Tony Abbott sets new school attendance target for indigenous students

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott has set a target of bridging the gap in school attendance between indigenous and non-indigenous pupils within five years.

    Delivering the annual Prime Minister's report on progress in closing the gap between black and white in health, education and employment, Mr Abbott told parliament on Wednesday these efforts would be ''doomed to fail ... until we achieve the most basic target of all: the expectation that every child will attend school every day''.

    ''Right around our country, it should be possible to be proudly Aboriginal and a full participant in modern Australia,'' Mr Abbott said.

    ''That doesn't just mean access to a good education in cities, towns and remote settlements – it means actually going to school.

    ''So I propose to add a new target to our existing Closing the Gap targets: namely to end the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous school attendance within five years.

    ''I hope I am here long enough to be judged on its achievement,'' he said.

    Mr Abbott's government has funded truancy officers at 40 remote schools with the poorest attendance rates. He said the measure, which started in January, had boosted attendance from under 60 per cent to over 90 per cent in some places.

    At his first Council of Australian Governments meeting in December, every state and territory agreed with the Commonwealth on the need to publish attendance data from every school.

    Mr Abbott said school attendance data would be part of the next closing the gap report and all future reports under his government.

    Future reports would also report on successes and failures in Aboriginal education. He described progress on closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy as ''disappointing.''

    Mr Abbott said the lower attendance rates were, the more likely it was that a school was failing its students. He said failing to give children the education they needed for a decent life was ''one of the worst forms of neglect.''

    ''Our job is to break the tyranny of low expectations,'' he said.

    ''We will know that this gap has been all-but-closed when schools achieve 90 per cent plus attendance regardless of their percentage of Aboriginal students.''

    Praising the Rudd and Gillard governments for trying to quarantine the welfare payments of families whose children did not attend school, Mr Abbott said the challenge was ''to turn good intentions into better outcomes.''

    Opposition leader Bill Shorten pledged Labor's support for the school attendance target.

    But Mr Shorten also urged Mr Abbott to adopt three new targets proposed by Labor, relating to higher education, criminal justice and disability support.

    Signalling Labor would not automatically support Coalition measures in the area, Mr Shorten made a thinly-veiled criticism of its school attendance push, arguing that fostering a love of learning in children would do more to lift their school achievement than ''limited interaction with a time-poor truancy officer''.

    Defending Labor's record, he pleaded with Mr Abbott not to discard the work of the Rudd and Gillard governments.

    ''I ask the government – please don't start again just because you can,'' he said. ''Please don't go back to a blank piece of paper, just to enhance your claim to authorship.

    ''Together, let us build on the foundation that's been laid. Let closing the gap be a cause of which we can all be justifiably proud. Closing the gap should not be an achievement that belongs to a coalition government or a Labor one, but indeed a monument to the decency, compassion and imagination of the modern Australia.''

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