IOP - Aboriginal Student Retention Resource: Being responsible and accountable to your community


This resource supports schools when developing initiatives focusing on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander student retention as part of the school Strategic Improvement Plan. It is an example only. Each school will create their own unique initiatives, to address their specific context, strategic directions, and individual needs. Fundamental elements of this Illustration of Practice example are the use of school accountability, community engagement and post school options and pathways.

Timeframe for use:

Each school will determine their own timeframe regarding the use of this resource in their planning and implementation.

Intended audience:

The primary audience for this resource is school Principals (with secondary enrolments), Executive Teams and school staff. It may also be used by Directors, Educational Leadership (DELs),Principals School Leadership (PSLs), Principal Coach Mentors (PCMs) and other Educational support staff.

Instructions for use:

This will be used by schools when developing initiatives and subsequent Implementation and Progress Monitoring (IPMs) activities as part of the School Excellence Cycle. Principals should review this resource with key staff to discuss how its contents may be useful in their school’s context and consider how it might inform the development of the school’s retention initiatives and implementation and progress monitoring.

Evidence base:

The evidence base is listed within the document.

Alignment to system priorities and/or needs:
School Excellence Policy, School Excellence Procedures, Aboriginal Education Policy.

Alignment to School Excellence Framework:
Learning Culture, Wellbeing, and Educational Leadership.

Consulted with:
Fiona Walsh, Director Educational Leadership, Lake Macquarie West Network, Regional North School Performance Directorate. Fiona Kelly, Executive Principal, Menindee Central School.

Reviewed by:
Karen Jones.

Created/last updated:
December 2023.

Anticipated resource review date:
This resource will be reviewed in December 2024. To ensure ongoing improvement of this resource, feedback on this resource can be provided via the survey or QR code below.

Universal Resources - Aboriginal Education feedback survey QR code Universal Resources - Aboriginal Education feedback survey QR code

An Illustration of Practice - Aboriginal Student Retention: Being responsible and accountable to your community

Bourke High School

This Illustration of Practice outlines how harnessing the energy and passions of the collective whole and trying different approaches to ongoing challenges reaps rewards.

Andrew Ryder began his journey as Executive Principal of Bourke High School in 2014 and identified early on that the school was losing approximately two thirds of their students from Years 10-12 prior to attaining the HSC. Andrew identified through student voice that they viewed employment in the town of Bourke as a more viable option for their future than completing the HSC if the opportunity arose.

The timing also couldn’t have been better for Andrew with the school’s involvement in the Maranunka Education and Employment Summit, one hundred and fifty people including prominent businesses and ministers coming to Bourke to focus on improvement Aboriginal outcomes and life opportunities. An outcome of the summit was the formation of the Bourke Aboriginal Employment Prosperity Strategy, which focused on improving post school opportunities for Aboriginal students. Andrew was invited to be part of the committee and as part of his role as Executive Principal of the school he was required to report on a regular basis to Premier and Cabinet the school’s attendance, retention and School-based apprenticeships and traineeships (SBAT) data. In addition, Andrew and the school were also accountable to major government bodies, the Department of Education’s Connected Community Strategy, the Local AECG and Council.

Andrew understood the importance of the school taking ownership, responsibility and accountability for their data and the subsequent impact. He also acknowledged that with accountability also came opportunities where the school could access more resources.

Andrew worked with his staff and they collectively identified the strengths and areas of opportunity.

The future priorities included:

  • Parents/carers, Elders and the community being active participants in the design process and working side-by-side with the school in setting aspirational goals for their children.
  • Stronger transition points (Pre-school- Kinder, Years 6-7 and Year 12 to post school destination).
  • Work placements that went beyond opportunities in the town of Bourke.
  • Establishing post school employment opportunities.

Andrew created a Deputy Principal Transition position at Bourke High School, this role responsible for embedding the priorities into the school’s School Improvement Plan (SIP). School based teams were then formed which included a curriculum, wellbeing and administration team. Both Bourke Public and High School prioritised transition points in both of their SIPs and worked together to ensure success.

Working together at all levels to genuinely prioritise HSC attainment and postschool pathways for Aboriginal students provides real benefits for students, their families and their communities.
- Andrew Ryder Executive Principal Bourke High School (2014-2020)

Knowing the data leads to new ways of thinking and improvement

The school is very proud of their achievements in such a short period of time and takes every opportunity to celebrate students who attain the HSC. For many Aboriginal students in Bourke, they are the first in their families to do so. The school showcases this achievement now with a graduation ceremony, taking the opportunity to acknowledge the significant role the Clontarf foundation and the school’s careers programs play in making this possible. Since 2015, Bourke High School’s new approaches have led to:

  • 7 ex-students being employed as School Learning Support Officers (SLSOs) which has made a big difference in regards to the way in which to school has been viewed as part of the community.
  • 4 students who had previously been disengaged in learning have taken part in a Certificate II construction at TAFE through a variation rather than a whole school exemption.
  • 1 ex-student returned to school due to his desire to gain the HSC. He became a role model for the other students due to the school’s flexibility. The student was quoted as stating that if it wasn’t for Andrew he would most likely be in jail.
  • NSW TAFE and NSW Police have assisted in supporting students with Certificate II in public administration.
  • An improved relationship with Readi, an employment agency in Bourke, who are now an integral part of school. Readi links students up with various projects in the community. Work experience placements now focus on employers who are role models and mentor students into the work environment.
  • The school now is maintaining three quarters of their Year 10-12 cohorts through to attaining the HSC.

Bourke High School's yearly post school destination pathway record:

Year Number of Students Number of Aboriginal Students Post school Destinations
2016 14 6 12 students gained full time employment
2 students are studying at university (one student at university is working full time.)
1 joined the army.
2017 9 6 8 students gained full time employment
2 students gained university entry.
2018 20 14 16 students gained full time employment
2 students gained apprenticeships
1 student gained entry into university
1 student joined the army.
2019 20 17 13 students gained full time employment
1 student is studying at university
2 students gained apprenticeships
5 students gained part time employment via job providers.
2020 11 10 10 gained full time employment
1 student is studying.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2020, What Works Best – 2020 Update, NSW Department of Education.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2020, What works best in practice, NSW Department of Education.
  • School Attendance Policy – implemented 2015, last updated 11/08/2020, NSW Department of Education.
  • Aboriginal Education Policy - implemented 2008, last updated 23/12/2021, NSW Department of Education.
  • Turning Policy into Action.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2017a, Closing the Gap case studies, NSW Department of Education.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2021, Supporting Aboriginal Students to attain the HSC, NSW Department of Education.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2017c, Improving high school engagement, classroom practices and achievement, NSW Department of Education.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2019c, Supporting school completion: The importance of engagement and effective teaching, NSW Department of Education.
  • Resources and case studies for schools, teachers and parents/ carers.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2020, Connected Communities Strategy: final evaluation report, NSW Department of Education.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2020a, Classroom management: Creating and maintaining positive learning environments, NSW Department of Education.
  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation 2021, Pathways for the Future Program, Pathways for the Future Pilot Project: Summary Report, NSW Department of Education.


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Aboriginal Education and Communities
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