West Arnhem tackles school attendance

With school attendance a big issue for outback communities, West Arnhem Shire Council at the top of the Northern Territory has come up with a way to get more children to school each day.

The Gunbalanya Community Safety team is working in partnership with teachers on a project similar to one that has been successfully operating in the township of Warruwi for some time. The Community Safety team liaises with the school bus driver and the school to determine which children are absent at the start of the school day.

The team then drive around town in their troopy vehicle, picking up kids and driving them to school to ensure that they get there.

Team Leader Community Safety Daryl Thomas said that the scheme, which has been operating since mid April, is resulting in the attendance of nearly 40 extra children on most days.

He said that most of the 350 children enrolled at the school are now getting there for at least the first part of the day.

The method is simple yet effective. Daryl and his colleague Gunbaldj ride around town, stopping at the homes of suspected truants and honking loudly until sheepish children emerge for the ride to school.

The team is undeterred by the more recalcitrant students who often hide on their approach.

“Sometimes we get more on the second round because they don’t think you’re coming back and you catch them out playing,” Daryl laughs.

He wants to install new horns on the troopy to make the trip to school more fun.

“We want to get one of those horns that plays ‘La Cucaracha’,” said Daryl. “Then they’ll know that we really mean business and they can’t hide!”