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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 9 Hansard (19 August) . . Page.. 3934..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

whole interagency approach to making a positive difference to the lives of local indigenous people.

Members will remember the devastating destruction in January 2003 of the Birrigai outdoor school. The indigenous community has been significantly involved in planning for redevelopment of the site at Paddy's River and the extension of its programs to ensure that the needs of indigenous student in the outdoor learning environment are addressed. As a consequence, two more staff members have been employed at Birrigai to work with others in designing and implementing new programs aimed at indigenous student support. This government has increased its support to the work of the Billabong Aboriginal Corporation in west Belconnen and its programs continue to expand to cater for indigenous youth with significant concerns.

Last December I was particularly delighted to launch the product of an exciting indigenous community project that this government has supported. A set of five locally produced indigenous storybooks for the younger age group was published, reflecting a significant effort to bring experiences of indigenous culture to all ACT primary schoolchildren. Primary schools and Koori preschools received multiple sets of the books and the response has been most rewarding. Of special interest is the dare to lead program, an initiative of the Australian Principals Association's Professional Development Council.

More than 60 ACT government schools have signed up to that program in which schools make formal commitments to making a difference to the lives of indigenous students, especially in the areas of literacy and study completion. An update of activities against that program will be provided in future reports to this Assembly. Last year's system assessment in literacy and numeracy revealed a pleasing improvement in the number of indigenous primary school students achieving the benchmark in reading and writing. Over time the indigenous literacy program and other early interventions have made some gains in improving teaching and learning strategies in schools for indigenous students. Our government has learnt from that and recently announced new funding to expand these programs.

Indigenous high school students also showed steady results or improvement across reading, writing and numeracy assessments last year, with advances particularly in reading in years 7 and 9. The results for indigenous students against the national benchmarks are positive but need to be treated with some caution. The small number of indigenous students in each year level means that the movement of one student can significantly change the percentage results.

A significant increase occurred through 2003 in the number of indigenous youngsters attending Koori preschools and mainstream preschools. Enrolments rose from 71 in February to 108 in September, an increase of 52 per cent on the previous year. Considerable attention has been paid to community networking and professional learning for preschool teachers, both of which have contributed to this growth. As there is a continuing trend of increasing indigenous participation in ACT preschools, this government has funded a substantial expansion of the Koori preschool program to begin next year.

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