Essential ingredients for QCE Attainment

What it takes to get over the QCE finish line for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students

In 2017, our Indigenous students are attaining their QCE at far higher rates than have in the past.  With attainment rates at an all time high of 97.2% in parts of SE QLD, Indigenous students are graduating from Senior Schooling with more opportunity than those who have come before them.  So what are the essential ingredients required to ensure their success?  What are the barriers that limit their achievement and how can we ensure that those that do attain a QCE, go on to fulfil their potential.

Historically, the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were never afforded a high level of education.  Many Elders I have worked with over the past 20 years have shared that the Government policy and practice of the day reflected that of  Social Darwinism.  These Governments held a belief that meant many of our Elders were not educated past a Year 3 standard of education and were simply educated to be trained up as domestics or servants.  At the age of 14, they would be sent to the many homesteads and properties throughout Queensland to act as slaves for the white station owners.  Their employment was facilitated by the Government in response to ads placed in the Queensland Country Life magazine.

The next generation faced similar disadvantage.  Up until the early 70’s, a State High School Principal could deny an education to an Indigenous student on account of their Aboriginality or Torres Strait Islander heritage.  If they were accepted, many faced prejudice by educators who still carried this post colonial hangovers and in turn they struggled to reach their potential within this culturally unsafe environment.

Marsden SHS cultural roomimg_0337 img_0340







Marsden SHS 

Having recently travelled the state reviewing State schools, Independent Public Schools and Private schools, I was privileged to see, hear and feel what is and isn’t working well to support our Indigenous kids to attain a QCE.  It’s not rocket science, but rather a blend of many different elements.  In no particular order, here are the top 10 things you can do in your school to support Indigenous success and achievement.

  1. A team approach - a school that has both Indigenous Education Workers (CEC’s) and non-Indigenous staff (Executive level) leading and supporting the Indigenous education improvement agenda ensures success.
  2. An Indigenous community - Parents, families, Elders, Indigenous Health services, programs like Deadly Choices, ARTIE, Clontarf Academy, AIME, Beyond Broncos, Cowboys, Girls Academy and many local grass roots initiatives, whom together, are all focused on better outcomes in not only attainment, attendance and retention, but the health and well-being of our future leaders.
  3. Cultural space – providing a space or room for our students to be supported within ensures that they don’t slip between the cracks and heightens their accountability and visibility.  It also provides a space that community and Elders will feel safe to connect with and in turn ensure meaningful collaborative partnerships are supported.  This can also enable the exploration of curriculum opportunities to embed the local story.  Remembering that murals, signs in language, yarning circles, art installations, flags and Acknowledgement of Country signs all imperative when building a culturally safe environment.
  4. Access to technology – with the laptop levy being fazed out and Bring your own device (BYOD) common practice in many schools, a lot of our students don’t have home internet or access to a learning device to support them to complete assessments.  Technology and computers are the lead pencils of today.  Without them, engagement and attainment is severely impacted upon and creates a barrier to learning.
  5. Financial support – School fees, resource hire, uniforms, shoes, excursions, incursions, VET subject fees are huge financial pressures for large families. Again, without access to these opportunities within our Education systems, many students are forced to make subject selections based on cost rather than interest.  This often results in truancy , poor attendance and low levels of self efficacy; key ingredients for disengagement.  There are many Indigenous scholarships available to support Senior students, however, we must build our students levels of attainment and attendance earlier in Year 10 in order to support them to build their eligibility.  Term 3 presents a great time to plan for the following year and discuss what budgeting may be required for the year ahead, building on what has occured.
  6. Curriculum – how well a school embeds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and history within the Australian curriculum is the emerging space, but a necessary one.  Most schools in general are not doing this well and I often hear educators say, “I wasn’t taught this in school!”.  Statements like these are no excuse to not pursue building your professional capability.  The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers 1.4 and 2.4 are Indigenous specific and are non negotiable.  We must encourage our colleagues to build their cultural capability through collaborative relationships, understanding our own cultural background, engage with formal Professional development and experiences that strengthens awareness and understanding of our First Nations people.  Remember those educators I talked about before?  All students benefit from embedding Indigenous perspectives!!
  7. On Country experiences – experiences on country (excursions) with Traditional owners and community strengthens the resilience and identity of Indigenous students.  Time spent on country will provide the opportunity for students to learn in a culturally supported environment, develop their sense of ‘belonging’, allow them to ‘be’ and in turn support them to ‘become’ strong to achieve their goals and dreams.
  8. Immersion experiences at Tertiary institutions – Indigenous students need to develop their sense of belonging at these institutions.  For some, they are the first finishers in their family to complete a Senior education, let alone enter into Tertiary studies.  We must build connections to the cultural supports now available on campus and help them navigate through a space which may appear foreign both physically and linguistically.
  9. Explicit experiences and PD for Teachers – As mentioned above, embeding perspectives within the curriculum is the emerging space.  Many of our Educators have limited exposure within their pre-service studies or experiences within their personal lives.  We must build cultural capability by going beyond the gate and seeking out opportunities to engage with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and learn what we don’t know.
  10. New QCE – Indigenous parents, students and community members need to be aware that the current system of the QCE will change from 2019 onwards and schools that have developed productive and long term relationships with Indigenous parent and communities will be best placed to support students in attaining their new QCE, whether that is focusing on an ATAR or a vocational pathway. Another emerging space.


