Yirara College: Minister Chandler on the case


p2219-YiraraBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Education Minister Peter Chandler says he is prepared to order an investigation into Yirara College if there is evidence of tumultuous conduct and danger to students and staff as has been alleged by our sources over the past two weeks.
He says Education Department head Ken Davies told him that there was nothing new in the allegations raised about Yirara. They had been “investigated”.
The last inspection by the department was in August 2013, a spokeswoman for Mr Chandler said this morning, in reply to a question from the Alice Springs News Online.
The News published detailed accounts from two teachers working at Yirara in the second half of last year, and one working there now. (Google this site.)
News reporters had several conversations with them and met them face to face.
We have also reported about a leaked memorandum given to staff two years ago, after a two day meeting, setting out a string of measures to be taken aimed at “de-escalating serious student behaviours”.
It is clear that the problems are not new, that they may have been investigated, but they certainly have not been fixed.
According to My School the college has a total budget of about $6m. Mr Chandler’s office says Yirara received from the NT Government $1.3m in 2013, $1.2m in 2014 and $300,000 so far this year as per capita funding for semester one only.
Mr Chandler, in an exclusive interview with the News, also outlined a comprehensive strategy for education in the bush which seems to underly many of the problems at Yirara.
Peter Chandler
CHANDLER (pictured): If there is anything new I wouldn’t hesitate sending a team in there to investigate.
NEWS: We spoke to two teachers who worked there in the second half of last year. They gave us comprehensive information for our first report, highly troubling accounts of misconduct. A current teacher confirmed that information and added more: Rampant disobedience, people being threatened, the workplace being unsafe. They spoke to us on the conditions of not being named.
CHANDLER: Encourage them to call me direct with their concerns and I’ll have no hesitation in looking into it further. That’s what I am here for, ensuring the right services are provided, whether they are in the public or private sector. All the information that is given to me is that Yirara has been investigated. A pretty bad call by them, though, not allowing you to go in. That’s just short-sighted. I suggested to Ken [Davies] that perhaps we should be encouraging the school, if they have nothing to hide, to allow the News access to see first hand. They should welcome it.
NEWS: You said recently that the department had met with the principal and the business manager and been told all is well. Was that the sum total of the investigation? Is there some quality control? Do people go in there unannounced? It’s been suggested to us that trouble makers are removed from sight when a scheduled departmental visit takes place.
CHANDLER: The people who are commissioned to undertake these kinds of checks are very experienced. This is not the only school they’ve investigated. They are often tasked to go in. It’s their job. I can’t believe they would put their own positions in jeopardy by not doing a thorough job. [The last inspection was in August 2013.]
NEWS: There are lots of problems with many kids from primary schools in the bush not being at a standard to cope with secondary education at Yirara.
CHANDLER: The principal of Kormilda College up here told me that they use the first 12 months to bring bush kids up to speed, to where their education should be. I commissioned Bruce Wilson to look at the Indigenous education in the NT. I can tell you, everything I thought was wrong with the system is wrong with the system. The approach we’re taking now, particularly with direct instruction being rolled out, to at least 60 remote schools, will provide new opportunities for indigenous kids. For far too long have we been throwing resources at education without focussing on results. That’s wrong.
NEWS: It doesn’t seem Yirara is doing that kind of catch-up in the first years. The teachers are telling us kids not prepared for secondary education are preventing those who are from making progress. The teachers are saying it’s not possible to work under those circumstances.
CHANDLER: If the kids are not made ready they would be leaving those children behind. As the Minister I have to make sure kids turning up to highschool are prepared for highschool. That’s where my focus is. If what you are saying is accurate it’s something I’ll speak to Ken about.
NEWS: Are kids being enrolled irrespective of their educational standard because the college is getting money for them?
CHANDLER: I haven’t seen any great change in the numbers out there.
NEWS: Are kids coming into Yirara because secondary education is being wound back in the bush?
CHANDLER: The very reason that a quality education is not provided in the bush is because teachers are stretched too far. You can have 20, 30 kids in a school, ranging from five years old through to 16 or 17, and expect one teacher to provide a curriculum across all those years. You just can’t provide a quality education that way. It’s the reason why we are looking at regional boarding facilities for highschools.
NEWS: Does that mean you’re looking at a return to secondary education outside major centres?
CHANDLER: Absolutely. The first one of our boarding facilities will be in Nhulunbuy, right adjacent to the highschool. Children will come in from outstations who received what I would call a second grade education. We bring them in to a larger school where they have far more subject choice, and career teachers who can provide them with a far better education than they can get in the bush. If you have one teacher in front of a group of 14 year olds, then that’s the group he’s teaching to.
NEWS: When is the kind of thing you’re doing in Nhulunbuy going to be rolled out in Central Australia?
CHANDLER: Alice Springs is likely to be second, we’re looking at Tennant Creek and Katherine, expanding the current facilities there. Bess Price would like to see one close to Yuendumu. We haven’t detailed exactly where they are going to be.
NEWS: Until that rolls out, is there a case for Yirara to apply a test to applicants and deny enrolment to those who are not sufficiently advanced for secondary education, as it was done years ago?
CHANDLER: I am prepared to seek some advice on that. It hasn’t been raised with me. We can’t have it that these children are being set up to fail.
NEWS: At what point is the department’s investigation into the Yipirinya School?
CHANDLER: The investigation is being carried out by Ian Summers, the former NT Auditor General. I have asked for a report by the end of this month. I wait with baited breath for his report.
p2218-John-HendersonMeanwhile there is an impasse in the communications between the News and the Lutheran church. After sustained attempts by Finke River Mission chairman Tim Stollznow to bully us we have requested Bishop John Henderson (pictured) and John Proeve, Executive Director Lutheran Schools Association SA, NT and WA to provide us with another contact person so we can pursue our obligations of fact checking and giving right of reply.
Bishop Henderson and Mr Proeve declined to do that, insisting that we should deal with Mr Stollznow. A string of questions we have put to them have not been answered. Our correspondence can be seen here. We understand Bishop Henderson, Mr Proeve and Mr Stollznow are in Alice Springs.
UPDATE 3:55pm
See Letter to the Editor from Tim Stollznow.


