In all other states, the number of Indigenous children failing NAPLAN tests is increasing. This is the fourth report in the Indigenous Education series by Professor Helen Hughes and researcher Mark Hughes and finds that the government is wrongly blaming Indigenous failure rates on ethnicity, remoteness and English as a second language. Indigenous children of working parents achieve the same results as non-Indigenous children with working parents. Non-Indigenous remote schools have high NAPLAN achievement rates, and migrant children are taught English successfully in schools.
“The education system’s focus on ‘Indigeneity’ is a politically driven distraction,” says Prof Hughes, the report’s co-author. “If Indigenous ethnicity was a cause of failure, the 110,000 Indigenous students who are meeting NAPLAN standards in mainstream schools would not be achieving these results.” “It is a rising cohort of 40,000 Indigenous students attending under-performing mainstream schools, side-by-side with many more non-Indigenous students that are failing in greater numbers. Despite spending large amounts of taxpayer funds, government policies are not targeted at fixing their underperforming schools.
” NAPLAN results indicate that school ethos and classroom instruction are at the heart of the problem, not ethnicity. The failure to reform welfare also contributes to high failure rates through low expectations and attendance rates. The report argues that underperforming mainstream schools in cities and towns betray both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
The NAPLAN performance of Indigenous students in these schools cannot be fixed without improving the performance of the non-Indigenous students sitting next to them. The very worst achieving schools are 200 Indigenous schools, including the Northern Territory’s 40 Homeland Learning Centres, where students do not have full-time qualified teachers. NAPLAN results at these schools are getting worse despite the $300 million in extra funding provided for Indigenous-specific education programs.
Indigenous-specific funding is being used for non-core education, such as dance festivals and circus skills, which take time away from classroom teaching, with no accountability. The report criticises Australia’s Education Ministers for reducing their goal of providing education of the same standard to Indigenous children as that received by non-Indigenous children, in favour of a softer target of ‘halving the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. On the Ministers’ timetable, Indigenous children will not have the same education as non-Indigenous children until 2028.
Recommendations include:
Australian governments reinstate their goal of providing equal educational outcomes for all Australian students 
Principals must be given autonomy in hiring and firing, budgeting, and managing schools to be held accountable for NAPLAN results 
Reforming welfare to increase Indigenous employment and raise educational expectations and school attendance.

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