies.

A review of Aboriginal education in Western Australian indicates that these remain problems for schools:
 The evidence presented does not whether ... training has been
 successful in meeting the learning needs of Aboriginal children
 and students; nor does it show that Aboriginal students and their
 families and communities believe that the training has helped
 teachers to become more effective in meeting Aboriginal students'
 learning needs (Kemmis, 1999, p. 12).

Kemmis reported that there was little evidence available to show that schools were implementing anti-racist strategies (1999, p. 31).

Elite model

Western Australia is the only state currently pursuing merit selection of Aboriginal students to complete Year Twelve. Established as an elite model in education, the scheme is designed to support those students who are reaching literacy and numeracy benchmarks and who have aspirations to enter university. The program is designed to lift the number of Aboriginal students entering university straight from school by offering additional supports and resources to students and families. Although only in its early stages, the program is the largest Aboriginal education program in the state in the last decade and, as such, represents a significant new departure in the national debate about Aboriginal education policy.

The theoretical foundations of such a model create complex linkages to the political and sociological writings on elitism and especially the commonly understood notion of rule by elites; however, elitism conjures a wide variety of meanings, including the idea of a select group of people which Nyquist (nd, p. 6) has more specifically defined as 'any attempt to impose rules governing the selective process in certain areas of endeavour ... which puts at a disadvantage some group (or groups) who would do better with a different set of rules.'

Constructing a significant component on Aboriginal education policy around the differential rewarding of Aboriginal young people challenges widespread egalitarian ideas in education that schools should strive for equality opportunity for all. As Walker (1992) comments, elitism 'seems at least formally compatible with an unequal schooling system, for example a system which includes elite fee-charging schools whose graduates enter the professions or have the wealth to join or influence political elites.'

The Department of Education and Training of Western Australian claims that its program 'instils community pride by enhancing the capacity of partners and students to change existing mindsets to a culture of excellence and achievement of aspirations' (2003, p. 51). Participating students are offered extra work outside school hours and individual education plans. It is expected that older students will become role models for the younger aspirants on the program.

Can such a policy thrust be defended in Aboriginal education? Given its recent introduction, there is an understandable lack of official dialogue on the issue, although it is perhaps surprising that it has not been at least canvassed as an option. Such a complex debate lies beyond the scope of this paper apart from a few general observations. Firstly, as Nyquist argues, elitism is unavoidable in society due to the problem of limited access. In the case of Aboriginal education, it could be argued that there is limited access to the kinds of resources that are needed to achieve success for all Aboriginal students and there is limited access to tertiary places. Secondly, the concept of elitism being applied to Aboriginal people does not necessarily carry the same negative connotations as it does for the broader community because of the presence of extreme disadvantage among the former. In other words, disproportionately rewarding some Aboriginal students may be necessary so that the Aboriginal community can begin to enjoy the same opportunities as the broader community.

Given the priority accorded the elite model in Western Australia, the official discourse on Aboriginal education will need to quickly embrace this model's principles and evaluate its achievements.

Compensatory skills model

The poor performance of Aboriginal students in basic literacy and numeracy has worried educationalists and policy makers for decades. It has been a focal point in the official discourse examined in this article. While the senate inquiry (2000) concluded that 'literacy is by far the most pressing issue in Indigenous education', public officials have not been able to resolve the central issue: can improved outcomes in literacy and numeracy be achieved through better classroom practice, or are improvements inextricably linked to the broader resolution of the sociocultural barriers Aboriginal students commonly face at school?

There are sharp differences in the official discourse on this matter. MCEETYA (2000, p. 43) argued against the utility of compensatory programs:
 For decades, education systems have been conducting compensatory
 programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to
 provide additional support. While these programs have been
 responsible for the considerable programs made in Indigenous
 education, they have often had two unintended side-effects: first,
 they marginalise the target group and the personnel who implement
 the programmes, and second, they become the focus of perceptions
 about unfair access to additional resources.

 The senate review adopted an opposing viewpoint:

 The Committee is concerned that a pre-occupation with teaching
 strategies, culturally relevant curricula and other elements of
 classroom practice--important as they are--should not be allowed to
 outweigh a consideration of the principal goal of school, which is
 the inculcation of life skills, including proficiency in literacy
 and numeracy (Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small
 Business and Educational References Committee, 2000, p. 93).

Then there is the view expressed in the Queensland education department's review: namely, that classroom teachers and administrators needed a sufficient understanding of cross-cultural and language pedagogy to advance literacy (Education Queensland, 2000, p. 29).