  1. So an investigation which acknowledges problems, sees an escalation in the problems two years on, is actually considered an OK kind of investigation and does not particularly require another look? I don’t think so!
    hat value is being placed on the lives of these students? What value is being placed on their need for a quality education?
    The students at Yirara deserve more than this! It is arrogance alone which says people who have little cultural knowledge and who are not accessing cultural advice from people who have it can develop an adequately appropriate program of learning for these students.
    It is time to admit your inadequacy and seek help. It is time to get real! THIS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE! An inquiry should be opened immediately!

  2. I firstly wish to commend Erwin for his apparent professional attitude in exploring what is and should be a public interest story.
    This story is long overdue and must continue until a thorough investigation is held if the best interests of Yirara are to be advanced.
    Having also read the various items of correspondence, it would appear that a pattern of shuffling from one to another is again giving way to some collegial discussion in a serious attempt toward some positive resolution.
    Surely all the commentators can’t be wrong can they?
    Chairman Tim’s responses are predictable and are well understood by many staff both past and present, and no longer cut it, as has been demonstrated on previous occasions. Real and tangible outcomes are what are needed now more than ever.

  3. Education Minister Peter Chandler and Education Department head Ken Davies need to address and explain the failure of money and effort through pre-school, infants then primary schools to achieve basic national English standards for literacy, numeracy and oral competence.
    Their NOT ensuring all students regularly attend school is NOT the problem of the children, less their families, for these are failures by ministers and their departments to enforce compulsory attendance.
    Attempts to blame students non-attendance on being “Aboriginal” is blatently racist, a national disgrace upon both ministers and their departments.
    It was and remains their responsibility to ensure ALL school age children attend school.
    It remains their responsibility to ensure if school age children fail to attend school repeatedly their parents are summonsed to the courts for child neglect.
    Such cases should be publicised widely, using approved anonymity arrangements approved by the courts, to discourage others.
    Bilingual education aims to ensure illiterate students, particulary those not speaking English, achieve understanding then some competence with reading their core spoken language as presented in printed form.
    Bilingual education is successful when the art of writing using student’s core language is learnt, they are given intensive teaching to achieve competence in oral and written English as well as numeracy at same time.
    Monolingual education arises with neglect to teach students oral and written English and numeracy.
    Primary education is about ensuring students achieve competence in oral and written Engish BEFORE they advance to secondary.
    Yes, some may arrive in our secondary schools without this competence, thus require special concentrated effort to ensure they quickly achieve such competence in order to advance their education.
    Secondary educators face this as an additional burden, when there are a few children with acceptable reasons for not having achieved competency earlier.
    Blaming students who failed to attended primary school regularly demonstrates disgrace of ministers and their departments for neglecting their duties.
    It was their responsibility to ensure ALL primary school age children attend school and achieve these levels of competency.
    The only defense for such disgrace is first to explain clearly what current minsters and departments now doing to repair damage done to so many children, and, what they are doing to ensure all children are attending school.

  4. I herd on the ABC yesterday that Minister Chandler has stated he HE WILL NOT BE INVESTIGATING YIRARA COLLEGE UNLESS NEW INFORMATION COMES FORWARD!
    Are you kidding me … THIS IS A JOKE!
    Our taxpayers’ money goes into this school and by all accounts HUGE amounts of it.
    This government need to grow a set and DO SOMETHING!
    After everything that we have been reading on here YOU are going to bury your head in the sand Mr Chandler like the Lutheran Church looks like it has for years?
    Going by the articles on here and I looked at the ABC report and 7.30 report that was in the comments of
    Yirara: Rebellion or Failure or meeting a challenge?
    This has been going on for years and obviously still going on! The students and staff obviously need help!
    I do feel sorry for the current principal as I think he has inherited all the problems of the past and the Lutheran Churches cover ups.
    All who live in Alice Sprungs have seen this once proud, strong school crumble and be ignored by Governments and the Lutheran Church for far too long.
    We used to see the kids at basketball filling the stands, so proud, and at lots of other events. That doesn’t happen any longer.
    How can you deny all these comments Minister Chandler? You are just as responsible for this school as The Lutheran Church is.
    Get you head out of the sand as this is OBVIOUSLY STILL GOING ON!

  5. Paul Parker: You say the non school attendance of Aboriginal students is not the fault of students and families?
    That is absurd.
    How can schools in remote communities force students to school?
    It is not possible for them to do that and in the past teachers have been threatened and injured for pushing the issue too hard.
    At more than one community the actions of teachers in waking families up at 9.30 am to get their kids to school has resulted in assault.
    Students and their families absolutely are responsible for school attendance.

  6. Re: Jeff Posted March 9, 2015 at 2:14 pm
    The culpability of families may be lessened as direct result of ongoing failures by Ministers and their departments to enforce compulsory attendance.
    Is my belief Education Minister Peter Chandler, his predecessors, and Education Department officials, failed to enforce compulsory attendance for far too long.
    Just saying it is compulsory to attend school is not enough.
    John Elferink, as Minister for Children and Families, IF his department received reports of non-attendance at school and failed to act on them, may also be accountable.
    Action has long been essential to ensure everyone understands attendance at school is compulsary, and shall be treated as serious neglect.
    When talk fails, is time court considers each case.
    Why deny these children their decent education ?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here