• Linda Burney was the first Aboriginal woman to enter the House of Representatives. (The Point)Source: The Point
Wiradjuri woman and Labor frontbencher Linda Burney says the government ‘needs to take its head out of the sand’ and focus on needs based funding for remote Indigenous students.
Laura Morelli

2 Aug 2017 - 6:01 PM  UPDATED 2 Aug 2017 - 6:25 PM

The former teacher's comments come after the NT government says the high rates of Indigenous school children living in remote areas have contributed to the Northern Territory's disappointing NAPLAN results.

The NT has improved primary reading and numeracy standards since 2008 but continues to lag significantly behind the rest of the country in all domains and years.

Half of Year 9 students didn't meet the national minimum standard for writing, while only 62 per cent of Year 5 students reached the overall benchmark.

needs based funding 'abandoned' 

Ms Burney,  who assisted the set-up of the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group,  has slammed the government’s lack of funding and failure to provide needs-based funding.

“The Northern Territory has always received the least amount of money. We’ve always argued that the funding to schools must be needs-based, and part of that has to be about remoteness and Aboriginality - those two things are pertinent to the NT.”

Ms Burney says that nationwide, Indigenous education is not seeing the outcomes that are expected in 2017.

“In closing the gap target,s the only one being met out of the seven is the achievements for Indigenous students at university.”

Despite being a positive outcome and one that should be celebrated, Ms Burney says the fact that only one target is being met is a crucial issue.

“We have several Indigenous children who don’t meet the NAPLAN outcomes, several of which are in remote communities. [They're] not meeting the standards, and not because of their Indigeneity, but [because of] the quality of the delivery of service. It’s a lot to do with where people live.”

New approach 'necessary'

Ms Burney stresses that the government have abandoned and walked away from needs-based funding.

“Needs-based funding means schools that are remote and have high Aboriginal population get the funding they deserve because of the children that they have in those schools – that’s what needs-based funding is about,” she said.

“If the government had not walked away from the targets for Aboriginal children, including those in the NT, and not walked away from the Gonski practice, then we would see different outcomes.”

Ms Burney fears that the government’s decision to abandon needs-based funding is going to mean a "perpetuation of the very poor outcomes already prevalent with Indigenous students in the NT".

“There has to be a more holistic way of judging how young students are coping. NAPLAN does not test ethical behaviour, artistic skills and ingenuity, instead it focuses on literature and maths on a particular day for particular students.” 

'Cash needed' to close the gap

Education Minister Eva Lawler says the results reflect the higher levels of socioeconomic disadvantage in the Territory, especially in remote Aboriginal communities where many kids have English as a second language and struggle with low school attendance.

She's calling on Canberra to commit more cash to help close the gap between Indigenous students in the bush and their non-Indigenous Australian peers.

In January, the Gunner Labor government committed $31 million in extra funding for additional ESL teachers, but Ms Lawler concedes the problem won't be fixed overnight.

She says education impacts on key Closing the Gap health and employment outcomes and wants the Commonwealth to chip in to address a funding shortfall.

"With Gonski 2.0, the Northern Territory over 10 years will lose 150 million of funding," Ms Lawler said.

"I have been calling on the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, to come to the Territory to have a good look at how different we are, where education delivery is more expensive and complex."

Better training, better future

Ms Burney began her career teaching at Lethbridge Park Public School in western Sydney in 1979. She has been involved in the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultative Group since the mid-1980s and has participated in the development and implementation of the first Aboriginal education policy in Australia.

She believes all teachers should be celebrated for their determination, but well-trained teachers make an immense difference when it comes to educating youth.

“One of the key things, of course, is quality teaching, and that means the universities have to train teachers to can cope with wherever they’re designated to teach - whether it’s a remote community, rural town or central city,” she explained.

“Teachers are amazing people, they are committed and passionate about schools, but teachers can be only good as the training they’re getting.” 

'Being born Aboriginal was a complete scandal,' how Linda Burney's childhood drives her today
Linda Burney made history when she became the first Aboriginal woman to enter the House of Representatives in 2016, but behind the confident Wiradjuri woman is a painful past that she says helped shape the leader she has become today.
Linda Burney says politician-free zone at Uluru convention a 'wise' decision
Wiradjuri woman and Labor frontbencher, Linda Burney, believes the decision to have a politician-free zone at the Indigenous constitution convention at Uluru is ‘wise’.
White men file complaint claiming Indigenous MP Linda Burney has been racist to them
Two white Australian men have filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging racism by Federal Labor MP Linda Burney as the row over Section 18C intensifies.
Watch: Linda Burney includes Wiradjuri song as part of maiden speech
“I was born at a time when the Australian Government knew how many sheep there were, but not how many Aboriginal people. I was 10-years-old before the ‘67 referendum fixed that. The first decade of my life was spent as a non-citizen.”

With AAP