After decades as a public school principal, Andrew Plastow left the system, desperate for curriculum trends that he says don’t empower Indigenous students.

“It was this frustration of aboriginal children to be seen in the deficit – ‘close the gap, close the gap, close the gap,” he said.

The Kamilaroi man decided to act on his frustrations and founded a new school, Ngutu College, based on indigenous teaching methods.

The college opened in Adelaide this year and nearly 40% of the 105 students are indigenous, a figure the school aims to increase to more than half.

Private school experience at public school prices

Although it is a private school, more than two-thirds of the students in the college receive their education for free.

Principal Andrew Plastow said the school offers free education to the majority of its students, providing “access for everyone”.(

ABC News: Gabriella Marchant

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Mr Plastow said the school has made innovative use of Commonwealth funding, which allocates more to the most disadvantaged students.

“We are using these charges instead of tuition fees,” he said.

“This year, it’s about 70% of our children.

“[It’s] to give everyone access and provide the incredible resources that are available to a lot of kids who are in the independent sector, in what we would often describe as elite, private schools. “

He said the school’s goal was to value all areas of the curriculum equally and to allow children to follow their interests, rather than continuing to read, write, and arithmetic at the expense of other subjects. .

“It has become absolute to focus on schooling becoming around two subjects, English and math,” he said.

“What I discovered over time is that Aboriginal children have a very, very strong spatial sense, and in the NAPLAN test for example, spatial math questions were decreasing.”

Children are encouraged to follow their instincts and interests

Mr Plastow said indigenous teaching methods, along with a focus on culture, art and the child’s ability to follow their interests and instincts, were essential.

“In general, Aboriginal culture provides a lot more space for children to develop and trust them to be able to take care of themselves in an environment,” he said.

A girl wearing a black bucket hat and a dark school sweater smiles at the camera
Isabella, Andrew Plastow’s daughter, attends school and enjoys the freedom to tailor her learning to her interests and skills.(

ABC News: Gabriella Marchant

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Mr Plastow’s daughter Isabella, a pupil at the school, said the children could organize their own schedule to complete schoolwork and tailor it to what they liked.

“Personally, I like numeracy, so math and stuff like that, but there are other kids out there who like to read and write, and not so much math,” she said.

Isabella said the school also abolished homework.

“[My dad] wants people to come home and spend time with their families, which is not what happens with homework – you are sort of locked in a room and you do nothing but work ” , she said.

“We want children to see themselves as a mathematician, a musician, a scientist”

Student Isabella Janes was given the opportunity to learn Kaurna, the language of the Adelaide Plains, but decided to learn sign language instead.

“My dad had a brother who couldn’t talk and I want to know what he did with his brother,” she said.

Mr Plastow said giving students a variety of experiences was a key priority, including providing space at the school for residences in a variety of professions.

A smiling girl with blond hair and a button down shirt is holding a paintbrush in the air
Gwyneth Sumner-Getsinger, a student at Ngutu College, works on her art at the Woodville North School.(

ABC News: Gabriella Marchant

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“Our kids will see that their visual art studio is right next to an amazing professional artist, and they will see that they are part of an artist village, and really reinforce that notion of artist, with so many talent and as much potential as the person in the studio next to them, ”he said.

Mr Plastow said that although the school’s approach is based on autochthony, the experience enriched all students, regardless of their background.

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