Some children at one of Queensland’s largest indigenous schools will have skipped two years of classes by the end of year 10.
Across the school’s three campuses – prep, primary and secondary – in Yarrabah, near Cairns, attendance averages 70 per cent, compared to the state average of 90 per cent.
Now, as part of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s push to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous, the entire community is coming together to encourage more children to go to school.
“This is about the right of children to attend school every day,” principal Simon Cotton told AAP.
“Over their school life, at 70 per cent attendance, a student will miss, by year 10, two full years of schooling.
“That’s quite horrendous isn’t it?”
A program to reduce truancy was rolled out at Yarrabah on Thursday.
The scheme involves rewarding attendance with tickets to sports games, providing students with breakfast once a week and creating a uniform library.
Parents whose children skip more than four days of school will also be spoken to about the benefits of education and students’ attendance will be monitored.
Mr Cotton, who has led the school’s 575 pupils for five years, has an ambitious plan to boost the attendance rate to 95 per cent.
“We’ve already seen some positive stories come out with prep attendance averaging 83 per cent this year,” he said.
Children are missing school because they travel away from Yarrabah for long periods to attend funerals or visit family.
Sickness is also a main reason for lack of attendance.
Mr Cotton says many children suffer from inner ear infections and whooping cough due to overcrowding in the community where 4500 people squeeze into just 300 homes.
Up to 90 per cent of children at any one time have difficulty hearing and teachers must wear microphones while teaching.
“There are no excuses but there are complexities,” he said.
“This is Australia and our kids really do deserve the best shot.”