A recent court case has highlighted the issue of low school attendance rates in the town of Halls Creek, Western Australia.
A WA Education Department worker faced court earlier in the month for sharing attendance rates from a school database with the local shire anonymously.
It has been reported that at one point an attendance rate of just eight per cent was recorded at Halls Creek District High School.
Jaru woman Brenda Garstone said it made little sense why anyone would be taken through the judicial system for providing details about school attendance rates and instead efforts should be going into getting kids into their classes.
“At the end of the day its about the students and the education and if there is a problem with attendance then it needs to be addressed, why is the attendance so low, if we don’t know the truth then how can you make improvements?” she said.
Ms Garston, who is CEO of Yura Yungi Medical Service in Halls Creek went to school in the town and currently has nieces and nephews at Halls Creek District High School.
“Covering up things and saying it’s all okay when the majority of our kids that attend this school are Indigenous and we are trying to close the gap, education is one of the key indicators.”
Education Minister Sue Ellery’s office did not answer questions from the National Indigenous Times on attendance rates or why they are considered ‘confidential’.
The Schools Online website shows Halls Creek District High School’s Year 10 attendance rate last year was just 22 per cent, for Year 11s it was 28 per cent and Year 12s it was 30 per cent, far below the state average for these year levels that sits at 85 per cent or higher.
Ms Garston said students in Halls Creek needed to be given more support with their schooling and suggested this would increase attendance in those later years.
“Year 11 and 12 the standard is still quite low (in Halls Creek) and some of the kids who may have potential, they get lost because there isn’t the resources to support them and it just becomes a joke,” she said.
“My nieces, they came back from Sydney when COVID hit and they struggled to fit into the school system here because the standard of education was very low and they were left to do things on their own without any support.”
Ms Garston said it was her understanding that any students at the school who choose to study ATAR subjects only have the option of doing so via correspondence.
“They don’t get the face to face access to teachers,” she said.
Ms Garston said if governments were genuine in their drive to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people they would pay more attention to the delivery of education for Aboriginal children.
“It provides a pathway for employment and future aspirations so that they can be on a positive pathway rather than a destructive pathway because they don’t have an education,” she said.
“Education empowers children with knowledge and skills, if your horizons aren’t broadened through formal education, you’re very limited in your capabilities and access to employment opportunities.”
The Education Department employee who leaked the school’s attendance data had one charge against him dropped and the other, he was acquitted of.
It is not known whether he will face internal disciplinary action over the matter.
Education Department Professional Standards and Conduct Executive Director, Craig Ward said the matter will now be considered “in light of these findings.”
By Aleisha Orr