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Halls Creek school attendance plans spark resident demand for meetings

By Ted O'Connor
an Indigenous woman stands in a park
Rose Stretch says she should have been made aware plans were being created for at-risk students.(ABC Kimberley: Ted O'Connor)

Frustrated families in Halls Creek have demanded face-to-face meetings with education bureaucrats as the department probes allegations school attendance plans were botched. 

An ABC investigation published yesterday sparked a state government probe into the creation of attendance plans for Halls Creek District High School students most at risk in mid-2020.

The story raised allegations from families and community leaders that the government botched a plan to get children back into school. 

The ABC has seen about 150 of the attendance plans.

Many appear to be incomplete and lacking in detail and about a dozen parents in Halls Creek who did sign the plans say they were never followed up.

Halls Creek resident Dennis Chungulla said his two teenage sons mostly did not attend school, despite his encouragement, and he was not aware of any attendance plans for them.

He said residents in his community of Yardgee wanted education bureaucrats to visit their homes so they could work out a solution.

"You should come back every time you start up a program and communicate more in people's lives."

an Aboriginal plan wears a high-vis jacket in a park
Dennis Chungulla says he was not aware of attendance plans.(ABC Kimberley: Ted O'Connor)

Truancy is at crisis point at Halls Creek District High School.

Its attendance rate is about half the state average while the town continues to grapple with high rates of youth crime.

Yardgee chairperson Rose Stretch regularly visits families struggling to get their children to attend.

The Kija woman said she was not made aware of the attendance plans.

"If the government is facing challenges then they need to come back to the community on how they go about fixing this problem." 

Call for independent investigation

a group of children walk on a suburban street at night
Children roam the streets of Halls Creek at night.(ABC News: Ted O'Connor)

Liberal Member for Mining and Pastoral Region Neil Thomson welcomed the Education Department's probe but he wanted to see an independent investigation from an authority such as the state's ombudsman.

The ombudsman recommended the department create the attendance plans in late 2019 but declined to comment to the ABC, citing confidentiality.

Mr Thomson said concerns raised about the plans pointed to a culture of the government opting for quick fixes instead of meaningful work on the ground in Halls Creek.

"The current state of affairs in towns like Halls Creek and right across the Kimberley reflect very poorly on the education minister."

Overhaul needed

portrait of man in striped shirt
Malcolm Edwards says Halls Creek Shire has long had concerns about the school's performance.(ABC News: Ted O'Connor)

Halls Creek Shire president Malcolm Edwards wants a complete overhaul of the way education is delivered at the school.

The shire became alarmed after it took on nine trainees who recently finished year 12.

"In the last 40 years it's just deteriorated and there's got to be some changes."

man looks into distance
Darren Foynes says children in the town need hope and support.(ABC Kimberley: Ted O'Connor)

Halls Creek school attendance worker Darren Foynes said he wanted to see the school resourced properly to empower young people he saw slipping through the cracks.

"There needs to be an intensive push to make these kids have a little bit of hope," he said.

"Give them the right attention and that attention being 'you are capable of learning'."

Education Minister Sue Ellery said she would not be commenting because an investigation was under way.

"However, I will have more to say in the coming weeks," she said.