Turning around Aboriginal education

Scott Coomber

Aboriginal Education and Wellbeing Officer Greg Edwards builds teachers' capacity and skills in understanding working with Aboriginal people

While outcomes in Aboriginal education are slowly starting to turn around, Federation members such as Greg Edwards are helping drive the momentum of change.

Mr Edwards, an Aboriginal Education and Wellbeing Officer and member of Federation’s Aboriginal Members Committee, provides high-level support and advice to schools, educational services teams and key stakeholders in the implementation of strategies relating to Aboriginal education and engagement.

He divides his departmental role, in the simplest of terms, between professional learning and crisis management.

“My role supports the principals and staff and builds their capacity and skills in understanding working with Aboriginal people, and working with families,” he said. “We don’t work directly with the kids but we work through the schools as a medium.

“Say if a school rings us and says we have an issue with this kid or this family, it’s still a professional learning opportunity for us to sit down with the principal and teacher to go through a range of strategies for them and upskill them to deal with it.

“So, next time, they may not feel compelled to bring us in and may be already equipped with the best strategy to deal with that situation.

“We also aim to build that relationship with the school so they do know those services are there for them. Our role is really about that relationship and the school can say, ‘OK, I know this person can help, I know this person can troubleshoot this issue for me’.”

Mr Edwards said that in such a diverse position, crisis management is not technically in his formal job description.

“Crisis management could be a variety of things, whether it’s a situation at home or at school or in the community,” he said. “We have a community person that we can take with us, who is employed by the Department just to work specifically with the parents because that’s what they get paid to do.

“Then it’s us working with the kid directly or directly with the classroom teacher to manage situations to ensure that kid can be back in the classroom, because that’s the main goal.”

To inform future strategies to enhance Aboriginal education, Mr Edwards and his team have prepared a survey to be distributed to schools in the Macquarie Park Directorate.

“We want to receive as much feedback as possible about what is needed to support schools to deliver sound Aboriginal education into the future,” he said.

“The responses will help us inform the next few years in strategic planning so those schools are getting what they believe they need to best support Aboriginal kids.”

Without being disparaging of his predecessors in the role, Mr Edwards said the position had been left vacant for 18 months and there was some repair work to do.

“For me at the moment, it’s about going out and rebuilding bridges that have been burned and plugging a lot of holes in the ship,” he said.

“The survey is also something of a marketing exercise, so that at the same time we are getting the vital strategic information we need, we are also reminding people that we are here to come and help.”

The Indigenous community is set to leave an indelible mark on the new landmark redevelopment of Arthur Phillip High School and Parramatta Public School in Sydney’s western centre. Not only will the project produce the state’s first high-rise public school but also make a unique statement about the region’s First Peoples.

Mr Edwards has had a hand in consultations for the project that has allowed Indigenous community input from its conception.

“My role has been make sure the community is involved in the process and we are going to have a school with Aboriginal Australia literally embedded in the concrete, embedded in the paint on the walls, embedded in the teaching and learning spaces,” he said.

“You will have to walk though Aboriginal Australia to get to the classroom, which is quite a really wonderful success story.”

Click here to download PDF.

Aboriginal Education in Your School: K-12 Conference

Out west, a tiny school of 16 students flourishes

What is the SRS and why is it important?