A report on the Investigation into Victorian government school expulsions, tabled in Parliament on Monday, revealed that children as young as five and six are being expelled in a process riddled with gaps that lack concrete data.
Figures in the new report show 278 children were expelled in 2016 and the report found significant reform is required to measure exactly how many children are excluded from government schools each year, and to ensure no child is ever excluded entirely from the Victorian education system.
"The report is just words on a paper; we now need to see a difference for our children’s future.”
The General Manager of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI), Mr Lionel Bamblett welcomes the report and says now words must be put into action.
“We [VAEAI] are now looking forward to working with the Department of Education and Training to start implementing those changes. The report is just words on a paper; we now need to see a difference for our children’s future,” he said.
“We must look at the kids on the margins, they’re the ones getting expelled, the exclusion issue is also what we’ve got to look after.”
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said a key purpose of the investigation was to find out whether expulsions complied with the Ministerial Order – which includes ensuring the student is provided with other educational and development opportunities.
“The official number is likely to be only a fraction of the number of children informally expelled, on whom no data is kept. Somewhere between hundreds and thousands of children each year disengage from formal education at least in part as a result of pressure from schools. We simply do not know where they end up,” Ms Glass said.
“But we do know that some 60 per cent of those in the youth justice system had previously been suspended or expelled from school. Over 90 per cent of adults in our prisons did not complete secondary school. The link between educational disadvantage and incarceration is not new, but remains compelling.
"It’s urgent that we get education outcomes for our mob... It's not just about employment, education is for life."
In recent years there have been improvements in the educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Statistics show the Year 7–10 apparent retention rate for Koorie students in Victorian government schools has increased from approximately 77 per cent in 2005 to 97 per cent in 2014. However, the same plan notes that there remains a gap ‘in the learning and development outcomes between Koorie and non-Koorie learners’.
There were between 14 and 16 expulsions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in 2016, representing between five and six per cent of formal expulsions in Victoria. This is despite the fact that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students make up less than two and a half per cent of the students in Victorian government schools.
When a Koorie Education Coordinator interviewed for the investigation was asked whether there were any themes in the expulsion of Aboriginal children they said: 'Well the common theme is that they usually get exited before the expulsion'.
Mr Bamblett says his mother always 'preached the idea that education is about empowerment for all people' and agrees, but also urges that education is relevant and for everyone, but not at the 'expense of your culture'.
"It's urgent that we implement those recommendations from that report immediately. It’s also urgent that we get positive education outcomes for our mob... It's not just about employment, education is for life."
He says it's about time the country has a national voice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education.
"We’ve got a voice for health and other things, but we don’t have a major voice on a national level for one of the most important areas of our life, education. We need a voice that’s relevant to our people. We need to bring back community involvement."