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Learning and skills

Culturally-supportive and responsive learning spaces are vital for creating an environment where Aboriginal students feel supported to achieve their learning aspirations and excel.

Our shared commitment

Every Aboriginal person achieves their potential, succeeds in life, and feels strong in their cultural identity.

A quality education includes a place of learning that is responsive, welcoming and supportive. Creating culturally inclusive learning environments is vital to ensuring Aboriginal students feel safe and supported to achieve their learning aspirations.

Goal 4: Aboriginal children thrive in the early years

4.1 Optimise early childhood development and participation in kinder


  • 4.1.1 Number and proportion of eligible children enrolled in a funded 4-year-old kindergarten program in the year before school.
  • 4.1.2 Number of children funded to participate in Early Start Kindergarten.

Providing culturally responsive, targeted assistance in the early years has seen Aboriginal kindergarten participation increase significantly in recent years. In 2019, 99.9% of Aboriginal 4-year-old children were enrolled in a funded kindergarten program, which was greater than the enrolment rate of all Victorian four-year-old children.

While the increased enrolment of Aboriginal children in early childhood education is significant, the Victorian Government is also working to increase the attendance of Aboriginal children at their early childhood education service though increasing the inclusivity and quality of early childhood education services, in line with key priorities in Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2023 to ensure early childhood education is inclusive and culturally safe, enabling Aboriginal children to meaningfully participate.

The number of Aboriginal children participating in the Early Start Kindergarten program steadily increased from 642 in 2016, to 952 in 2019. The proportion of Aboriginal children aged four years participating also increased across this period from 44.6% in 2016 to 66.1% in 2019.

Goal 5: Aboriginal learners excel at school

5.1 Bring Aboriginal achievement at school in line with learner’s aspirations


  • 5.1.1 Percentage of students in top 3 bands – Reading and Numeracy (NAPLAN) in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9

An increase in the number of Aboriginal learners achieving scores in the top 3 bands for NAPLAN testing shows significant growth in literacy and numeracy skills across most school years. However, lower rates of feeling connected to their school, as well as lower attendance rates, remain significant challenges.

This highlights the need for schools to be culturally safe and engaging places for Aboriginal learners to enable learners to reach their full potential – this includes Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care, who will be supported by ACCOs in their education endeavours under the transfer of guardianship from government to Aboriginal organisations.

The percentage of Aboriginal students in the top three bands for NAPLAN Reading increased between 2008 and 2019 for all years (3,5,7 and 9), with the largest increase (9.6%) in Year 5 Reading. The percentage of Aboriginal students in the top 3 bands in NAPLAN numeracy increased across Years 5, 7, and 9, and rates decreased for Year 3.

5.2 Increase the proportion of Aboriginal students who feel safe and connected at school


  • 5.2.1 Proportion of students who feel connected to their school.
  • 5.2.2 Student attendance rates in government schools.
  • 5.2.3 Number of Aboriginal people on school councils.
  • 5.2.4 Proportion of students who report bullying at school.
  • 5.2.6 Number of schools teaching an Aboriginal language.
  • 5.2.7 Number of government schools having undertaken Cultural Understanding and Safety Training.

There is significant variation across school years, with students reporting much higher levels of connectedness in primary school, which then decreases substantially by Years 10 to 12. This is the same trend for non-Aboriginal students.

From 2014 to 2019, Aboriginal students’ school attendance rates decreased across all years of schooling. While school attendance rates during this time is higher in the early years in primary school, attendance drops significantly from Year 7 to Year 8, inferring more support is needed to help Aboriginal students transition to high school. In 2019, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students school attendance remained significant, with an average gap of 6.6% across all school years.

The number of Aboriginal people on school councils increased substantially from 164 in 2018 to 374 in 2019, across 114 schools.

In 2019, Aboriginal students in all school year levels reported experiencing higher rates of bullying than their non-Aboriginal peers. Notably, around a quarter of Aboriginal students in Years 7 to 9 reported having been bullied.

The number of schools teaching an Aboriginal language has grown significantly over the past decade, from one in 2010 to 17 in 2019.

Cultural Understanding and Safety Training

In 2019, 29% of all Victorian Government schools (i.e. school staff and/or council members) had undertaken Cultural Understanding and Safety Training (CUST). There was a sharp increase from 373 in 2018 to 517 in 2019.

CUST builds the capacity of Victorian Government school staff to better support Aboriginal learners, including through developing more culturally inclusive practices. Programs such as CUST are an important first step to ensure that schools provide a safe and welcoming learning environment, to improve attendance for Aboriginal students.

Goal 6: Aboriginal learners are engaged at school

6.1 Increase Year 12 or equivalent attainment


  • 6.1.2 Apparent retention rates for students in years 10 to 12.
  • 6.1.3 Number of Aboriginal students who complete the VCE, VCAL or VET in Schools Certificate.

More Aboriginal young people than ever before are completing a Year 12 or equivalent qualification, highlighting the importance of ongoing work to support student engagement, particularly through key transition periods.

While more Aboriginal young people are completing Year 12, there continues to be disparity in apparent retention rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners. While the gap narrowed overall from 26.2% to 19.4% between 2010 and 2019, it has been expanding again since 2015.

Goal 7: School leavers achieve their potential

7.1 Increase the proportion of Aboriginal young people in work or further education


  • 7.1.1 Destinations of Year 12 completers.
  • 7.1.3 Tertiary education participation and completion.
  • 7.1.5 Proportion of 20-64-year-old government-funded and total VET graduates employed and/or in further study after training.
  • 7.1.6 Proportion of graduates and cadets employed in VPS; retention, progression and satisfaction.

