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HomeIssue 3Zoning: Racial segregation can start in primary school

Zoning: Racial segregation can start in primary school

2543 Batty family OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Stephie Harrison has three boys. The eldest started primary school last year. She says: “If Indigenous kids can’t get to know non-Indigenous kids, how can we have a harmonious community when they grow up?”
Ms Harrison, who lives in The Gap, and her friends are grappling with the problem of black kids gravitating towards some government schools and white kids away from them, many into the private sector. Zoning, she says, isn’t helping.
The pinnacle of the issue is Ross Park Primary School, where everyone seems to want their kids to go. Its feeder area (see orange boundary) would be a prime example of a gerrymander if the boundaries were for a political electorate.
Ms Harrison points out that this “priority enrolment area” includes old Eastside and all of the up-market Golf Course Estate and Mt Johns area, although they are half the town away from Ross Park. The zone includes no town camps, although the Charles Creek one is nearby. Gillen Primary School, mostly Aboriginal, has five town camps attached to it.
Sadadeen Primary is about the same distance from the wealthy suburbs, and much closer if the road past the Ron Goodin power station – soon to be closed – were open for traffic.
It is owned by Power Water which is 100% owned by the NT Government so it is de-facto public land. The road is usually opened when the Todd floods.
The Sadadeen and Ross Park schools are within a kilometre of each-other.
Furthermore, the Mt Johns area, at least a good part of it, is closer to Gillen Primary School than Ross Park.
Both Sadadeen and Gillen students are predominantly Aboriginal.
Says Ms Harrison: “Sadadeen has seen a dramatic reduction in non-Indigenous families attending the school. In 2009, 57% of the school identified as Indigenous. In 2017 it was at 90%.”
Department of Eduction Regional Director Trevor Read says “enrolment management and priority policies” are in place for Ross Park, Bradshaw and Larapinta schools at the moment because they are all above 85% capacity.
This means kids living in the respective designated zones are guaranteed enrolment but others have to go on a waiting list.
He says the zones are defined “geographically, based on forward estimates of students and families living in the area”.
About 2000 primary school kids in Alice Springs are enrolled in public schools.
The total number for the three private schools – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Living Waters Lutheran School, Steiner School – is about 1000.
The zoning system was put in place a few years ago and is checked “every couple of years”. All government schools have zones but some are not activated, says Mr Read.
The boundaries are set “generally” on the distance from the school but also depends “on the area and the number of houses within that area”.
But Ms Harrison, quoting from the very informative MySchool website, says other factors need to be taken into account, with the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) a key factor.
She says the ICSEAs are Sadadeen 698; Gillen 794; Braitling 828; Larapinta 908; Bradshaw 922 and Ross Park 1052.
2534 zoning map OKThat makes Ross Park the only primary school in Alice Springs above the national average of 1000.
Says Ms Harrison: “Students at Sadadeen experience a low level of education advantage. 68% of students at Sadadeen school were in the bottom quarter of ICSEA school distribution in 2017, with just 2% in the top quarter.
“Many students at Sadadeen come from town camps (Hidden Valley and White Gums), experience high rates of childhood trauma, and live in some of the most socially and economically unjust suburbs in Australia,” says Ms Harrison.
The die is clearly cast for these children: “Students from the lower socio-economic schools – Sadadeen, Gillen and Braitling – mainly feed into Centralian Middle School (CMS), she says.
“CMS is the only public middle school in Alice Springs. The effect of all the low socio-economic schools feeding students into one school is immense.
“Year 7 NAPLAN results for Writing alone shows CMS students are ‘substantially below’ other schools with similar students.”
Money clearly talks. Mr Harrison says the median property price for houses selling in Desert Springs is currently $708,750, and in Eastside is $527,500.
In comparison, in Gillen they are $436,250 and Braitling $434,000.
PHOTO at top: Stephie Harrison, pictured with partner Jack Batty and children Tanami (6), Max (2) and Louie (3 months) in their back yard in The Gap.


