Cull troublemakers, says Yirara College teacher


p2217-Yirara-painting-2By ERWIN CHLANDA
Rampant misconduct by some students is making Yirara unsafe for other students and staff and makes meaningful teaching all but impossible.
So says a teacher at the residential college who spoke to the Alice Springs News Online on the condition of not being named: “We have no authority, we get no respect,” the source says.
“The kids just refuse to obey. They walk out of class, they tease each other in language. The teacher can’t understand them. Talking in language they can plan mischief: ‘Why don’t we just walk out?’
“They undermine teachers who can’t do anything.”
Fights broke out last week, yet the kids were back in class that afternoon.
“The school has no authority. The kids do what they want.”
Dozens of kids, the most difficult ones, should be culled from the approximately 200 who are enrolled now, to give the rest a chance of learning progress, says the teacher.
Meanwhile the News has been told that half the teaching staff – seven out of 14 – resigned last year. At least three other experienced teachers who were there in 2014 are planning to leave at the end of this year.
This is the teacher’s account of the conditions at the college so far in 2015:-
The school is woefully understaffed, given increased student numbers resulting from a scaling back by the NT Government of secondary education in the bush.
There are not enough teachers and student coordinators, yet the college, to increase income, is enrolling as many students as it can.
p2217-Yirara-painting-4Many of the newly arriving kids are woefully unprepared for life at Yirara, and with a grossly inadequate primary education, have no hope of keeping up with the standard curriculum.
Teachers sometimes work alone, sometimes they have a support person, also a non-indigenous person without Aboriginal language skills.
“The kids have no respect for either,” says our source. “An Aboriginal person with language would be helpful.
“There is a bigger problem: The school needs to have a planned structure and curriculum. A feasible number of students needs to be matched with the required number of teachers and support staff. A timetable needs to be written. Only after this plan is made and the structure created, we should enrol the students and put them in classes that are running properly.
“So far we just see who turns up. We’re playing catch-up. It’s farcical. We’re putting out spot fires all the time.”
Students who barely know the alphabet are thrown in with kids who have good primary education. The result is that no-one makes progress.
There is no filtering of students – some even have bad eyesight or hearing.
A teacher was confronted by a new student who was not on the roll, had no academic background, could not do what he was asked to do.
p2217-Yirara-painting-3The student walked out of the room, interrupted other classes, threw rocks, banged on doors and windows, got back to class, lay on a classroom table, walked around the room, picked up things, threw them, made drawings on walls and tables.
Policy documents dealing with conduct are completely unrealistic: “If a student does not follow instructions three times they are to get detention.
“But some students have never followed instructions. We don’t have time to list them all. 90% of the school would be in detention. It doesn’t work,” says the teacher.
“It happens too often. We are so overrun by bad behaviour.”
As there are not enough staff to supervise kids in detention, “it’s inevitable that they come back to class and it’s inevitable that the bad behaviour continues”.
There is only one person in charge of student “behaviour and well-being” but the principal, the assistant principal and the head of curriculum sometimes have to intervene, doing “their best but they have other work to do.
“The principal is putting himself at risk by chasing after students who are supposed to be in class. This shouldn’t be up to the principal of a school.”
“It was raised in a staff meeting that the school is currently dangerous for staff and students. While we have no control over the kids, we cannot guarantee safety.”
The teacher says there should be a transition program for bush kids over – say – five weeks, boosting literacy, explaining how the school works, “so they can have some success.
p2217-Yirara-painting-1“Many come with no idea of what the school would be like.”
The News yesterday spoke with principal Roger Ashcroft and offered him the right of reply, as we did to board chairman Tim Stollznow. Both declined to comment, but Mr Ashcroft will meet with us tomorrow.
IMAGES: Work of students from the “art gallery” on the college website. No details are given.
Some reports about Yirara from our archive:
They’re back for good.
Cape York lessons for Centre’s schools?
Lutherans may run Yipirinya School
Yirara is “stabilising” college at The Rock.
Young people ‘on the fence’ on curfew
Private schools are booming in The Alice


  1. Someone else singing from the same song sheet! Be aware, enrolments may be 200+ but at the end of last week I hear there were less than 70 students attending.
    Let’s look at that in terms of Centrelink payments. Let’s say the college gets $2000 + per term per student NON REFUNDABLE.
    Here we are at week four. Over 40 students have either been sent home, expelled or just done a runner.
    Over $80,000 pocketed by the college in less than four weeks.
    Is it transparent practice or does it confirm, or at least support, the suspicion that the process is get the kids in for census, get their Centrelink money then pack them off home.
    Last Monday night 29 students broke out of their dorms and were found in each others! Many were evidently sent home.
    This article states one person is doing behaviour management in the school. Either that person does not know their job or the job is too big for them.
    Tim S (board chairman) denied the claim in an earlier article that only one person did the job. Transparency and honesty please, Tim. New staff must be wondering about what on earth they have said yes to?

