The farce of Minister Chandler's Yirara 'assessment'


p2219-YiraraBy ERWIN CHLANDA
The two-day “assessment” this week of Yirara College, embroiled in a scandal over rampant student misconduct, was a farce, according to a new source speaking to the Alice Springs News Online and currently employed by the college.
Meanwhile the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, which is understood to be providing $3.5m a year to Yirara, said this afternoon, after being contacted by the News: “The Commonwealth does not operate or licence schools, this is a state / territory government responsibility.
“Any questions regarding the operation of the school should be directed to school operators or the Northern Territory Department of Education.
“Any review would be a matter for the Northern Territory Government.”
This the the account our source provided of what took place this week:-
The Department of Education officials came to Yirara on Wednesday mid-morning. They flew out 24 hours later. So I think they were at school for the second half of Wednesday and Thursday morning.
The visit was announced to staff in advance. Maintenance worked incredibly hard to tidy the entire school. Windows that hadn’t been repaired for weeks were suddenly repaired. A courtyard near the classrooms had not been cleaned or tidied in 2015 until Tuesday. Lawns were mowed. Rubbish was collected.
The school flew the former Director of Business Operations Grant Lindsay down from Darwin for the inspection. Grant was the author of numerous policy documents such as Workplace Health and Safety. The policy documents would satisfy inspection.
But the school finds it almost impossible to follow the policies due to lack of resources and other impracticalities. Under Grant’s tenure, the policy documents improved but reality did not. He could, nevertheless, guide inspectors through the policies satisfactorily.
The head of Curriculum does not work on Wednesdays. He was instructed to be available by phone in case the department inspectors wanted to find something related to curriculum. Again, even if the curriculum documents exist the classroom reality is that teaching, learning and assessment are nearly impossible and don’t follow the published policies.
A number of students (4?) were put on the Greyhound bus on Tuesday night. Others were collected by the Bush Bus or family during the day on Monday and Tuesday.
Needless to say, these students were some of the worst at staying in class. They were regularly in the school yard during class time throwing rocks, running away from teachers and the security guard, interrupting other classes, and so on. I’m not sure that exiting students was done entirely for the benefit of the inspection, but there was a bit more urgency about removing some students.
Monday and Tuesday were awful for student behaviour. Roger [the principal] promised pizza for lunch for every class which had all its students stay in during lesson time on Monday. Only one class, the year 12s, managed to keep all students in the class room for the day. Every other class had students outside during teaching time without permission.
Two policemen spoke to students on Wednesday morning in the Chapel before classes began. They warned students to stay in class and not damage anything at Yirara. This was a good thing, but the timing does leave one suspicious.
One teacher had students in the class on Wednesday who have not been in class for more than 10 minutes this term. Barely any students left the class room. There was much less bad behaviour school-wide. More than half the students were taken off-campus on Wednesday afternoon for sport. This is normal but it does mean that it would be difficult for inspectors to get a true sense of what happens in academic classes.
The officials spent the entire time with the principal and administration on Wednesday. Roger took them on a tour of the school. I don’t know if they went into any classrooms while classes were occurring. They did wander through parts of the school during class time, with Roger all the time. They came to shared lunch on Wednesday with Roger. I don’t believe they interviewed any teaching staff one-on-one.
Overall, I thought it was a very rudimentary inspection. I don’t think much could have been learned. The issues aren’t to do with policy documents. The issues are to do with unworkable realities.
I’m left confused as to why administration wants to hide reality and give a different perception of the school to Department of Education officials. Certainly the head of Lutheran Schools [John Proeve] saw what happens when he was at Yirara. When he was there last Tuesday (March 3) behaviour was so bad the school cancelled the academic program from just before lunch time.
Most students were hoarded on to buses and spent the afternoon at the Telegraph Station. Some students were not allowed to go and they stayed at school, roaming unsupervised, breaking windows, throwing rocks, avoiding staff, and so on. At the Telegraph Station there was nothing for students to do except wander around, kick balls, chase each other.
Staff stood around and “supervised”. Some students went AWOL from the Telegraph Station. It appears [those in charge] don’t want to face up to reality.
UPDATE 5:30pm:
Minister Chandler may have to wait until the end of the month but for a result of the “recent review” but, lo and behold, his inspectors have already told the college that all is honky dory. The following email has just been leaked to us:
From: Roger Ashcroft [the principal – ED]
Sent: Friday, 13 March 2015 11:36 AM
To: Staff
Subject: Fwd: Review Outcome
Please see below the result from the recent review. Well done everyone for the extra effort that you all put in. It is appreciated.
Regards, Roger
Begin forwarded message:
From: Grant Lindsay [deleted]
Date: 13 March 2015 11:56:16 am ACDT
To: Roger Ashcroft [deleted]
Subject: Review Outcome
Good morning,
Just to let you know that we’ve received a call from Kevin Gillan advising that the Review found no issues with the College’s operation and that in his view there remained no case to answer with regards the allegations etc through the online news. [That’s us, I take it – ED]
So all is good J
Cheers, Grant Lindsay


