Skills sharing

Supporting Indigenous students on their journey to greater opportunity

8 April 2020

Many Indigenous children in Australia’s remote and regional communities face a significant education gap. After 15 years of building relationships in Top End communities, Liz and Rick Tudor and their family were inspired to help create better opportunities for Indigenous students.

As the former Principal of Trinity Grammar School, Rick established an Indigenous scholarship program to help students from regional and remote communities attend Trinity. But students faced significant challenges once they arrived in the city.

“Melbourne schools are very different places to remote Indigenous communities,” says Ed Tudor, Executive Director at Melbourne Indigenous Transition School (MITS). “For many students, the cultural and geographical leap was simply too great. Many highly capable and ambitious students returned home simply because they and their schools were not able to successfully navigate this gap.”

To help students and schools overcome this challenge, MITS developed the concept of a transition year, incorporating a dedicated time and space where students could develop the confidence and growth they need to have a better chance of succeeding at their new school.

“We recognised that with a dedicated organisation’s guidance and support, schools could provide better experiences for Indigenous students,” Ed recalls.

Melbourne Indigenous Transition School first opened its doors in 2016, welcoming 22 Year 7 students. With its classrooms located inside Richmond Football Club’s Korin Gamadji Institute, it also has a boarding house for students on neighbouring Richmond Hill. It is a culturally safe space with high expectations; students are selected through their demonstrated commitment to education.

“We look at their attendance records and assess how well they get along with their peers. We consider their core personal attributes to make sure they’ll thrive in a boarding house environment away from home. And while we also look at their academic record, it is by no means the primary selection criterion,” Ed says.

With a low student to teacher ratio, the school is also able to personalise the curriculum.

“This allows us to teach students at their point of need. They will often achieve two years of growth in their academic ability in one year at MITS,” says Ed.

Once they complete their year at MITS, students transition to scholarship positions at one of 13 Melbourne Partner Schools. But MITS’s involvement doesn’t end there.

“Our students’ journeys continue long beyond MITS. We remain a trusted point of contact for families and our Partner Schools, and provide support to our alumni through our Pathways Program,” Ed says.

The program addresses the geographic, cultural, economic and academic barriers that might prevent students from completing secondary school away from home, and provides support through comprehensive handovers, cultural awareness training, pathway resources, and alumni events.

The Macquarie Group Foundation provided a three-year grant to MITS in 2018 and Anna Le Masurier, regional director for the Foundation in Australia and New Zealand, said she was impressed by MITS’ commitment to furthering Indigenous opportunity.

“It’s widely accepted that a good-quality education leads to better health, career and life outcomes but funding inequality in the Australian education system means there’s not a level playing field. We’re proud to support MITS’ Pathways Program, which helps MITS alumni achieve the success they define for themselves and in so doing supports Indigenous families who want their children to learn from the wider world and for it to learn from them.”

“Macquarie’s people have become an integral part of our MITS community. Macquarie placed its faith in our school from the very beginning, helping us establish the school. Today, our Pathways Program would simply not exist without their support,” Ed says.

Maria Wilson, Division Director with Macquarie Private Bank, greatly values the power of education – and acknowledges the disparities that exist in the world today.

“Education makes a world of difference – to incomes, health, economic growth and equality,” she says. “I would like to see the gap that exists between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australia diminish. Supporting organisations like MITS is an important way to close this gap.”

Maria and a group of students from MITS

As members of Macquarie Banking & Financial Services’ First Australians Employee Network Group (ENG), Maria and a colleague were exploring opportunities to better connect with Indigenous Australians when they met Ed.

Macquarie has supported the school ever since, running fundraising and awareness initiatives, as well as an event last year that brought MITS, the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, funders and private clients together. “We shared plans and ideas for the future of Indigenous education,” Maria says.

Students also visit Macquarie’s offices every year, to explore career opportunities that could be available to them.

“We want our students to be able to ‘walk in two worlds’ as proud Indigenous people who will become the future leaders of their communities,” Ed says. “Macquarie’s support enables our students to feel strong as they pursue a great education.”