Missing from school: Australia's Aboriginal children

School attendance for Aboriginal children in Australia falls dramatically in their teens. Photo: ITV News

By Tim Ewart, Royal Correspondent

Australia likes to lay on a traditional indigenous welcome for its special visitors.

Earlier this year, Aboriginal dancers greeted William and Kate to Uluru, or Ayers Rock as the settlers named it, and the royal couple arrived at Sydney zoo to the strains of a didgeridoo.

But Australia's treatment of the indigenous minority remains a shameful blot on its history. The forced removal of children, the stolen generations, was the most infamous injustice. A formal government apology was forthcoming only six years ago.

Times are changing, but a huge gulf still exists between the indigenous Aboriginal population and rest of Australian society.

The government believes that the key to closing it lies with improved education: getting more indigenous children into school and, crucially, keeping them there.

They've set a five year target for bringing indigenous school attendance up to the national average.

It feels like a big ask. In the more remote, outback areas of Australia official figures show that 87 per cent of indigenous children struggle to read and write.

Barely half attend school after the age of 15. The seems little chance if them escaping the cycle of high unemployment, poor health and drug and alcohol abuse so prevalent in the indigenous community.

Leaders of that community gathered to talk to us in the town of Wellington, New South Wales, where about a quarter of the population is indigenous.

They accept that many parents are not doing enough to make their children stay at school.

But they insist that the special needs of indigenous children are not properly recognised and that there are not enough Aboriginal teachers to help them.

The blunt talking Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, dismisses that as "more bloody excuses" and argues that solving the problem lies in the hands of families which have been too tolerant of truancy.

Uluru, Australia. Credit: ITV News

Australia has around 670,000 indigenous people, just three per cent of its population.

In a country we associate with affluence and a high quality of life, their deprivations can seem particularly unfair. But is there at last reason to hope that things might be about to change?

Tim Ewart's film about aboriginal education in Australia can be seen in On Assignment, tonight at 10.35pm on ITV1.