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Blog post

What are the success factors for schools in remote Indigenous communities?

Anthony Dillon, Lecturer at Australian Catholic University

Indigenous students around the world experience poorer educational outcomes compared to their non-Indigenous peers. In Australia, this trend is particularly prevalent in remote areas (Guenther et al., 2019). Despite the Australian government’s investments in quality education for Indigenous students, data shows little improvement (ACARA, 2023). In our recent study, we sought to explore the drivers of Indigenous student success in two remote communities (Dillon et al., 2024), where one school from each community was selected. Using a comparative case study approach (Heale & Twycross, 2017) and capitalising on stakeholder voices (Indigenous students, parents, school staff and community leaders) we identified key factors that enable Indigenous student thriving in remote communities. We were guided by an Indigenous research paradigm (Getty, 2010) as it prioritises Indigenous voices in all phases of the research process.

Two researchers (one Indigenous and one non-Indigenous) conducted school-based interviews in two remote communities. A total of 53 participants were interviewed (22 children, 31 adults) and discussed what students liked and disliked about school; how they would describe the school; whether a sense of community existed among peers; and the importance of local culture. Interviews were transcribed and coded and subjected to a thematic analysis (Clarke & Braun, 2017).

Our findings revealed several key features that we suggest might reveal what works for this minoritised group of learners.

Academic wellbeing

To enhance academic wellbeing, schools provide well-resourced classrooms, strong literacy foundations, and teacher wellbeing and performance support. Teachers teach adaptively and are supported by school leadership.

Cultural wellbeing

Both schools ensured staff cultural competence and Indigenous staff facilitated vital relationships (such as between school and parent, or student and non-Indigenous staff). This was enacted through working closely with local Indigenous Elders and using Indigenous teaching assistants to facilitate communication between the school and parents.

Physical wellbeing

External agency partners (for instance the local medical centre) provided regular testing and incentives for students to monitor, promote and maintain physical wellbeing. Students learned to build skills in recognising their own health problems and were encouraged to ask for help. This likely helped to drive up good attendance which is commonly affected by ill-health.

Psychological wellbeing

Hopeful children have better psychological adjustment to deal with life’s challenges (Snyder, 2002). Hence, students at both schools are taught about their available opportunities to enrich their own lives and engage outside of their communities, if they so desire. To further support psychological wellbeing both schools taught students emotion regulation skills, such as having calm thoughts to manage stress or anger. In addition, staff needs must be met in order to meet student needs, hence leadership teams of both schools prioritised staff psychological wellbeing and needs.

Social wellbeing

Both schools strongly promoted social wellbeing and provided opportunities for family involvement at school, including facilitating strong relationships with staff. Each school principal referred to not being seen as ‘the boss’ but as effortfully encouraging active community participation.

‘Educators in remote Indigenous communities can incorporate local Indigenous ways and knowledge in the curriculum, along with other wellbeing strategies to empower students to be their best and prepare them for broader society participation.’


Guided by the Indigenous research paradigm, our research probed beyond academic achievements to highlight complex social and psychological contributions to the educational experiences of those 14 per cent of young Indigenous people living in remote or very remote Australia (ABS, 2021), often lost in aggregated data. By interviewing stakeholders of school communities with prominent Indigeneity, this allowed authentic Indigenous voices to be heard on issues directly affecting their community. As both schools were highly integrated with their local Indigenous communities, invaluable perspectives were gained from significant community members (such as parents and Elders). This research shows that skilled teaching staff alongside their remote communities are committed to understanding how to facilitate Indigenous students thriving for improved academic outcomes. Evidence highlights how educators in remote Indigenous communities can incorporate local Indigenous ways and knowledge in the curriculum, along with other wellbeing strategies to empower students to be their best and prepare them for broader society participation.

This blog post is based on the article ‘What are the success factors for schools in remote Indigenous communities?’ by Anthony Dillon, Philip Riley, Nicola Filardi, Alicia Franklin, Marcus Horwood, Jennifer McMullan, Rhonda G. Craven and Melissa Schellekens, published in the British Educational Research Journal.


Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS]. (2024). Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA]. (2023). NAPLAN national results.

Clarke, V., & Braun, V. (2017). Thematic analysis. Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(3), 297–298.

Dillon, A., Riley, P., Filardi, N., Franklin, A., Horwood, M., McMullan, J., Craven, R. G., & Schellekens, M. (2024). What are the success factors for schools in remote Indigenous communities? British Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication.

Dreise, T., Milgate, G., Perrett, B., & Meston, T. (2016). Indigenous school attendance: Creating expectations that are ‘really high’ and ‘highly real’. Australian Council for Educational Research.

Fogarty, W., Lovell, S., & Dodson, M. (2015). A view beyond review: Challenging assumptions in Indigenous education development. UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 4(2), 1–21.

Getty, G. A. (2010). The journey between Western and Indigenous research paradigms. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 21(1), 5–14.

Guenther, J., Lowe, K., Burgess, C., Vass, G., & Moodie, N. (2019). Factors contributing to educational outcomes for First Nations students from remote communities: A systematic review. The Australian Educational Researcher, 46(2), 319–340.

Heale, R., & Twycross, A. (2018). What is a case study? Evidence-based nursing, 21(1), 7–8.

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249–275.