More financial assistance ‘likely’ for remote NT families struggling to access boarding schools

Families living in remote parts of the Northern Territory say they are struggling more than anyone in Australia to access appropriate education for their children.

Sarah and Craig Cook manage Aileron Station, a cattle station 130 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

After 12 years of correspondence schooling, their only son Hayes will start secondary school at Downlands College in Toowoomba next year.

Like many geographically isolated families in the Top End, what is on offer for them in the Northern Territory is inadequate, mostly because the only agricultural school, Taminmin College, does not have boarding facilities.

“We had to look at Hayes’ desires and loves and aspirations, the character of the child and the things that he needs and then we had to weigh those up against the family situation and we didn’t find a boarding school in the NT that had all of those fits for us,” Ms Cook said.

For Ms Cook, having her only son move to Queensland was not an easy choice.

“We have been so involved in his growing up, he has been educated in our house, so his education has been part of our world, and now I just feel that going to boarding school, we’re going to lose touch of that just a little bit and not being able to visit him regularly really worries me,” she said.


Boarding fees prohibitive for many families

Figures from the Australian Department of Social Services estimated parents like Sarah and Craig Cook pay around $63,000 per year, per child, for boarding and tuition fees.

To ease the financial burden, the Federal Government offers a means-tested boarding allowance of up to $8,000.

Most states offer an additional payment between $1,400 and $4,898.

The Northern Territory offers the least, with a $600 payment for parents who send their child to boarding school within in the NT.

If the school is interstate, they receive just 43 cents per kilometre to get to the nearest airport.

NT Education Minister Eva Lawler conceded that was not enough.

“$600 isn’t a lot nowadays, with the cost of travel, with the cost of school clothing, all of those issues that families experience, so yes, I’ll be definitely looking into that one,” Ms Lawler said.

“That funding hasn’t changed in a long, long time.

“I wasn’t aware of what all the other states do around their funding and that’s what I’ve asked my department to do — to provide me with information as to what are the allowances that the other states have.”

She said it was likely there would be an increase in the payment.

Tiani Cook from the Isolated Children’s Parents Association said parents in the Northern Territory were asking to be treated the same as their interstate counterparts.

“An increase to the Living Away from Home Allowance would be an amazing help for our members, we’re not asking for more, we’re just asking for something to bring us into alignment,” she said.

“I’m very hopeful, our discussions with Minister Lawler indicated that she was on the same page as us, so that’s left us thinking that very hopefully it will get over the line.”

By Dijana Damjanovic

Click here to view the article on the ABC news website