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A college of dreams - 21 May 2006

ONE of Australia's oldest private schools plans to establish a school for Aborigines to try to raise education standards among indigenous children reports Hannah Edwards in the Sun Herald May 21, 2006.

The school will be built in Redfern or Waterloo, with assistance and guidance from St Andrew's Cathedral School.

The curriculum will be designed for Aborigines but the co-educational school, which could begin operating as early as the start of the 2007 school year, will be open to all students.

The school is expected to offer the NSW Board of Studies' curriculum, plus a strong focus on Aboriginal culture, arts and languages. The school will be funded by what the headmaster of St Andrew's, Phillip Heath, described as a "World Vision notion", with each student sponsored by either the NSW Government, a corporation or a private individual, at a cost of between $8000 and $10,000 a year. He is confident there will be no shortage of sponsors.

"I think there is a tremendous national conscience on this issue; to invest in a life and give students an education and keys to unlock their future," Mr Heath said. "We want children to reach benchmarks and certain standards. Not in terms of behaviour, although I think that will follow, but in terms of literacy and numeracy, following the set NSW Board of Studies curriculum."

The school will have an initial enrolment of about 50 children, in classes from kindergarten to year eight, and students will wear a uniform.

Mr Heath came up with the plan after being inspired by a sponsorship scheme he saw in South Africa last year. In one school, the students' fees were paid by a goldmining company.

"My mind turned not to raising money for sending shiploads of textbooks to Africa, but rather to our own situation inside our own city," Mr Heath said. "The lingering memory of the Redfern riots and the tremendous social disadvantage that our indigenous population has made me think the best contribution that we could make as a school would be to support indigenous education."

This will be a new style of schooling that Mr Heath hopes will inspire a network of similar schools throughout Australia. "We want to meet the [educational] outcomes but we want to deliver our school quite differently. It's a totally different model. It has to be."

Three potential inner-city sites are under consideration and Mr Heath hopes land will be donated by the NSW Government or the Anglican Church. The school will be self-contained but there will be an exchange of some staff and resources such as technology and books.

Students will receive a spiritual message, Mr Heath said. "As a Christian school, we would offer a Christian story as the context in which this happens. That would be something people would need to respect."

Pastor Ray Minniecon, the director of Crossroads Aboriginal Ministries in Redfern, has been a key community contact and says most people are positive about the idea. "We're not trying to be competitive with other schools," he said. "We are just trying to do something that is unique."

Also see Editortial in the same paper