  1. Finally. About time this got some attention! Good stuff Batty Family!
    Sadadeen and Desert Springs need to go together and WATCH THE EDUCATION OUTCOMES RISE!
    The only thing that prevented this from happening years ago is the CLP voters in Desert Springs.
    Ps: NTGovernment – just hurry up and open up the back road via Ron Goodin!

  2. This is not only true but well known by most parents. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people that came up with this “breakup” just happen to fall in its boundries.
    Shame on them, we should about diversity and inclusion.
    Private schools should have to reach a mandatory percentage of indigenous kids too!

  3. The Education Department has said that the school zones will be reviewed in the near future in order to allocate the Kilgariff Estate to a zone.
    Perhaps this could be an opportunity to request the department re-zone Alice Springs to create a more equitable distribution of students?

  4. Thank you for shining a light on this well known but rarely discussed issue that perpetuates racial and educational inequality.

  5. Our fair skinned Aboriginal kids went to Sadadeen having been at school in a major city for all of their primary years.
    I was disillusioned that they would get connected to the Indigenous community.
    The school was amazing but it definitely caters for kids who come from disfunctional family life, have concentration issues, learning disability etc.
    My kids were severely disadvantaged.
    One kid needed only one term before high school. The other we had to remove because he was physically threatened, the classroom could not keep up to his more advanced learning needs (as the other kids were behind) and he was harassed for not being “really Aboriginal” because he didn’t speak language.
    The school really [wants to help the] child but it is beyond the capabilities.
    The zoning does not help. We had no choice but to take him out. We had no other choice but OLSH or Living Waters. This zoning CLEARLY profiles.

  6. Question: “If Indigenous kids can’t get to know non-Indigenous kids, how can we have a harmonious community when they grow up?”
    Answer: “I don’t want my children to go to school with Aboriginal kids. My reasons and my right, refer below.”
    “Many students at Sadadeen come from town camps (Hidden Valley and White Gums), experience high rates of childhood trauma, and live in some of the most socially and economically unjust suburbs in Australia,” says Ms Harrison.
    My reason: “Why would I want my children to go to school with children from town camps. They are not by their doing, unhygienic, lice infected and dysfunctional. I don’t want my child subjected to that”.
    Let’s bring the parents of the children over for a birthday party? No way.
    Money clearly talks. Ms Harrison says the median property price for houses selling in Desert Springs is currently $708,750, and in Eastside is $527,500.
    My reason: People in Desert Springs and Golf Course Area are hard working professional people. Should they be sorry that they work hand and can afford nice houses?
    A lot of people in Eastside (commission houses) are on welfare and just drink all day spending the tax dollars the people in Desert Springs and Golf Course pay from their pay.

  7. Trust a geographer to have a look at a map! And the stats. Good analysis Steff.
    And her point is right, government schools are a good place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids to mix in. It worked for our kids at Sadadeen Primary and Anzac Hill High.
    Trevor Read is a top bloke, did great work at ASHS years ago, but had climbed Jim Hackers Greasy Pole.
    He is now the head departmental honcho in the Alice and is spruiking the official line, Sir Humphrey style, trying to steer us away from the obvious. But what can be done?
    Would rezoning be likely to cause a shift from public to private, rather than rebalance the student mix? A great opportunity for some creative thinking here.
    In my mind this is a bigger issue for the Alice than Anzac Oval.
    Get together Steff and Trev, two good smart people, help Alice schools get back on track. For the good of all.

  8. Our letter to the Department of the Chief Minister relating to Ross Park and Sadadeen zoning and the safety of children commuting is “currently being looking into”.
    There is no pedestrian crossing for students commuting to and from school between New Eastside and Sadadeen.
    Undoolya Road is very unsafe for crossing. Speed zone, the size of the roundabout, width of the roads, traffic from the Golf Course Estate to Ross Park … kids have to wait for a break and run.

