Cultural integrity in our schools

The Education Directorate is taking a new approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, as the Directorate’s Patrick Chapman explains.

From 2018, the Directorate’s approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education will be strengths-based with a focus on Cultural Integrity across all ACT public schools.

Cultural Integrity describes the environment a school creates to:

  • demonstrate both respect and high regard for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures, knowledge systems and languages
  • welcome and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and local community members
  • meet the learning needs and aspirations of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

There is no one way to develop Cultural Integrity and each school will have different strategies depending on their Cultural Integrity priorities and the priorities of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and families.

We are creating an environment of high expectations for our students and our schools. The Directorate’s expectations of schools when supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students will be clearer than they have ever been. With a suite of new resources, schools will be better supported to meet those expectations.

One of the resources is the Cultural Integrity Continuum (below) which schools can use to assess where they sit along the scale and what their Cultural Integrity priorities should be for the year.

cultural integrity pic

The four Cultural Integrity Dimensions are designed to assist schools to self-assess their current practice against the Cultural Integrity Continuum. Each level builds upon previous levels, and for this reason individual descriptors are not necessarily articulated across levels from ‘enquiring’ to ‘leading’.

Schools are already building their Cultural Integrity and creating welcoming environments for their students and families in a number of different ways including:

  • creating school board positions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents/caregivers
  • providing professional learning opportunities for teaching and administration staff, as well as school leaders
  • hosting celebrations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in partnership with parents, students and the local community.

Cultural Integrity in action

Kingsford Smith Koori Preschool Acknowledgement of Country

As part of an ongoing conversation about the importance of acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, Kingsford Smith Koori Preschool students, with their Koori preschool assistant, adapted an Acknowledgement of Country which is used in preschools around Australia to help young children learn to connect to country and culture, whilst learning valuable motor and verbal skills: “We at Koori Pre, would like to say thank you to the Ngunnawal people, of the Canberra Nation, for letting us share your land. We promise to look after it, the animals and people too. Hello land (all touch the land). Hello sky (arms up to the sky). Hello me (hug self). Hello friends (open arms).”

Ngunnawal Plant Use guide

Some schools have explored ways to incorporate the Ngunnawal Plant Use guide into their teaching and learning programs. The book includes an introduction to Ngunnawal history and natural resource use, descriptions and photos of 69 different plant species, including their use, distribution and method of propagation. All schools received a copy of the book and associated materials to use in classrooms.

Buroinjin carnivals and gala days

Inter-school Buroinjin carnivals and gala days for students in years 5 to 10 have become well known events across ACT public schools. In many schools, the sport of Buroinjin has been incorporated into physical activity programs and school culture with lunchtime games becoming a common occurrence. The 2018 primary school gala and high school carnival saw nearly 800 students from more than thirty schools participate over two days.


By building Cultural Integrity in all schools, the ACT is growing richer, more engaging learning environments for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and for the whole school community.  ●


Patrick Chapman is the Assistant Manager of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education at the ACT Education Directorate.

This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 3, 2018.