NPP Projects

Yarning the way: The Role of Indigenous Education Paraprofessionals in Guiding the Post-school Pathways of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth

Lead University: University of Newcastle

Lead Researcher: Maree Gruppetta

Research Team: Maree Gruppetta, Erica Southgate, Robyn Ober, Liz Cameron, John Fischetti, Amy Thunig, Treesa Heath, Karinda Burns and Shirley Clifton

Year Funded: 2015

Funding Received: $140,981


This project examined the role of Indigenous education paraprofessionals in facilitating post-school education options and access for Indigenous young people, and sought insight into barriers to, and enablers of, post-school education for this cohort. Literature review, yarning circles and interviews informed a set of culturally appropriate principles, applicable to policy and practice strategies, to increase Indigenous student access to, and participation in, higher education.

Project outline

  • The project’s objectives were to:
    • identify new knowledge on the role of Indigenous Education Paraprofessionals (IEPs) within schools and communities in facilitating post-school education and access for Indigenous young people
    • gain insights from the IEPs into barriers and enablers to post-school education for Indigenous young people
    • develop culturally appropriate principles to inform the development of policy and practical strategies to increase Indigenous students’ access to, and participation in, higher education.
  • Literature reviews were undertaken.
  • Yarning circles were held at the University of Newcastle and Deakin University.
  • A total of 35 IEPs were interviewed, 28 of whom were from high schools, and seven from primary schools.
    • The lead research question to IEPs was “What is the role of IEPs working with Indigenous young people, their families and communities towards access to, and participation in, post-school education, particularly higher education?”
    • Four sub-research questions were also asked.

Key findings

  • This was the first national project to systematically collect and analyse data on the role of IEPs in guiding young Indigenous people towards higher education across urban, regional and remote settings.
  • The research highlighted a number of enablers and barriers, as well as providing a number of recommendations.
  • Enablers included:
    • connections between schools and community to support Indigenous students and families, and the values placed on these paraprofessional roles to support that connection
    • belief in, and support for, education from family and community
    • relationships supporting students in their learning (teachers and students, with families and communities).
  • Barriers included:
    • deficit modeling of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with limited recognition of success in any area or field
    • low expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
    • insufficient education of schools on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, and educational, cultural and socioeconomic needs — it is a shared responsibility of teachers and schools to support these needs.


  • Further research to provide comparison between each state and territory Indigenous education models and advisory models, and where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education paraprofessionals are included within these to ensure ongoing support for this role.
  • Provide more transitions between primary to secondary to tertiary education to support post-education options for further education.
  • Ensure school responsibility for work experience placements and ongoing support so that students without the cultural capital to find placements still achieve work experience and internships.
  • Government subsidies to workplaces/individuals to support the attainment of higher education credential for paraprofessionals.
  • Formally recognise and showcase best practice in schools and programs supporting the transition to post-secondary study.
  • Educate the executive roles within schools to provide more support and accountability for ensuring smooth post-school education transitions.
  • National statistics on Indigenous access and participation for fields of education and school achievement outcomes (VET credential or ATAR) should be made publicly available.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.

Posted 15 October 2018