  1. I am shaking my head. I am sad. Why cover up? Why go to that amount of effort? Certainly not for the benefit of either school, students or staff. Hide it under a bushell. Don’t get it fixed. Keep Yirara unsafe. Hold your heads up high when you answer to God that you kept those under your care safe. Lie away. Shame on you who deny the truth!

  2. Is this script for the NT’s version of Yes, Minister?
    Certainly demonstrating the skill of Sir Humphrey Appleby: “The golden rule is don’t lift lids off cans of worms.”

  3. What more would you expect from Yirara College at this point? Wednesday arvo is sport. Kids don’t muck around as much as they are off campus. Try the mornings transitioning from 1st block to 2nd block.
    Better yet catch them on “bums in seats” day when the administration scrape the bottom of the barrel and bring in every child not in school so they can get maximum funding from the government.
    The former business manager is another story. A waste of time flying him in, might as well bring in the removed former principal and he’ll tell you “it’s all good!”
    With all the time and effort Yirara goes to cover this up, it’s so much easier to come out, tell the truth and start fresh. It’s becoming more and more obvious this issue is one that no politician, board member, councilman, and Lutheran representative want to focus on.
    Maybe it’s time for Adam Giles to take notice? No-one else wants to deal with it, it seems.

  4. The response from DEET is symptomatic – nothing to do with us, not our fault, we can’t do anything about it.
    The Commonwealth doesn’t licence or operate, but its contribution (I bet they won’t disclose the amount because it’s “commercial in confidence”) must come with some conditions or expectations.
    I can smell a story here Erwin and I hope you have time to pursue.

  5. Perhaps there is a script here for an Australian version of Yes Minister.
    Jokes aside, it is a sad state of affairs that the truth can not be revealed . There can be no solution until people start being open and honest.
    I wonder how many teachers will pull the pin at the end of the term? I also hear there is disquiet over in the boarding area as well. Keep up the pressure, Erwin.

  6. What an amazing Behaviour Management Strategy! And based simply on a pizza as a reward!
    Perhaps the principal of Yirara could explain the pedagogy behind it for us? Seriously if this reflects the depth of programs and policies within Yirara College what hope is there for the students that remain?
    If this reflects the depth and diversity of thinking in the leadership then God help the place!
    And as for the new Teacher of the Week Award now being handed out … um? If the administration can’t acknowledge the rampant misbehaviour of bored and frustrated students who cruise the college so obviously then how are they going to know what is actually going on in classrooms perpetuating the myth of quality education.
    Is not the focus at this point in time student and NOT teacher behaviour?

  7. Tell someone who cares. This has been going on for years, the kids used to be quite proud of how they (mis) behaved and quite open about it. Can only comment about some years ago but obviously things have not changed recently.

  8. I think these children need to wake up to themselves. We hear that we have to Close the Gap. This will not be done without education. These people need to take more responsibility instead of crying on everybody’s shoulders. Without education they will not be valuable members in society and have a very ordinary life. The world could be their oyster if they put a little effort into it.

