But the mantra of ‘getting kids to school’ is a familiar one from Abbott. His government spent $80 million on the Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS), which produced no improvement: in fact, attendance slightly declined over the time the RSAS was in place. Regardless, there is little evidence that simply boosting attendance improves educational outcomes. Abbott might crave ‘structure, discipline, repetition’ for Aboriginal students, as he told 2GB, but that seems to reflect a zeal for behaviourist punishment more than any evidence in educational research (because, quite simply, attending school is not the same as getting an education).
In the context of the NT Intervention, school attendance was linked with new policing of Aboriginal lives in remote communities. The School Enrolment and Attendance Through Welfare Reform (SEAM) trial, rolled out in twelve predominantly Aboriginal communities in the NT and Queensland between 2009 and 2017, threatened parents’ welfare payments if their children had ‘unauthorised absences’. As the government’s review notes, ‘no statistically significant effect from the SEAM trial was detected on reducing students’ average rate of unauthorised absences throughout the trial.’ Yet 161 parents in the NT, and 180 parents in Queensland, were cut off their payments – and presumably, their ability to pay for essentials like housing and rent – at some point during the trail.