22 December 2015

Identifying the characteristics of schools that are helping Indigenous students to achieve their potential is the focus of a new Discovery Indigenous research project funded by the ARC.

Indigenous researcher Dr Anthony Dillon is passionate about improving the educational outcomes of indigenous students. He was recently awarded $572 000 in funding, which was announced as part of the 2016 ARC Major Grants outcomes (October 2015).

Dr Dillon, from the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) at the Australian Catholic University, said his research project would discover the drivers that give Indigenous students a world-class education.

Dr Dillon will work with Professors Phil Riley, Bob Vallerand and other IPPE staff on the project.

At the major grants announcement in October, Dr Dillon drew on the words of Indigenous leader, Professor Mick Dodson: “There are plenty of examples of Indigenous success; we just have to recognise it and replicate it”.

“In this research we wish to identify those factors that make successful schools…[and] replicate it,” Dr Dillon said.

Dr Dillon’s goal is to lead research that will make a positive difference and his research is vital when looking at statistics of Indigenous schooling.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Social Trends article[1] from 2014 reported that if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had the same levels of education as non-Indigenous people, the gap in labour force participation would decrease by half.

The 2014 data showed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were far less likely than non-Indigenous people to have completed Year 12 or higher qualifications (35.9% compared with 67.3%)[2].

The 2011 Australian census—Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians[3] found:

  • one-quarter (25%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported Year 12 or equivalent as the highest year of school completed, compared with about half (52%) of non-Indigenous people
  • one-quarter (25%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported their highest year of school completed as Year 9 or equivalent or below, almost double the proportion of non-Indigenous people (13%).

However, Dr Dillon said there were encouraging signs at many schools across the nation and it is that positive achievement that must be capitalised on.

“We know that around Australia there are some schools where Aboriginal children and youth are not reaching their full potential.

“We also know there are some schools where Aboriginal students come away with a world-class education.

“What makes the difference?

“We have our ideas and so do lots of other people, but solid research on what makes the difference is not yet available.

“Without strong research that convincingly demonstrates what makes a world-class education for Aboriginal students, we will continue with a hit and miss approach.

“But we are at a crisis point—we need to do better than just having some hits. We need to know what the factors are that drive educational success that will enable Aboriginal people to reach their full potential.

“This research aims to identify those factors,” he said.

Dr Dillon said that getting a world-class education was dependent on the student and the teacher but it was also about what happens outside of the classroom and outside of the school.

“We will be collecting data not only from students and their teachers, but from principals, students, families, and community members to determine what contributes to a world-class education—an education that will break the cycle of disadvantage.

“While this research has very clear aims, its impact will extend well beyond those aims.

“We believe our research will inspire others, just as we have been inspired by the research that shows that Aboriginal people, when given the right opportunities, go on to thrive.

“For me personally, being part of this wonderful opportunity made possible by the Australian Research Council, fills me with hope that we can make a difference.

“This is a win not just for Aboriginal Australians but for all Australians.”

For more information about this Discovery Indigenous research project, please contact Dr Anthony Dillon.


[1] Media Release: Education significant barrier to jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

[2] Exploring The Gap In Labour Market Outcomes For Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Peoples

[3] Census of Population and Housing: Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2011