What is at the end of that dirt road? A great small school & a great idea!

by on Nov, Tue, 2009 in Articles, Stronger Smarter Stories | 0 comments

Nic Trengrove

Nic Trengrove. Teaching Principal, Manyallaluk School NT

Manyallaluk School is a small Indigenous community school at the end of a 45 km dirt road about 100 kms from Katherine in the Northern Territory. Started in 2005 after a campaign by the local community, the school began life in the spare room of the community shop.

Prior to that parents had to make other arrangements about getting the kids to school at Barunga (45km) or in Katherine (100km). The result was that not many of the local Indigenous students spent much time at school.

It was not until 2006 that the new school building, which is part of the Katherine Group School, was opened with about 20 students from preschool to year 7.

Today the school has one teaching Principal, one classroom teacher, and assistant teacher, an Inclusion support assistant, a tutor and around 28-30 students.

Nic Trengove began teaching in the Northern Territory in 2003 as a classroom teacher in Katherine and took up the position of teaching Principal at Manyallaluk in 2008.

“I had worked in several remote schools in the Territory, so I was not daunted by taking up a position in a school ‘at the end of the line’,” says Nic, referring to the fact that Manyallaluk was at the end of a dirt road.

“I had some very clear ideas and a commitment to providing the very best possible education to Indigenous students in remote parts of the Territory.

“I was very firm of the view that collaborative and fully engaged relationships between schools and the community could be the most important, and yet hidden contributor to success in the education of Indigenous students.

“According to a survey conducted with 82 primary principals at the 2008 Western Australia Primary Principals Association conference the first priority in building social capital was that: ‘there is a high level of alignment between the expectations of parents and other key stakeholders and the mission, vision, goals, policies plans and programs of the school’.

“Additionally, the survey found that ‘there is extensive and active engagement of parents and others in the community in the educational program of the school’ was another high priority,” says Nic

Nic says that when parents at Manyallaluk were asked what their children were learning at school, most admitted that they either didn’t know or they thought that the kids were just learning to “read and write”.

“School wasn’t being openly valued and as a consequence un-notified absences from school were unacceptably high at 31% in Term 4 of 2007.” says Nic.

“As well, there was low community input into decisions regarding education and the school, and low community involvement in school educational and cultural activities, including voluntary and paid work in the school. I had two paid positions in the school as cleaners that I just couldn’t fill”.

“We needed to be able to show parents that the school was more than just a place to learn to read and write and what their children would be missing out on if they did not attend regularly”.

“We convened a summit of about half a dozen like-minded people including teaching staff from this and other schools, and parents and community members from both Manyallaluk and other areas to brainstorm the symptoms and the issues, as well as develop strategies”.

“We identified the key players and established a Parent Advisory Group”.

“At Manyallaluk we knew that just inviting parents to the school for a BBQ wouldn’t give us the result we wanted”.

“We needed to invite the community to come and see the school and be part of the actual programs”.

“So we established a Night School”.

“The concept is aimed at inviting parents to the school to see and be part of the actual programs. Working alongside their children and culminating with team building activities.

“It wasn’t just another parent-teacher night.

“It was a radical change that meant that once a week, over a set period, the school hours were altered”.

“Each Tuesday for five weeks, school would finish at the usual time of 3.15 and the students would go home”.

“The bell would ring again at 5.45 pm and the students would return and so the school routine would begin as it did every morning”.

“Uniforms were put on, assembly was held on the verandah and lessons were held in the classroom”.

“The difference was that at Night School all families were invited to watch and to participate as they felt comfortable. ”

Night School Program

5.45 pm

Bell rings. Students make their way to school. Uniforms are put on.


Second Bell. Students line up on the verandah (roll call).


Photo story/video is shown to families of learning and activities that have taken place over the last week.


Class programs on display. (Each week, different sections of the class program are taught to the class as they would be during the week) Families observe, participate or help, as they feel comfortable.


Family Team Building.Each week a different activity is held. Each child works with their family to e.g. build a bridge using newspaper and sticky tape.


Dinner. Prepared by senior students in the last session of the day.


“The Night School was established to develop positive community and school partnerships”.

“But it had the added benefit of letting parents share what happens at Manyallaluk School and what it ‘looks’ like inside – what to some of the parents was an alien environment”.

“It improved the community’s engagement with the school and the school’s engagement with the community and most importantly it helped families feel comfortable in approaching, and being part of, the school,” says Nic.

“It also had a tremendous effect on the kids”.

“They were able to bring their parents to school in a non-threatening way and show them just what was happening. It made them so proud to be able to share with their families”.

“Many of the adults had had less than satisfactory experiences with their own schooling, so it was wonderful for them to be able see that their kids were having different and better experiences”.

Night School wasn’t an instant success however. The first Night school attracted 12 community members; the second 25; the third 17; and the fourth 31.

“These things take time but it seemed that we were on the right track,” he says.

Nic attended the Stronger Smarter Leadership program which began in October 2008.

“What I found most satisfying was to be working with like minded people who thought the way I did”.

“There were lots of people there who had many of the thoughts I had had in a relatively short teaching career. They also had the practical experience to go with it and that practical experience is just invaluable.”

Nic’s experience and perseverance has paid off for the students at Manyallaluk and this is clearly reflected in the data.

During the second term of 2008, just 10 per cent of students attended school 100 per cent of the time and 25 per cent attended between 80 and 99 per cent of the time. Attendance for the remaining 65 per cent of students was below 80 per cent.

However during Term 4 of 2008, 37 per cent of students attended every day and 39 per cent attended between 80 and 99 per cent of the time. This is a massive increase of 41 per cent of students attending more than 80 per cent of the time.

Unnotified absence fell correspondingly from 31 per cent during term 4 of 2007 to 15% in Term 3 of 2008

“I like to think that it is because students and parents are now more engaged with the school and realise the benefits of regular attendance”.

“It really is very very pleasing,” he said.

Manyallaluk School is still a small and remote outpost in Australia’s education system, but it has made giant forward strides in the last 12 to 18 months.

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