Dareton Public School resetting expectations

Student suspension rates remain disproportionately high for NSW public school students, particularly students in rural and remote areas and for Aboriginal students, who are nearly four times more likely to be suspended than non-Aboriginal students.

Image: Dareton Public School’s ‘Buddy Bench’ is one example of the school’s new focus on student wellbeing and a connection to culture and community.

Situated on the banks of the Murray River close to the Victorian border, Dareton is a little town with fewer than 1,000 people, steeped in thousands of years of Aboriginal history and part of the state’s 100-year old fruit growing district.

In recent years, the teaching staff at Dareton Public School were trying to deal with severe student behavioural issues, poor attendance, high number of student suspensions and a culture of low expectations amongst staff and students who were disengaged from learning.

Of the 57 students at the school, 98 per cent identify as Indigenous, yet the school had low community engagement and no focus on teaching the local Barkindji Language and Culture, resulting in low community engagement. But that was then.

In December 2021, Dareton Public School became one of 33 NSW Government schools involved in the NSW Connected Communities Strategy, which positions schools as community hubs and broadens the influence of the community and school leadership. A key focus of the Connected Communities Strategy is to provide differentiated learning that is holistic and underpinned by local Aboriginal Culture.

Today, Dareton Public School’s Executive Principal, Michael Coleman and his staff have led a new focus on student and staff wellbeing and a connection to culture and community.

“Our re-focus on our students’ wellbeing has had a significant impact on improving the behaviour and educational outcomes of our students,” Michael said.

“We have also strengthened our connection with our community and aligned all aspects of our school culture with the culture of our students and community.”

We have rebuilt school, cultural and self-pride; and this has re-set everyone's expectations.

Dareton Public School’s engagement with the local Aboriginal culture, reconnection with families and the local community has been key to setting not only a standard and expectation on learning, but how students are engaged.

“Through authentic deep respect, we have created a groundswell of positivity that ensures our students and community are focused on our core business of high expectation and quality teaching and learning.

“We have rebuilt school, cultural and self-pride; and this has re-set everyone’s expectations and understanding of what school is all about. We are all part of #TeamDareton and focused on working together every day to help each other to be happy and to learn. The by-product of that refocus is a significant increase in student attendance and huge decrease in suspensions, positive student engagement and behaviour,” Michael said.

The NSW Department of Education has recently developed new policy reforms on student inclusion and behaviour. The three new policies within the Inclusive, Engaging and Respectful Schools policy reforms package work together to provide NSW public schools with clear guidance on responding to the diverse spectrum of student needs, improving outcomes for all students and helping all students reach their full potential – regardless of where they live and learn.

Each of the policies has distinct objectives, with the overall focus of embedding inclusion, equity and respect in all classrooms.

The implementation of these new policy reforms has now changed to allow more time for NSW public schools to engage with the new policies and receive additional support for implementation. 

Both the Inclusive Education Policy for students with disability and Student Behaviour Policy are operational from Term 4, 2022.

The Restrictive Practices Framework and Policy is operational from Term 1, 2023. 

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