Delving deeper into how Gawura works

Gawura NAIDOC-Whale Dreaming


Delving deeper into how Gawura works

Thank you for supporting our programme. If you are a new parent to St Andrew’s Cathedral School or new to the programme, you may have queries about Gawura and how it works within St Andrew’s Cathedral School. We will do our best to answer your queries here, however if you are still left wondering about an area, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Why are Gawura students ‘tucked away’ on Level 7 rather than in the open plan area with the SACS Junior school?

There is a perception, particularly from new St Andrew’s Cathedral School parents that Gawura is ‘tucked away’ on Level 7. This is not deliberate. The one big issue about having a school located in an office block building is space. When Gawura first opened it’s doors in 2007, the only space available was on the rooftop. This was a great space for the kids for the first few years, and when an opportunity arose for the school to take over a whole floor in St Andrew’s House, we were able to move the Gawura students to be near their SACS Junior School peers on Level 7. The Junior School already occupied the whole open area space on Level 7 – it took some moving and juggling to fit Gawura classrooms on the same floor. We are already quickly running out of space on Level 7 and as a result the Year 6 classes have been relocated to Level 5.  The school is always looking for new solutions to keep all the Junior School and Gawura together.

Why do the students have their own classroom area? Isn’t that segregation?

There are many reasons why Gawura has its own classroom space for Kindergarten to Year 6. Before we address these, we would like to highlight two things – firstly, the structure and establishment of Gawura was a collaborative effort between the Indigenous communities of Redfern and St Andrew’s Cathedral School.  Secondly, our Gawura parents’ ongoing involvement in their children’s education is critical to the success of the programme. The parents meet twice a term with Gawura teachers and staff to talk through issues, make decisions and advise on culturally appropriate curriculum. All our parents are supportive of the structure and positive outcomes of the programme.

  • The Gawura classroom space provides a cultural hub and safe haven for the students and their families, which has a huge impact on a child’s learning. Governments have been working on ways to engage Indigenous children successfully in education for many years – decades of consultation and research has highlighted that cultural hubs, high attendance rates, culturally appropriate curriculum and parent involvement, is critical to engaging Indigenous children successfully in learning. Gawura meets all these criteria.
  • In the SACS Junior School, parents and the Junior School are ‘co-contributors’ to a child’s learning. In many cases, at Gawura, the school is the number one provider of literacy and numeracy support. As a result, the Gawura teachers focus on increasing the number of hours of literacy and numeracy teaching in their weekly curriculum beyond the standard seven hours per week required by the NSW Board of Studies (BOSTES).
  • While Gawura students have their own classroom space in which they spend every morning, the afternoons are taken up sharing lessons with SACS Junior School students such as Science, Music, Religion. The students also spend morning tea and lunch together as well as participate in sport and swimming carnivals and many other activities.
  • An added advantage of Gawura being a small school in its own right, is that of funding. As 100% of the students are Indigenous, and as the school has less than 30 students, at the moment (this could change with change in Government) we receive maximum Federal Government ‘Indigenous supplement’ per child. We lose this funding when the Gawura students transition into St Andrew’s Cathedral School for their secondary education.

What do you mean by a culturally enriching environment, why is it so important and what does this entail?

Gawura celebrates its ten year birthday next year. Over the past ten years, Gawura has proven, beyond any doubt, that it is possible to stop the numeracy and literacy gap ever forming in young aboriginal children if they are exposed to a dedicated education designed to focus on numeracy and literacy and, importantly, address their disengagement from their own culture.

“In Aboriginal culture, identity and connection to country is everything – if you don’t understand your identity, then you really struggle. In a way – if you don’t have your identity, you are no-one. Gawura is very much in touch with Aboriginal culture. It is a part of the everyday life of the school. The kids grow up learning about their backgrounds and working out their identities from the minute they walk through the door. This gives them such wonderful self-confidence”. Gawura mum, Taminya.

Gawura is in touch with Indigenous culture, as identified by Taminya above, because we work closely with, and are guided by, our Gawura families and Indigenous communities to ensure that the cultural aspects of daily life at Gawura are relevant and meaningful. We meet twice a term with our parents and carers to seek their counsel on important cultural issues. Each morning, Gawura students take it in turns to do an Acknowledgement of Country to see in the new day. Aboriginal Perspectives is taught each week where stories are shared on The Dreaming, Indigenous history, Indigenous culture and Indigenous participation in Australian life. The students read books and write stories that incorporate their cultural background, language groups and country. They learn who they are and where they are from and are taught to be proud of their Indigenous heritage from the minute they step foot in the classroom.

During important Indigenous celebrations and events throughout the year, Gawura works with the parents to determine the best ways to honour these events. They include Reconcilation Week, NAIDOC Week, National Sorry Day. Our Gawura parents offer their time in many ways to share their knowledge and pass on their learnings to the students. For example, we have a regular art class with one of our Gawura dads who teaches the students to paint in traditional ways and explains the traditional meanings. We engage our Indigenous community to teach dance, song and performance – both contemporary dance and song with traditional meaning in addition to traditional dance and song.

Is Indigenous culture incorporated into the Junior School and wider St Andrew’s?

Yes, the Junior School, Middle School and Senior College incorporate cultural aspects into their curriculum. The school celebrates NAIDOC week each year with individual class activities and whole school assemblies.  St Andrew’s is the richer for having Gawura and as students continue to engage with our Gawura students, they continue to learn about the sensitivities and nuances of Indigenous culture. The school organises music tours to Europe and the US which incorporate music from contemporary Australian composers, musical pieces and performances from our ancient and first Australians and a repertoire of modern and traditional orchestral pieces.

In the Junior School and Gawura, the students share cultural experiences by learning together in History, Geography, Science, Technology, Music and Art classes as well as sharing all Sporting opportunities. All of the teachers in the Junior School have had training in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island History and Culture including workshops, online modules, conferences and guest speakers. The Junior School and Gawura teachers also work closely with consultants from the Association of Independent Schools to ensure ensuring culturally sensitive and appropriate planning and delivery of curriculum. The students celebrate together important cultural events such as Sorry Day,  NAIDOC and Reconciliation Week. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives are explored in depth through History, Geography and Art subjects. The shared learning experiences benefit both the Gawura students and the students of the Junior School equally.

Where do the students complete their secondary education after they graduate from Gawura?

On completion of Year 6, the students transition into St Andrew’s Cathedral School for their secondary education  on full scholarships funded by a combination of well established Family Foundations, Corporate Foundations, Individuals and families. Gawura scholarships are not funded by St Andrew’s Cathedral School fees however St Andrew’s parents are very welcome to make a donation. The students are supported and mentored by David North in secondary school, together with their allocated House tutors and tutors in the Secondary Homework Club which runs four nights a week. Students are required to attend at least two nights of Homework Club per week. The Homework Club is also supported by mentors from the AIME programme. The Senior College students work closely with our Careers Advisor, Mr Des Sinovich, who explores relevant university options, work experience and TAFE dependent on the courses they choose or direction they head.

How does the teaching of Indigenous culture work with the teaching of Christian values in the Gawura classroom?

Gawura students are taught about Aboriginal Spirituality, Culture and Dreaming as part of the Aboriginal Perspectives class. They are also taught Christianity in their weekly Christian Development class and attendance at Chapel services. The students are left to form their own opinions on whether their belief systems are more aligned to Aboriginal Spirituality or Christianity. Should there be any issues in relation to the different belief systems for our students, an Indigenous Elder would be invited to the classroom to advise on these matters.

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