“How can we as a school and as a community stand with hands in pocket and wait for governments to act when the original people of our land continue to be the most disadvantaged people in our country?” Phillip Heath, on the occasion of the formal opening of Gawura, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, November 2007.
The formation of Gawura in 2007 occurred in response to the overwhelming evidence of underachievement and social disadvantage among people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. As a day school in the centre of the city of Sydney, St Andrew’s Cathedral School regarded its best contribution to this challenge to be offered to urban Indigenous people who live in the inner city suburbs of Redfern/Waterloo and nearby, where there is a considerable concentration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The approach of Gawura education is to focus on literacy and numeracy attainment such that the children achieve at a level at least commensurate with non-Indigenous peers at the School. The pre-eminence of Indigenous cultures and the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities in a nurturing environment provides the essential backdrop against which this academic achievement takes place. Strong processes of consultation with Gawura families from the outset preserve a sense of Indigenous community engagement with the education being provided. Students are also afforded access to the resources and the institutional narrative of St Andrew’s Cathedral School, which was founded in 1885.
The remarkable, even spectacular evidence of progress made by the children of Gawura suggests that one or more of these elements contribute to positive educational outcomes for urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The steady and systematic approach to literacy and numeracy acquisition strategies coupled with high levels of parent and community involvement provide a strong partnership that meets many of the National Goals for Indigenous Education.