Led by professor John Halsey, the review into 1700 remote, regional and rural (RRR) schools found that rural students had lagged behind their urban peers for many years. Halsey recommended urgent rescue operations.
The government supported all 11 recommendations with extra commonwealth funding of $3.3 billion for RRR schools. It also engaged all states and territories in a reform agenda from 2019.
Halsey identified school leadership, teaching, curriculum, technology and transition education as priorities. He cited examples of RRR schools, in all states, that were innovative in the face of major obstacles.
The report recommended better support for principals in small schools that had an added workload of teaching and management duties.
It suggested that they should have their administration load reduced via several sites working in partnership.
Susan Trigwell, principal of Tjukurla, a remote school in WA, said that the report rightly identified cluster support as a vital lifeline for remote schools.
“I have ongoing support from networks that make my work achievable,” she said.
“I was inducted into the context of the school that I would lead to make education equitable for all students.”
The report identified a need to raise the status of leaders in RRR schools, a leadership role that was mostly seen as a stepping stone to becoming a leader in a major city school.
A long-term challenge was attracting and retaining teachers for RRR schools, the report said.
Measures to this end are in operation, however.
Catholic Education Services Diocese of Cairns offers students at the Australian Catholic University an opportunity to undertake their final practicum at Cairns schools, with a guaranteed offer of a position after graduating.
A group of schools in Southern Queensland reduced teacher turnover in remote Aboriginal schools by providing early career teachers with employment after negotiating a service arrangement between schools in the program.
Professor Halsey recommends attracting outstanding teachers by offering employment packages with a guarantee to be placed in their preferred school at the end of their appointment.
The study recommended best practice be shared from RRR schools that showed how the Australian Curriculum could be adapted to suit remote or rural communities.
Pemberton district high school in WA was a case in point, as it attracts recognition from award-winning, sustainable agriculture programs, animal husbandry and commercial foods that it supplies to local retailers and restaurants.
The review suggested RRR schools offer parents and students high quality career information and advice to support career aspirations.
It praised a blended model underway at the University of Tasmania, where students complete an associate degree in two years and bridge the gap between university and TAFE while gaining credits towards a full degree.
The report focused on the need to improve opportunities for RRR schools to implement entrepreneurial education.
Rural Inspire was cited as a good example of an agency that offers a platform for young people in rural and remote Victoria to gain access to job opportunities and networks.
It is also supported by programs like the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme and entrepreneurship facilitators who work in Cairns, the Hunter region and Launceston.
The report identified a perennial need to improve technology as a channel for enhancing resource sharing between regions and globally.
Billabong High School addressed this by partnering with Aurora College, also in NSW. It enabled one student to engage in an online STEM project with an expert from the Australian National University.
A WA Department of Education spokesperson said it had extended the provision of wireless network access to schools and provided greater technical support with an online Connect platform for students to learn.