Results of our Progress Survey (2021)

In 2021 the Reconciliation Action Plan team surveyed staff across NSW Education to better understand the progress that has been made so far on reconciliation, and where we ought to direct our efforts in the future. This video summarises some of the key results.

2021 Reconciliation Progress Survey

Video transcript

We would like to begin by acknowledging the homelands of all Aboriginal peoples and by recognising their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respect to Elders past and present and extend that respect to Aboriginal people who generously took part in our survey and who are watching this video.

Wherever you may be in Australia watching, you are on land that always was and always will be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land.

The image on the screen is our Reconciliation Action Plan artwork. It was created by a Suzanna, a student at Boggabilla Central School on Gamilaraay Country, and represents the themes of community, school, friendship and family.

In 2021 the Reconciliation Action Plan team ran a survey of staff in NSW Education, asking questions about attitudes to reconciliation and asking where people thought progress had been made – and where we need to focus our energies.

About 1800 people responded to our survey. Overall – that works out to mean that about 17% of corporate staff responded and 1% of school staff responded to our survey.

7.5% of the survey respondents identified as being Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander people – almost all identified as Aboriginal people.

About 44% of the responses to the survey came from people in schools. In our corporate areas Learning Improvement had the strongest returns – with 233 responses.

So what does this mean for our data?

For corporate staff we had a low but still respectable return rate of 17% and a margin of error of only 2%. So we’re confident the results accurately reflect attitudes.

For school staff we had a very low return rate of only 1% but also a low margin of error of just 3%. So we have some confidence that the results accurately reflect attitudes.

Looking at Aboriginal respondents, for Aboriginal corporate staff our return rate was a respectable 16%, so although the margin of error was 9%, so we have some confidence around accuracy. For Schools the return rate was 5% and the margin of error 9% so we have low confidence that the results accurately reflect attitudes.

Compared to the survey we ran in 2019, when we launched our first corporate Reconciliation Action Plan, there has been improvement on a number of results.

A 20 percentage point improvement on how supportive we think senior executives are of reconciliation.

A 15 percentage point improvement on the percentage of people who feel comfortable giving an Acknowledgement of Country.

A 28 percentage point improvement on the percentage of people who feel that they and their colleagues are culturally competent.

And a 25 percentage point increase in the percentage of people in our corporate areas who have received cultural awareness or competency training.

These are all very welcome results – with the possible exception of the change in the percentage of people who think they are culturally competent – we’ll come to that later.

Unfortunately it’s not all good news. Sadly 58% of Aboriginal respondents to our survey said that they felt that this isn’t a culturally safe place and the same percentage had known of racism from a member of staff towards First Nations people in the past 12 months.

There was also a massive 39 percentage point gap between the responses of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal respondents to the question about racism. We’ve hypothesised that some of this gap can be explained on the basis that non-Aboriginal people may be less likely to have racism directed at them. But is also seems possible that non-Aboriginal people may not ‘see’ racism when it happens.

At the close of our survey respondents had the opportunity to comment on anything at all related to the survey.

The most common responses across both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal respondents were that we need more training and to express support for our RAP and reconciliation

More than three quarters of our respondents said that NSW Education is a culturally safe place. However behind this great result, we found a huge difference when we looked at the responses of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff separately.

Almost 60% of Aboriginal staff said that this isn’t a culturally safe place – a sentiment that only 16% of non-Aboriginal respondents agreed with.

The response from Aboriginal staff is worse than comparable surveys of other workplaces, for example the Gali Yara survey of Australian workplaces, run by the Diversity Council of Australia, where only 28% of Aboriginal respondents said they worked in culturally unsafe workplaces.

The huge 42 percentage point difference suggests that non-Aboriginal staff may lack understanding around cultural safety, or lack insight into the experiences of Aboriginal colleagues

When we looked at the results around cultural competence, and compare how Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff rated the cultural competency of their colleagues in the department it seems that non-Aboriginal staff are rating their own cultural competency quite a bit too highly.

We’ve assumed here that many, if not most, of the colleagues of Aboriginal staff are non-Aboriginal staff and also assumed that Aboriginal people are more likely to make accurate judgements about ‘cultural competence’.

Our survey also suggested that a disturbing number of Aboriginal respondents had known of racism or of Aboriginal people being treated less favourably in NSW Education in the past 12 months. The results for Aboriginal respondents are about the same across schools and corporate.

These figures are concerning in themselves and are also slightly higher than the return on comparative surveys. For example, even taking into account the 9% margin of error, our results do not compare favourably to the results of the Gali Yara survey run by the Diversity Council of Australia only 38% of Aboriginal respondents reported being treated unfairly because of their Indigenous background, while 44% reported hearing racial slurs and 59% reported experiencing appearance racism.

As we noted in the summary, Aboriginal staff are much more likely to have known of racism or culturally offensive behaviour by a member of staff towards a First Nations person in the past 12 months. A 39 percentage point difference.

Aboriginal respondents were also 28 percentage points more likely to have know of First Nations people being discriminated against or treated less favourably because of their background.

One of the most important things we found from our survey was that there was a direct correlation between how much cultural awareness or competency training a non-Aboriginal person had, and whether they said they had known of racism towards a First Nations person in the preceding 12 months.

This supports our theory that many non-Aboriginal people don’t ‘see’ racism when it occurs – and that perhaps the additional understanding that comes with explicit training helps them to notice what is going on.

Aboriginal members of staff are unfortunately also less likely to feel confident that there is someone in the department they can effectively complain to, if they do see racism or instances of less favourable treatment, with a 28 percentage point gap.

Aboriginal respondents who work in corporate were more confident that a complaint would be handled effectively (at 65%), than were Aboriginal colleagues in schools at 50%.

When we asked an open ended question, the most common feedback was support for reconciliation – and commentary that more needs to be done.

Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal respondents said that more training is needed

And these are some of the comments that we received

Our reconciliation work, and the department’s anti-racism work is all about improving the experiences that lie behind these results. Anti-racism training is currently being rolled out to all staff and early next year a cultural awareness training module will also become mandatory for all staff. An important starting place for better cultural competency.

We are also in the process of developing the next stage of our Reconciliation Action Plan – the Innovate phase – which is all about taking action on reconciliation, now that we have reflected deeply and understand where we most need to make improvements.

While it’s vital that issues be tackled from a whole of department perspective, some of the most important change needs to happen locally.

Just talking about these results and having a conversation with your team is a great starting place.

You could talk about whether the results align with your experiences, whether anything in the results surprised you.

You could also think about and discuss what practical action you can take.

Can our team make cultural awareness training a priority? Should we make more of an effort to procure from Aboriginal-owned business? Are we connecting and communicating well with Aboriginal stakeholders? When we advertise positions, are we reaching candidates who are Aboriginal people?

Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey and thank you for watching.

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