Contact Sally Lawrence at or call 0439 884988 for more information and       support.

Marsden and Laidley SHS’s

End of 2017and flying into 2018

Flying into 2018

Keep an eye out for some more exciting projects to finish off the year for Black Cockatoo, but first, check out the Taribelang Aboriginal corporation and what they have achieved.

Whilst 2017 has been somewhat quiet for Black Cockatoo, please note that 2016 and most of 2017 was spent working on projects for the Department of Education and Training.  During this time, our team progressed a lot of work with many Aboriginal communities from South East Queensland and Wide Bay.  Of particular note was the work we did with developing relationships and understanding of the Australian Curriculum with our Indigenous communities.  Often I would hear community say,” The curriculum doesn’t represent and share our stories” and from Educators in schools, I would hear, “I don’t know where to start, who should I contact, what stories should we embed?”

With this knowledge, we developed a process similar to that of ‘speed dating’.

By inviting both the Indigenous community and Educators in schools to our events we started to identify opportunities within the curriculum that would support the local story.  Firstly, we poured through each Learning Area and Year level in the Australian Curriculum to identify opportunities that were obvious and not so obvious to embed knowledge within.  For us it was all about Acknowledging Country and ensuring that the local voices were being heard.

The ‘speed dating’ sessions also embraced the opportunity for our Indigenous community to be guided by school educators around the opportunities they saw for better alignment for the various workshops, talks, walks on country and activities that our Indigenous community were offering.

As a result of this day, the local Taribelang community and Elders of the Bundaberg region (QLD) have gone on to develop tours on country, taking educators to 4 culturally significant sites in and around Bundaberg.  Their tours are ensuring that the local story is being embedded within the curriculum as Uncle Willie Broome gives permission to those on board to now embed within the curriculum.

Its outcomes like this that makes my heart sing!!


2016 Ration Shed Tours announced


Ration Shed Tours3







All aboard for Cherbourg’s Ration Shed Tours on the Most Excellent Adventures Tours for 2016

Aunty Honor Cleary and Uncle Marshall Saunders, along with Education Queensland’s North Coast Region Indigenous Education Unit, invite you to join in on the must do experience that will build your cultural awareness and understanding of life for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living under the Act.

During this full day out, you will be guided by the Elders who share their personal stories of resilience, family and culture.  All costs are included in the $70 per person cost.  Transport, Elders fees, morning tea, entry to the Ration Shed Museum, 2 course lunch and wine tasting are included in the ticket price.

Bookings can be made for the following tours in 2016:

14th May – Saturday
8th August – Saturday
5th of November – Saturday

Bookings at
or call (07) 5352 9250 Tuesday and Thursday to book

**  These tours are subsidised by the Department of Education Training – North Coast Region’s Indigenous Education Unit

2016 – The year ahead







2015 was a busy year for Black Cockatoo.

Early in the year, we (Cherbourg’s Ration Shed Museum) launched the Boys from Barambah – Black Diggers story for Cherbourg which led to several speaking engagements throughout the year.  It has been wonderful speaking to family members as they connect into the story of these Boys from Barambah and hearing more information about these men. I feel very blessed to have been a part of this journey.

Neil Murray and I, along with Mau Power, Mike Justice and Ben Hense headed north in August for the My Island Home Project (MIHP).  This project came about from a conversation at the dinner table late one night and came to fruition some 6 months later. MIHP was a $70 000 project which was successfully acquitted to two funding bodies. Logistically challenging, this project was a highlight for me personally as I was able to return to a community that I have a strong sense of belonging and responsibility to.  The boys also made me Executive Producer of the album which makes me giggle and is definitely a standout on my CV!!  to hear the album go to

I have continued to work with Neil on organising gigs, Ozcrowd funding and upcoming gigs across Australia in 2016.  A lot of upcoming anniversaries for some of Australia’s most significant historical events will be commemorated in 2016 and I am looking forward to hopefully being witness to some of these events.

I will be returning to work with Education Queensland this year in a part time capacity as Manager for Indigenous Education for the North Coast Region.  I am looking forward to creating innovative  projects with community and support our Indigenous Education workers to advance better outcomes for our mob.  Part time work, raising my 2 young boys, supporting my hubby in his new work role and continuing to find opportunities and gigs for Neil Murray ,will fill my 2016.

If you would like Neil to play in your community or have a private house concert, please contact me to discuss the possibilities.

So here is to a happy and healthy year, I will continue my updates on some of the projects I work on throughout the year, hope you enjoy me sharing my journey with you.  All the best in 2016.


Sunshine Coast Queensland