At the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrurr Catholic College in the remote indigenous community of Wadeye in the north-western Northern Territory, average school attendance rates are about 51 per cent.
But the federal government is hoping to change that, now that it has almost doubled the number of schools signed up to its Remote School Attendance Strategy.
An additional 210 school attendance officers and 60 supervisors will be employed to boost attendance rates in a further 30 schools nation-wide from Term 2, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion said on Friday.
Fifteen of the new schools will be in the NT, seven in Queensland and three in Western Australia, with another five in other jurisdictions.
The schools were identified following consultation with state and territory governments, the minister said.
The Wadeye community faces numerous obstacles to getting students to school, says Principal Dr John Young, due to the 22-plus different clans based there.
“When there’s fighting in the community the attendance drops pretty dramatically,” he told AAP.
“There’s a lot of clan conflict issues, and a lot of kids don’t get the amount of sleep they should, which has a real major effect on learning.”
Factors affecting children’s sleep and school attendance include loud music, parents gambling late into the night and overcrowding at home, where 16 people can live in a three-bedroom house, Dr Young said.
Some of the conflict spilled into school.
“Whether people say it’s payback from the old days or they’re fighting because every clan here has their own country, I don’t know who to blame. Why is the government putting everyone in one place when years ago they wanted to kill each other?” resident Harold Anderson told AAP.
“The generation coming through now are hearing the same stories and the violence is getting worse and worse.”
Dr Young said the key attendance data measures how many students attend school at least four days out of five.
22 per cent, or 177 students are coming to school 80 per cent of the time or more, he said.
“Those kids are making very good progress; the best thing we can do is move the 111 students who come 60 to 80 per cent up to coming four to five days a week… That makes the biggest difference.”
School attendance personnel are already working in more than 40 schools across Australia and some schools in the NT have reported increases in attendance of nearly 20 percentage points since the strategy was implemented at the start of school this year, Minister Scullion said.
Early data from schools involved in the scheme’s first stage show encouraging signs of increased school attendance, with more than 600 more children in school this year compared to last year.
Total government funding for the strategy now stands at $46.5 million.