ECEC Provider in Focus: Ida Standley Preschool
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ECEC Provider in Focus: Ida Standley Preschool

by Freya Lucas

April 05, 2024

Ida Standley Preschool is a 37 place, Exceeding rated service located in the Northern Territory.  The preschool is significant as it was the first service created for Aboriginal children in the Alice Springs community. 


What is the history of Ida Standley Preschool? 


The preschool was established by Father Percy Smith and Lucy Britain in 1953 as part of their affiliation with the Anglican Church. 


The pair were concerned that Aboriginal children who lived in the town area of Alice Springs did not have access to preschool facilities. 


A preschool for other children in the town was established in 1946, however only caucasian children attended. While Aboriginal children were not precluded from attending, a local historian noted that “their circumstances made it difficult for them to do so.”


Aboriginal children living in Alice Springs at the time typically lived in an area known as The Gap, which was south of the main township. A combination of physical isolation and socio-economic conditions, as well as a lack of transportation made preschool attendance a challenge. 


Father Smith and Mrs Britain took action, along with co-founder Nathalie Gorey, a primary school teacher, when they became aware that Aboriginal children were typically behind the developmental level of their peers on starting school. 


The pair used their connections with the local Aboriginal community to encourage them to attend the preschool, arranging a government truck to go to The Gap each day, pick up the children and return them at the end of the day, which solved the transport problem.


The preschool was run from St John’s Hostel, where children were given meals, and supported by Mrs Britain and local woman Marie Burke, an Aboriginal lady living at nearby St Mary’s Hostel with her two daughters. Ms Burke was more than likely the first Aboriginal teacher aide in Australia.


In 1960 the Government established an Aboriginal preschool in Alice Springs – The Ida Standley Preschool – which was led by Director Nancy Barnes (nee Brumbie) who was the first qualified Aboriginal preschool teacher in Australia.


The preschool is named after Ida Standley who held the first teaching position in the first school in Alice Springs/Stuart, Northern Territory, from 1914-1928. By teaching caucasian children in the morning and Aboriginal children in the afternoon it is likely that Ida Standley’s school at Alice Springs was the first government multi-cultural school in Australia.


In 1929, she received the Member of the Order of the British Empire, services to child welfare in Central Australia. Ida Standley retired from teaching in 1929 and died in Sydney in 1948.


What is the Ida Standley vision and approach to learning? 


Ida Standley Preschool exists in the broader cohort of Sadadeen Primary School, a unique urban primary school catering for students from Preschool to year 6. The school has a current enrolment of approximately 200 students, which includes the KITES program, Nathalie Gorey and Ida Standley Preschools. 


Positive engagement in student learning is at the centre of all educational programs, which is enhanced by a focus on the creative arts and trauma-informed practice, as well as working actively with the school community. Sadadeen supports cultural diversity and understanding, and has a vision of ‘Learning Together, Connecting the Community.’


In 2023, Sadadeen Primary School decided to simplify and condense the number of values and learner qualities, changing from ‘safe, respectful, and responsible’ to ‘safe, respectful, kind and strong.’


Work then began on the symbols of these values during SEL lessons, with the students’ designing pictures and symbols that are to be used to represent the new values, both on posters and on new signage around the school. 


There was a special unveiling of the values which occurred in conjunction with Sadadeen’s 40th Birthday celebration held August 2023.


The explicit teaching of these values allows students to learn and practice using these values in a variety of settings and situations.


Are there any unique aspects to the Ida Standley offer? 


70 per cent of the students who attend Sadadeen Primary School, Nathalie Gorey and Ida Standley Preschool are Aboriginal, with many different language groups represented. 


Much of the information used in this piece was sourced from the work of journalists with The Alice Springs News. Access these source stories here

Ida Standley Preschool has a dedicated Facebook page. Follow the work of the preschool here.

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