  9. Well done Steph.
    This is a subject that has been getting to me for quite a few years now.
    My children all attended Ross Park School.
    But my grandchildren can’t because the dividing line has been made on Burke St.
    So anyone living on New Eastside Kurrajong area have been cut out, even though it is a safe bike ride to school from Kurrajong area.
    That’s why we pushed to put the speed humps in Burke St many years ago. Anyway, anyone interested can read the plethora of letters I have written to Dept of Education and Politicians.
    Yes, I agree the policy has caused a huge divide in the community.

  10. Maybe this is not my area to talk, I am not from Alice, nor have I spent much time there.
    What I would like to say is, I am from a small town in Far Northern Queensland, where the school was integrated, it was public and because of that I had friends from all over town and from all walks.
    If I visit home, I am still friends with people I went to school with and we will say hello to each other, no matter our colour or religion.
    We played rep sports together, and normally kicked ass, our school achieved well with some students from all backgrounds going to uni, playing in bands, playing professional sports.
    Again, this is not my home but from experience and the feeling and connection to Country because of my childhood, I hear every word Steph is mentioning and it should be one of the main concerns within Alice and around Australia.

  11. Zoning encourages class level approaches, to advantage or disadvantage schools, rewarding wealth as a filter on education. The wealthy are able afford to do better, disadvantaging those who cannot.
    David Gonski’s recent report promotes a move to individual learning paths for all students.
    This will assist many Australian students who fail to reach their potential at school.
    That is changing focus from year-level progression, to school focus, so each student advances towards their maximum potential advance in learning each year.
    Gonski with Turnbull Government support expects teachers to use the online assessment tool to diagnose accurately levels of literacy, numeracy, and subject knowledge, each student actually achieves.
    They expect all of them to advance.
    This even more important where students start with reduced oral and written English competence.
    Our focus on education needs be continuous, real-time measurement of each student’s individual achievement, with support where they fail to progress, to ensure each progresses from their own efforts.
    Schools need to prepare us all for ongoing learning. Education does not end when we leave school.
    The NAPLAN tailored online test will present different questions for each student, questions determined by answers they provide. This is disruptive, reduces benefit from rote learning test questions to raise average school scores.
    Our focus shifts to actual student understanding controlling their progress.
    Education shifts from the class focus, to each individuals progress focus.
    Improved internet access is required.
    Which, if any, NT schools currently lack required internet access?
    To improve internet access for individual schools, the NT needs address improved internet access to all NT communities, for students, their families, and so all those who left school can continue to interact, participate and learn.

  12. Sadadeen was once really good. My kids went there and they learned a lot. There was a high proportion of white kids and quite a few Aboriginals.
    My kids learned to be independent there. They are in their twenties now and doing well. All three attended uni, all three had Aboriginal and white friends.
    No, we are not rich and lacked family support but all kids learned to work and study at school and the two youngest got into top unis. They understand the Aboriginal culture because of their friends,
    My youngest decided at eleven she was going to work, and did it. Yes, it was illegal, but their father had died and none of the relations would help so once they got older they helped themselves. It now shows. They have got themselves set up as well as they could, paid for their own trips overseas. My eldest daughter is getting top marks at uni and both are coping by themselves because I cannot help them.
    I was working until I got very ill but now because some of the relations from Adelaide and Sydney, QLD and Vic are all pro-Aboriginal and refused to help us but took money from us.
    Yet we are surviving better than they. They waste so much and don’t know how to cope without their massive pays and charity money. On the other hand we cope without help. They are jealous of us.
    The schools need to understand that the private education is actually failing many because when they leave the kids are suddenly faced with reality.
    The public school children are faced with reality all their lives and it really shows when they get into the permanent workforce.

  13. An excellent article, thanks Erwin and Steph. The Ross Park zoning issue has bothered me for years, and I believe that it needs to be addressed. I hope your article goes some way towards achieving educational equity in Alice.


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