The number of school leavers who go on to work, further education or training has grown significantly over the past decade, indicating that more Aboriginal school leavers than ever before are participating in further study, training and work.

The proportion of Aboriginal young people engaged in education, training or employment has grown significantly across the last decade. According to the Department of Education and Training’s (DET) On-Track survey, in 2019, Aboriginal Year 12 completers were more likely to go on to do a Bachelor degree, apprenticeship or traineeship or be employed, and were less likely to be looking for work than they were in 2009.

Of the 62.8% of Aboriginal Year 12 completers surveyed in 2019 that went on to further education and training, 29.8% undertook a Bachelor degree at University, 15.7% a diploma, and 17.3% an apprenticeship. Of the 37.2% who were not in education or training, the majority were employed.

Tertiary education

In 2019, 5,716 Aboriginal Victorians aged 18-24 years took part in VET studies delivered by both non-university and university providers. Since 2015, this represents a 46.7% increase in VET participation for Aboriginal Victorians aged 18-24 years. In contrast, non-Aboriginal participation in VET decreased by 28.3 per cent across the same period.

While it is encouraging to see more Aboriginal 18-24 year olds enrolled in VET programs in 2019, historically, the completion rate has been lower compared to non-Aboriginal Victorians. In particular, in 2019, completion rates (as a proportion of 18-24 year old population) dropped to 0.8% from 1.1% in 2015 for the Aboriginal cohort who enrolled for VET studies at universities.

The number and rate of Aboriginal students undertaking university studies increased significantly in recent times. In 2019, 2,450 Aboriginal students were enrolled in universities compared to 1,150 in 2009. During the same period, the award course attainment rate of Aboriginal students also improved - from 0.38% in 2009 to 0.69% in 2019.

In 2019, after completing training, 85.9% of all Aboriginal VET graduates were employed and/or pursuing further study. This is a small increase from 2018 and now on par with non-Aboriginal VET graduates.

The VPS provides a key employment pathway for Aboriginal Victorians. Between 2017 and June 2020, 235 Aboriginal Victorians were employed in the VPS as graduates or cadets. Of these, 203 (86.4%) have either completed or are on track to complete their respective employment program.

The Aunty Mary Atkinson Scholarship Program

DJPR has partnered with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI) to develop and deliver the Aunty Mary Atkinson Scholarship Program. Aunty Mary Atkinson was a Wiradjuri and Bangerang Elder, whose tenacity and integrity made her an inspirational leader. She dedicated her life to the pursuit of equality for Aboriginal people, particularly in the area of education, which she saw as fundamental to changing lives for the better.

The program, which was offered for the first time in 2020, offers financial support for Aboriginal students to undertake full-time study in a broad range of fields related to the portfolio areas of the Department. DJPR will award up to eight scholarships at any one time of $30,000 annually for up to 4 years to support both undergraduate and postgraduate students. The program aligns with the Department’s Aboriginal Recruitment and Career Development Strategy 2020-23 and its commitment to supporting successful career pathways for Aboriginal people.

Action the Victorian Government is taking

The Victorian Government is driving action through Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2026 (Marrung) to ensure that all Aboriginal Victorians achieve their learning aspirations. Marrung’s success relies on the active involvement of local Aboriginal communities and education services providing culturally safe learning environments. Marrung has been developed with and continues to be governed by key Aboriginal community partners, including VAEAI.

The commitment to Marrung is reflected in the significant recent investments of over $35.6 million over 6 years and $4.8 million ongoing through the last 5 State Budgets for Aboriginal-specific supports.

Early childhood

Key actions and investment in 2020 include

  • Continuing to support Aboriginal children to attend kindergarten through providing three and 4-year-old children with 15 hours of free or low-cost kindergarten a week.
  • Supporting 17 early childhood services to deliver an Aboriginal language in 2020 as part of the Early Childhood Language Program. In partnership with VAEAI, the Department continues to support a further 5 early childhood services to establish their Aboriginal language program.
  • $1.2 million for an additional seven FTE Koori Pre-school Assistants from 2021.


Key actions and investments in 2020 include

  • $5.0 million in the 2021-21 budget for an additional 16 Koorie Engagement Support Officers.
  • $1.2 million in the 2018-19 budget to support online resources and professional development for teachers of Koorie English speakers and a Koorie Literacy and Numeracy Professional Practice Leader.
  • $7.9 million from the 2016-17 to 2020-21 State budgets and $1.3 million ongoing for the Koorie Literacy and Numeracy Program to support Aboriginal students not meeting expected benchmarks in literacy or numeracy.
  • $2.7 million over four years and $1.2 million ongoing in the 2016-17 budget for Cultural Understanding and Safety Training for all government school staff.
  • Aboriginal students will also have access to the $250 million Tutor Learning package, that will see 4,100 tutors being deployed to ensure students that may have fallen behind are supported to catch up.


Key actions and investments in 2020 include

  • Free TAFE for priority courses will expand Aboriginal Victorians’ access to training and employment opportunities. The initiative covers tuition fees for eligible students undertaking priority courses, including 45 non-apprenticeship courses and 18 apprenticeship pathway courses.
  • Development of options to support Aboriginal learners to engage and participate successfully in VET, including through the redesign of the existing Aboriginal VET workforce. Ongoing support of 18 Koorie Liaison Officers in TAFE and Dual sector institutes and establishment of 32 newly created Koorie Students Support Officers from 2021.
  • Improving support for Aboriginal learners undertaking further education and training through $1.7 million to apply an Aboriginal-specific loading to support pre-accredited learners.