WA education minister refuses to answer questions about attendance plan amid Halls Creek High School inquiry

Western Australia’s education minister deflected questions about a departmental inquiry into student plans at a school in Kimberley as investigators spoke to parents.

The Department of Education is interviewing its own staff in response to an ABC investigation that raised allegations that attendance plans created in mid-2020 for at-risk students at Halls Creek District High School have ​been sloppy.

The emails show that the previous year Education Minister Sue Ellery wanted to implement more attendance plans in the Kimberley, saying the system needed to ‘do better’ in response to a coroner’s inquest into a wave of suicides involving children and young people.

Ahead of the rollout, a department bureaucrat warned there were “insufficient staff” to “follow up” at a school like Halls Creek, where absenteeism is at a critical point.

At a press conference in Kununurra yesterday, Ms Ellery deflected questions about her knowledge of how the plans were implemented.

“This is all under investigation and when that investigation is complete I will make a full statement,” she said.

The ABC has seen about 150 attendance plans, many of which appear incomplete and lacking in detail.

About a dozen Halls Creek parents who signed the plans say they were never followed through.

At the end of 2020, Ms Ellery welcomed the roll-out of attendance plans in parliament and presented plaques at the school which recognized efforts to increase attendance.

Sue Ellery declined to answer questions directly about the students’ plans during her visit to East Kimberley on Monday.(ABC Kimberley: Steph Sinclair)

Parents questioned, says minister

Ms Ellery confirmed that ministry investigators will not only be interviewing staff involved in creating and rolling out the plans.

“The parents are being interviewed as part of the ongoing investigation,” she said.

Ms Ellery said she hoped to receive a report on the investigation in the coming weeks, but added that COVID-19 had interrupted some interviews.

She declined to say whether she would meet with Halls Creek residents and community leaders who want to develop a new strategy to get kids back into the classroom in a city plagued by youth crime.

Halls Creek District’s high school attendance rate is about half the state average for public schools and is about 38 percent for high school students.

The ABC has confirmed opposition MPs’ plan to highlight concerns over attendance plans in parliament this month with a series of questions targeting Ms Ellery.

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