By helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys finish year 12, Clontarf Foundation is creating multi-generational change.
Each weekday during the school year, thousands of Indigenous boys rise early and board a chartered bus to one of the 148 Clontarf Academies embedded in high schools around Australia. It’s an active step towards a better future.
The gap in education is stark. For a complex set of reasons, the school attendance rate of Indigenous children, nationally, is 14% lower than non-Indigenous students and as low as 63%, on average, in remote areas. Clontarf Academy targets communities with even lower attendance rates across 158 schools in five Australian states and the Northern Territory.
With the cooperation of First Nations communities and each jurisdiction’s department of education, the academies have been helping an increasing number of boys finish Year 12 each year.
“We do lots of really healthy activities, fun stuff, but the kids have to demonstrate the values and attitudes expected in the academy."
Clontarf’s method is simple yet effective. If a participant’s attendance stays above 80%, and his discipline record is clear, he’s rewarded with organised sports and outings to build health and self-esteem – including camping, fishing and meeting Australian football legends. If he’s not achieving 80% or above, Clontarf aims to address his personal challenges and increase his attendance.
Over time, the link between personal responsibility and positive outcomes becomes clear. “We do lots of really healthy activities, fun stuff, but the kids have to demonstrate the values and attitudes expected in the academy,” says James Grant, Partnerships Manager at Clontarf Foundation. While boys are under the keen eye of a Clontarf employee, Grant says: “This is a behaviour change program that works because the boys make the change themselves.”
In 2023, Goodman Foundation is supporting Clontarf to open three new academies in Tweed River and Lake Cargelligo in NSW, and Ballarat in Victoria. “Without Goodman’s support, we couldn’t go ahead with any of them,” says Grant. The Foundation is also directly funding academies in Cranebrook (Penrith) and Matraville in Sydney’s south-east.
Goodman employees are set to raise $250,000 to support Clontarf Foundation, matched by Goodman Foundation to total $500,000.
Clontarf’s scalable, holistic model is yielding extraordinary long-term results. Twenty years after its first graduates exited the program in 2002, a study conducted by Clontarf found 94% of them are working full-time, compared to 50% of Indigenous males across the general population.
Moreover, they are earning significantly higher salaries than their peers and 56% own their own homes, compared to the national Indigenous average of 38%. Perhaps the most positive finding is that all of the 2002 Clontarf alumni say their own children “always attend school”, putting those kids at 80-100% attendance: on par with the wider Australian community.
Given Clontarf now has over 10,000 boys in its program, Grant says the study was enormously encouraging. “If you are Aboriginal, or not Aboriginal, you feel vulnerable if you can’t support yourself. But if these outcomes happen with every graduate, it solves a massive issue for the wider community.”