The Remote Schools Attendance Strategy (RSAS) commenced in 2014 and aims to increase school attendance in selected remote communities through the deployment of local School Attendance Supervisors (SAS) and School Attendance Officers (SAO) who work with schools, families, and children to encourage students to go to school each day.
The RSAS has been rolled out in two stages. Stage one commenced in term one of 2014 and included students from 44 schools in five jurisdictions – Northern Territory (NT), Queensland (QLD), Western Australia, (WA), New South Wales (NSW) and South Australia (SA). Stage two commenced in term two of 2014 and included students from a further 33 schools in the five jurisdictions.
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) receives and analyses school attendance data for the RSAS schools every week and monitors RSAS performance.
Funding for stages one and two of the Strategy was $46.5 million over two calendar years, covering January 2014 to 31 December 2015.
An interim progress report was published in October 2015. It sets out findings of the progress of the RSAS on Stage One schools. This report presents two forms of data analysis: an analysis of weekly school attendance data and of reasons given for why children were not attending school.
As the table below shows (Report Reference: Table 1.8: Verified Attendance Rates Years 1-10, South Australian Government Schools Average Semester One Attendance Rates 2013 and 2014 and Percentage Point Change, page 9), the attendance rate is higher in 2014 in five of the South Australian schools and lower in three of the schools. In light of the funding investment and based on this limited data, it is difficult to determine whether the RSAS has had an impact.
|School Name||2013 %||2014 %||Change pp|
|Amata Anangu School||56||57||1|
|Ernabella Anangu School||52||47||-5|
|Fregon Anangu School||66||56||-10|
|Indulkana Anangu School||71||82||11|
|Mimili Anangu School||68||77||9|
|Oak Valley Aboriginal School||37||50||13|
|Pipalyatjara Anangu School||67||57||-10|
|Yalata Anangu School||50||63||13|
The interim report provides an overview of the reasons given for children not attending school. The table below provides data on the total number of cited incidences against particular reasons for non-attendance for eight APY schools (page 26).
|ISSUE/REASON FOR NON-ATTENDANCE||INCIDENCE|| AVERAGE
across 8 schools
|Funerals / cultural activities||137||17.1|
|Sporting events / town shows (festivals / rodeos)||38||4.8|
|Family travel, e.g. shopping, medical (non-cultural)||56||7|
|Weather impacting (cold, hot, heavy rain)||20||2.5|
|Royalty payments / Land council meetings||5||0.6|
|Community unrest/fights/alcohol/volatile substance abuse/children out late||56||7|
|Poor student behaviour / sent home / suspension / bullying||68||8.5|
|Student transport problems / not operating||8||1|
|Reliable student transport||9||1.1|
|RSAS / school / provider issues||11||1.4|
|Initiatives directed to children to encourage attendance e.g. BBQs, breakfast, lunch||32||4|
|Position/s vacant in RSAS team||80||10|
|SAS/SAO irregular attendance / poor performance||84||10.5|
|School holiday activities, planned /undertaken by RSAS team||2.4||0.3|
In South Australia, funerals/cultural activities were the most frequently cited reason for poor school attendance (17.1). This was slightly less than the Northern Territory but substantially more than the other jurisdictions.
The second most frequently cited factor was poor student behaviour (8.5). This was higher than all jurisdictions except NSW. Community unrest was also frequently cited (7), as was family travel e.g. shopping, medical, non-cultural (7).
Travel away from communities appears to be a relatively important factor for school attendance. When family travel for shopping and medical reasons (7) and travel for events such as sporting events / town shows (4.8) are grouped together, travel away from communities (for purposes other than cultural) is high (11.8 times per school on average). South Australia is the third highest of all the jurisdictions, just slightly below Queensland (12 on average).
The interim report states that RSAS has had a positive impact on school attendance in the Northern Territory and Queensland. In these two jurisdictions 72.5 per cent of schools (29 out of 40) had a higher term three attendance rate in 2014 than in 2013. However, there was no clear evidence that RSAS is having a similar impact in other jurisdictions (Interim Report, p. 2).
Case study report
On 19 October 2016, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon. Nigel Scullion, published a media release about a case study report produced by the O’Brien Rich Research Group about the RSAS – the Case Study Research For the Remote School Attendance Strategy.
This report sets out the findings from a series of six case studies which were undertaken on behalf of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) between June and November 2015.
The aim of the case studies was to identify and document the key success factors in the selected RSAS sites. The case study sites were selected by PM&C, in consultation with the state-based departments of education, using the following selection criteria: Those RSAS schools which had an increase in school attendance of 5 percentage points or more from Semester 1 in 2013 to Semester 2 in 2014; and those schools where the RSAS model is considered to be working well on the ground.
While it is noted that the purpose of the case study analysis was to determine success factors, it would seem that the selection criteria are biased towards findings and an outcome that is favourable to the Strategy – only those schools that indicated an improvement and/or where the Strategy was considered to be working well, were selected. Those sites with problems or a lack of traction, were not included in the sample group. This selection could distort the findings of the research study and could have excluded valuable lessons from schools where the Strategy was less successful.
The case studies were conducted in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. A total of 92 people participated in the case studies, including RSAS coordinators, team members, school principals, PM&C network staff, and RSAS providers. It is noted that parents and students – members of the Strategy’s target group – were not included as interviewees.
Key success factors
According to the Case Study report, an overall analysis of the case studies indicated that the ability to adapt RSAS to local conditions was the crucial success factor.
There were four additional success factors:
- An effective and relatively stable RSAS team
- A skilled coordinator
- Creating relationships with the community
- The RSAS team and the school working together.
These four factors were common to all the six case studies. However, each case study site implemented their own local solutions to ensure they suited their school and community.