Rhetoric vs reality: The disconnect between policy and practice for teachers implementing Aboriginal education in their schools





Indigenous education, Aboriginal education policy, Bacchi WPR analysis, teaching practice, policy discourse


In Australia, pervasive deficit representations and positioning of Aboriginal peoples continue to impact on teachers’ capacity to meaningfully embed Aboriginal curriculum and pedagogies into their teaching. This sits within a policy context driven by standardization, competition and market forces focused on closing the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal student outcomes to address the statistical dissonance caused by Aboriginal underachievement. Our analysis is informed by Bacchi’s (2009) ‘What’s the ‘problem’ represented to be?’ analytical tool. We reveal discourses that position Aboriginal peoples as the ‘problem’ and the effects of these on teacher practice. Using the 2019 Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, which represents a national partisan vision of Australian education, we demonstrate how discourses of community engagement, Reconciliation and data-driven solutions continue to position Aboriginal peoples as incapable, and government as savior. This flags the silencing of Aboriginal peoples’ key concerns of racism, social justice, truth-telling, sovereignty, and treaty, all of which are central to the ongoing fight for voice, reparative justice and recognition. Until these concerns are heard and accounted for in policies, the gap will remain, teachers will continue to struggle to meaningfully engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies and curriculum content and consequently fail Aboriginal aspirations.


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Author Biographies

Cathie Burgess, University of Sydney

Associate Professor Cathie Burgess is a non-Indigenous teacher who has spent over 35 years working in Indigenous education in schools and universities. She is connected to the Redfern Aboriginal community through family, work and sports and centres local Aboriginal community voices in her teaching and research programs. Professor Burgess coordinates undergraduate and postgraduate Aboriginal studies, Aboriginal community engagement and leadership in Aboriginal education programs. Her current research includes the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project, Learning from Country in the City, and Sparking Imagination Education: Transforming Inequality in School.

Kevin Lowe, UNSW

Associate Professor Kevin Lowe is a Gubbi Gubbi man from southeast Queensland. He is a Scientia Indigenous Fellow at UNSW, working on a community and school focused research project on developing a model of sustainable improvement in Aboriginal education. Kevin has had experience in education as a teacher, administrator and lecturer. He has expertise in working with Aboriginal community organisations on establishing Aboriginal language policy and school curriculum implementation. Recently Kevin has worked with colleagues to review research across key areas of schooling and established Aboriginal Voices, a broad-base, holistic project which is developing a new pedagogic framework for teachers.




How to Cite

Burgess, C., & Lowe, K. (2022). Rhetoric vs reality: The disconnect between policy and practice for teachers implementing Aboriginal education in their schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 30, (97). https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.30.6175



Teachers and Educational Policy: Markets, Populism, and Im/Possibilities for Resistance