  2. Surprise, surprise, the sorry saga continues but even on a grander scale apparently.
    While Tim and the Finke River Mission Board fail to step up, there will be no improvement. As the saying goes: “Shape up or ship out.”
    Credit where credit is due: a couple of years ago a consultant was employed in an attempt to deal with certain issues, however he turned out to be a mate of those running the college.
    He seemed to listen intently to many staff members but, as was expected, but the status quo remains. Such a process needs to be completely independent and confidential.
    Bring on an inquiry if that is what it will take to give Yirara the future it needs.

  3. Aboriginal school … And when all these kids leave during the night and go into town, who do you think is breaking into shops, damaging property and fighting in town?

  4. Firstly, how did the kids get out of the dorms? They must be used to cutting off alarms.
    The person who said that about the break-ins in town is barking up the wrong tree.
    I feel sorry for teachers who in good faith have gone to work at Yirara.
    It seems to be completely dysfunctional. Well I Never is right.
    This recruiting of community kids is just a money making exercise.
    If there is no direction from administration and no proper programmes in place how can the place run?
    I hope the principal can give you some honest answers when you interview him, Erwin.
    It would be interesting to find out how long he has worked with indigenous children and communities.
    In the old days students were tested on arrival at Yirara and an attempt was made to put them in suitable levels.
    Even then those levels were low. I dread to think what they are now!
    Once again it comes back to parents and carers in communities who must get the children to school. In other parts of Australia there has been progress. People like Andrew Forest, and groups like Generation One are paving the way but people in The Centre must take a stand stand and ensure children attend school. This is the simple answer.

  5. Still having problems? Close it and Yiperenye school.
    Tell me if they have any good outcomes.
    Does integration mean people do not learn to write their name?
    Denial of the future is so unrealistic?
    Government funds are wasted on communities and schools!
    Students are moved in and out for stats and funds have no results.
    The only increase is in crime.
    Sadly, Aboriginal organizations and people believe they don’t need to make a difference.

  6. Who cares about the money, who gets it, where it comes from, how it is spent? What is the priority?
    Human beings are the priority. The safety of students and the safety of staff. I feel pity for the current principal who has inherited this minefield, created by poor leadership, bad choices and denial from the top.
    I hope that this principal does indeed care, and is not one of those who put bandaids on festering wounds instead of digging deep in order to heal.
    Writers have mentioned the Finke River Mission and its chairperson Tim. It appears obvious that this body of people have not the ability to sort out the issues. Where else do we look? Lutheran Schools of Australia? The Lutheran Bishop of Australia? How long has this been going on? Do they listen, and believe? It is time someone did?

  7. If Yirara operated the way it was intended it could make a huge positive difference to the prospects of many of its pupils. But based on the story so far, I would guess even the most talented of kids would be struggling to learn.
    The appearance, from a distance, is that taking the unprepared and the rejects from community schools to maximise funds is a disaster for all concerned.
    Perhaps it’s time for the funding agencies to take a hands-on role in managing the college for a period during which time they, along with the Board, could define a new course. Continuing as is should not be an option – for the school and for the providers of funds.
    @ Bandaid. If the funds currently expended for minimal if any benefit could be better used (for example, to get excellent results for 25% or more of students) would that make you care about the money?
    The money is important. Yirara chasing it is evidence of that.

  8. The College needs to employ staff with bush teaching experience.
    Teachers who have spent some time in the bush understand some language and most importantly they know the kids and their families.
    That would make a world of difference.

  9. I can tell you it takes only a student not to be interested to set off a classroom.
    During a PD day teachers were told about red, yellow, green light pyramid presentation.
    Talking about how your students that are green are wanting and willing to learn, your yellow have some interest and will comply and your red are not willing and defiant.
    When the presenter asked what the teachers thought the percentages are in each category it weighed more towards the yellow and red because when one students decides they are not willing to learn they drag others with them.
    Let them out of the class and they disrupt other classrooms. (Insert any movie scene where jail inmates hoot and holler because of one inmate’s disruptive behaviour.)
    With that been said, those students who do not want to be at Yirara, don’t hold them there strictly for funding numbers, because all they want is to disrupt knowing their actions are (through the behavioural system) suppose to send them home. Stop wasting time on those students you have to drag in and not willing or wanting to learn.

  10. Of course the trained professional adults blame the Aboriginal kids. Of course the youth problems of Alice Springs are these kids’ fault.
    The government punishes the families if the kids aren’t in school, yet the schools blame the kids for being there.
    Aboriginal children from remote communities will never win with attitudes and tripe like that which is presented in this article.
    Yirara College has a dark history and it’s time it focussed on the best interest of the kids.
    I don’t think any young person would feel they were valued reading this article. Engender pride, not persecution.

  11. I wonder if anyone has considered making Yirara College an international school consisting of day students and boarders. Alice Springs is a multicultural community and I’m sure there are many parents in the town who would love to avail their children of this school’s fantastic facilities.
    My other thought is that it seems pretty silly to punish these kids by sending them home to their community because that is exactly what they want because they are homesick!
    Please mix up the clients and this will lighten the mood of the place and the kids can learn from each other as well as from their classes. Surely boarding students should be screened and perhaps the intake could begin at year 10.
    Good luck for 2016 Yirara.


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