Noel Pearson’s involvement in two remote Indigenous Queensland schools has been cemented in a new deal with the state government after a rocky period of negotiations.
Pearson’s Good To Great Schools Australia, which pulled out of Aurukun school after a tumultuous dispute including the government’s attempts to limit the contentious Direct Instruction (DI) curriculum, has signed an in-principle agreement for jointly running the Coen and Hopevale schools.
The deal, which is expected to result in a formal contract by February, breaks an impasse over DI that was believed to have had GGSA on the brink of ending its involvement in the two schools.
It will also allow use of the DI model in kindergartens, which has been trialled in Coen, in both Cape York communities from 2018. GGSA and the education department announced the joint signing of a “partnership commitments and protocols statement” on Friday.
It follows months of controversy, including a departmental review that raised questions about shortcomings in DI and misgivings among some teachers and community members in Aurukun about its delivery. The review pointed to transparency issues with the accounting of expenditure that prompted the suspension of payments to GGSA.
These were referred to the Queensland audit office, which was due to hand down findings by the end of 2016 about the oversight of finances at the schools jointly run by the department and GGSA. Pearson was also accused of personal abuse by the education minister, Kate Jones, and the head of the education department, who then absented himself from negotiations with GGSA.
Pearson rejected Jones’s account and in turn complained to the Crime and Corruption Commission about what he said was the leaking of a confidential departmental audit into past school finances. But the government appears to have relented in attempts to limit the hours of school days devoted to the DI model.
Jones on Friday in a statement said the department and GGSA were “working together in good faith to reach an agreement” to enable “the best-possible education we can provide” to Coen and Hopevale children.
“The partnership commitments and protocols document details the aims of both parties and provides a strong basis for a formal agreement early in the New Year,” she said. “We now need to continue to work together in the interests of students in Coen and Hope Vale to ensure our partnership meets community expectations and delivers quality education.”
GGSA co-chair Liz O’Leary said the partnership delivered “certainty for the communities of Coen and Hope Vale and an opportunity to strengthen the role of Cape York communities in the reform of Indigenous education”. “The partnership with Education Queensland to date has achieved promising results in student learning across the academy schools and we look forward to further accelerating the progress of students,” she said.
The department would remain the operator of the schools and GGSA would implement its “5C education model” which has DI at its core and has been delivered in the schools since 2009. GGSA has cited improvements in Naplan results over time under DI but educators remain divided over the US-imported curriculum’s value, cultural appropriateness and cost-effectiveness.