  9. It appears current education policy concerning ongoing misbehaviour by students is to suspend them.
    Just keep suspending them until they are old enough to be expelled without repercussions for education departments.
    They are left then to be dealt with by Centrelink.
    Quality education is a national myth, with these approaches apparent in states and territories.
    Australia’s national policy for compulsory schooling and education appears defeated by a few non-compliant students … are ISIS/Taliban/etc taking lessons?

  10. Let’s be really honest. Yirara inherits the misbehaviours learned in the communities.
    When the often discredited church ran many of the communities back before the 1970s the children were taught to read and write. Today’s grandparents are largely products of that earlier system. They are far more literate and law abiding than many of the children now passing through what passes for school.
    The church schools were tightly controlled by a paternalistic system that nevertheless produced results without (usually) trained teachers.
    It was backed by sometimes severe corporal discipline as was the norm of the day. Any system or person that lacks discipline cannot produce results. Before self discipline (usually) comes discipline imposed by the immediate and extended families, and then as a last resort the school.
    Society has “moved on” and now the first confrontation with discipline is often the police and court system. Hence the explosion of numbers in the criminal justice system.
    These kids may have heard the word “No” but it has rarely been delivered with either conviction or consequence beyond “the naughty corner” for five minutes.
    This is the social “order” where Yirara has found itself without the tools to control out-of-control youth.
    The principal and teachers lack an adequate tool kit. Society and the teacher unions, backed by government, have ensured that only an element of bluff remains. Expulsion and suspension remains the only real choice that a school has available.
    I am not surprised that the NT Department of Education produced a satisfactory report card on Yirara’s operations.
    Had it done otherwise then it may result in a partial or total closure of Yirara for an indefinite period.
    Does the NT Department of Education want, or need an influx of, and responsibility for, such recalcitrant adolescents into the Alice Springs public schools? I don’t think so!

  11. In December 2008, the Parliament of Australia passed legislation which enables the suspension or cancellation of income support payments to a parent whose child is either not enrolled in school or has an unsatisfactory school attendance record.
    Perhaps this could be enforced and cancel the payments to the caregivers whose children have been expelled from Yirara.
    This would then give the caregiver more incentive to support the child to stay at school through cultural methods.
    If these cultural methods are used, perhaps the behaviour of these students will change to allow them to stay at school without being expelled or suspended, thus allowing the caregiver to receive their payments.
    This is not suggesting physical abuse or assault.

  12. Why the need for a dedicated indigenous college?
    Some years ago as president of FICA I oversaw the successful application of sport to promote cross cultural awareness. Working closely with Reg Hatch from Tangentyere we developed a street soccer program which encouraged indigenous and non indigenous kids to play together.
    Some of these went on to play in our mainstream weekend competitions. Inclusion promoted harmony and goodwill. We had parents coming to the grounds to sign up their kids to play.
    Then something strange happened. The governing body of soccer FFA decided it would be a good idea to to fund a national indigenous football festival to be held in Townsville.
    The local indigenous kids could not understand why their team mates they played alongside every week were not invited to play. The efforts by volunteers to promote inclusion were undermined by those who were completely removed from the realities of life in Central Australia.
    So I ask the question, why do we have a need for Yirara College when by and large the children of Alice Springs and their parents are all in favour of an inclusive community? If we can use sport to promote cross cultural awareness then surely we must use the education system to do the same.

  13. @ Paul Lelliot, posted March 28.
    Absolutely agree. I face the same sort of thing from east coast radio interviewers as I promote my novel DRY CROSSING.
    Some ask why it is that I can write about the Dreaming and indigenous cultures.
    I merely reply that it’s because I’ve lived with people from those cultures for decades as most central Australians can attest and, although there are different cultural resonances, under the skin, we are all very much alike.
    Even this seems controversial to some Sydney dinner party guests, but love, hate, greed, sex, ambition, etc., are universal and exclusion is often hurtful and racist.


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