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Re-centering outback education: policy & practice

Chief Investigators: Associate Professor Philip Roberts and Peter Macbeth (NSW DET, Director Educational Leadership Far West Principal Network).

Co-Investigators: Dr Amy McPherson (ACU), Prof Adrian Piccoli, (UNSW, Dir. Gonski Institute for Education), Dr Kevin Lowe (UNSW Scientia Indigenous Research Fellow), Ms Julie Philp (NSW AECG, regional President Western 3), Dr Amanda Edwards (UC), Dr David Paterson (UC) & Ms Natalie Downes (UC)


Education has been occurring for over 60 000 years in the Australian continent.  However, for the last 231 years the interests and approaches of a few densely populated cities on the coastal fringe, and their global connections, have dominated understandings of how education should be delivered. The nature of education that developed has been ‘spatially blind’ and modelled on practices suited to densely populated locations and the needs of urban communities. The perspectives of rural communities are rarely genuinely considered. Even rural and regional education policy has taken a generic approach, focusing on the general needs of the diversity of rural and regional schools ranging from large regional centres, to coastal schools as well as remote schools.  Consequently, the unique education needs of outback communities as a specific sub-group of communities has not been properly understood. What if we threw out the urban education rule book and let a cluster of communities and cultures design a new outback education system?


This research project, across a defined cluster of outback communities in western NSW, aims to ‘re-calibrate’ the purpose and delivery of education both philosophically and practically by understandings education from a non-metropolitan context. This research will identify and promote the positives and successes of ‘outback’ schooling as understood by communities and teachers. By uncovering knowledge and practices in outback communities about what these communities expect from school education and how they think education can be best delivered it will better inform the ‘system’ about how to deliver outback schooling. This will enable practices to be developed that better align with the needs, interests and conditions of outback communities.  It will also improve staffing and leadership by helping school systems better understand communities, and their educational aspirations, in their own terms.

Re-centering outback education diagram

The project has five strands:

  1. The identification and application of community-developed indicators of educational ‘success’. This will create a community developed ‘metric’ to re-think outback education that relates to community need and values.
  2. Policy: How would policies pertaining to the running of schools look if they were shaped from an outback perspective? We aim to understand new approaches to policy that serve outback communities.
  3. Teacher success: How is education ‘actually’ delivered in the outback from the perspective of practitioners. We aim to identify an celebrate outback innovation.
  4. Staffing: further to teacher success, this aspect explores how working in an outback school develops a teachers professional and personal capacities.  This is an approach focussed upon the positives of working in outback schools that can use to help attract and reattain teachers.
  5. Youth: How do youth engage in civic participation in the community and their perceptions of education and the future of their communities.


The outcome for the first phase of this research is to identify perspectives on education and practice from an outback perspective and deliver recommendations for change – curriculum, teaching, school governance and so on. By understanding outback education from the perspective of its practitioners and communities we can develop a strength-based approach to help inform ‘the centre’ and therefore apply more locally informed practices that are more likely to be effective. The research will identify initiatives that can be implemented and trialed in schools.