The Commonwealth Government's 2000-2004 strategy on literacy and numeracy took the widest possible course through this debate. In striving to achieve comparability in literacy and numeracy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, it identified five key elements: lifting Aboriginal school attendance rates; addressing hearing and other health problems; developing cross-cultural awareness in teachers; ensuring the adoption of effective teaching methods; and enhancing accountability. The Commonwealth Government allocated $65.9 million for the period of the strategy. Many of the programs funded by the Commonwealth under the strategy were directed at 'readiness for learning' initiatives (DEST, 2002, p. 84); in other words, addressing some of the structural disadvantages impeding the acquisition of literacy and numeracy. This being the case, the issue with the compensatory skills model is the extent to which it can exist in an effective form outside parallel linkages with all other models, and especially social justice and school responsiveness models.


This paper has contributed to policy discussion on Indigenous education by developing a comprehensive framework of models embodying current approaches and by showing that the official discourse has a limited understanding of these models, and especially their theoretical underpinnings.

Several important consequences for policy debate and development flow from these findings.

Development of policy would benefit from a more explicit application of the models. Future strategies in Indigenous education should take account of the role played by each model in improving outcomes. The models have the potential to provide a template for the classification of current policy approaches and the identification of policy gaps.

In turn, official policy discourse would prove more effective with a systematic recognition of the models. Reviews play an important role in the ongoing discourse but it is clear that there is currently no uniform means guiding their deliberations. Greater consistency of review mechanisms would produce a more comprehensive overview of Indigenous education and provide direction for policy development and evaluation.

Given the finding that the models are discrete but not mutually exclusive it is important that a framework for their integration is developed. While this task lies beyond the scope of this paper, it is our contention that an integrated approach is most likely to flow from planned interagency coordination that explicitly recognises the primacy and role of each model. In effect, an application of the models provides a functional blueprint for identifying the roles and responsibilities of each agency required to provide resources.

Similarly, the models, when conceptualised as an integrated strategy, provide a more structured approach for accountability. Given the primacy of the models to provide a theoretical underpinning to practice, it is most likely that improved outcomes in Indigenous education will flow from the extent to which governments can show program development in accordance with each model.

In light of the consistent findings in the policy discourse that improvements in outcomes for Indigenous students remain problematic, new ways to develop policy and improve official discourse is clearly required. This paper has sought to make a contribution to this challenge by proposing the existence of discrete models of Aboriginal education that need to be integrated and systematically adopted in the policy development and review processes. The current ad hoc approach to policy development and review cannot be sustained.


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Quentin Beresford

Jan Gray

Edith Cowan University

Dr Quentin Beresford is an Associate Professor of Politics and Government at Edith Cowan University, WA 6050.

Dr Jan Gray is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Edith Cowan University, WA 6050. Email

Correspondence concerning this article can be directed to Dr Jan Gray.
Table 1 Analysis of report modes for
Aboriginal education

Type of Report Purpose of Report

Consultant report Independent performance
 compliance report

Departmental report Policy review / statement

Commonwealth Independent research
 Departmental based review
 funded report

Commonwealth Performance
 Parliamentary accountability
 report report

Table 2 Models of Aboriginal education in Australia

Model Defining features

Social Justice Address structural disadvantage
 Acknowledge intergenerational disadvantage
 Based on resistance and alienation theories
 Need for culturally appropriate support structures

Community Build partnerships between schools and Aboriginal
Development communities
 Build links between schools and broader community
 Build effective interagency support
 Develop local solutions for local circumstances

Enhanced Requires overarching policy frameworks
Coordination Based on policy theory of organisations
 Develop strong partnerships between government,
 communities and education systems

Cultural Need for cultural identity--language,
Recognition learning styles
 Based on interactionist theory of shared meaning
 of the world
 Culturally relevant and rigorous curriculum
 Culturally aware teachers--two-way learning

School Capacity for schools to engage in change
Responsiveness Respect socio-economic and cultural context of
 Curricula adapted to needs of Aboriginal learners
 Meeting requirements for community participation

Elitist Disproportionate resources for Aboriginal students
 meeting benchmarks
 Support and resource students and families with
 aspirations for tertiary entry
 Founded on political and sociological notions
 of rule by elites

Compensatory Opposing positions on teaching versus socio-cultural
Skills foci
 Comparability in literacy and numeracy
 Teachers skilled in cross-cultural and language

 Illustration in
Model discourse

Social Justice Senate Inquiry (2000)
 National Framework
 for Indigenous Youth

Community House of
Development Representatives
 Standing Committee
 on ATSI Affairs

Enhanced MCEETYA, 2000

Cultural Senate Review (2000)
Recognition Collins Report
 Kemmis (1999)
 Burke et. al (2000)

School Vinson inquiry (2002)
Responsiveness Kemmis (1999)
 Burke et. al (2000)

Elitist Department of
 Education and
 Training WA (2003)

Compensatory DEST, 2002
Skills Education
 Department of
 Queensland Review
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Author:Gray, Jan
Publication:Australian Journal of Education
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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