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A joint initiative between Education Queensland and Northern Pride has seen a major improvement in school attendance, academic achievement and behaviour in approximately 400 secondary school boys across Far North Queensland.

The new rugby league curriculum, which is being run for the first time this year and is led by Education Queensland High Schools Rugby League Development Officer Joe OCallaghan, provides an alternative to the students regular physical education studies.

The initiative has seen up to seven schools offering the rugby league-based curriculum in conjunction with Mr OCallaghans programs and resources in the 2013 school year.

These include Bentley Park College, Innisfail State College, Cairns State High School, Tully State High School, Gordonvale State High School, Tagai State College and Yarrabah State School.

The data for these 400 students studying the new rugby league subject is impressive, with:

average school attendance increased by 14 per cent to 94 per cent

average behaviour referrals a term decreased by 37 per cent to 2.9 referrals per student.

This really is a ground-breaking initiative, and the results so far show its an initiative that is already achieving some great results, said Mr OCallaghan.

Based on these results, all schools involved have now committed to again offering the subject in 2014, with some adding on additional year level classes.

These impressive results have also now seen a commitment from other schools, with Mareeba State High School and Trinity Bay State High School already coming on board for next year.

Based on these figures, approximately 550 students will be involved throughout the region in 2014.

The students and parents realise its a privilege to be part of this program, and the boys know they have to hit certain targets, said Mr OCallaghan.

Using rugby league as the vehicle, we believe we can improve literacy, numeracy, nutrition and other important life skills in these boys, almost half of which are Indigenous.

Mr OCallaghan said the promising results were due to a combination of the dedicated, disciplined rugby league curriculum, combined with the recent expansion of the Northern Pride Academy program.

In his other joint role with the initiative as Northern Pride High Performance Coordinator, OCallaghan has spent the last six months expanding the James Cook University Northern Pride High Performance Academy to now include up to 160 junior elite players in the region from Under 12 to Under 20 age groups, including 24 staff.

Players and parents are aware when accepting the invitation into the Academy, that due to the new initiative with Education Queensland, all schooling data is released to Mr OCallaghan to track the players off-field performance.

Players within the Academy also have to hit targets within their schooling in relation to behaviour, attendance and submitting assessment in all subjects, or they run the risk of losing their position in the Academy, said Mr OCallaghan.

Players struggling academically with their schooling are offered the opportunity of discounted private tutoring with local businesses Aldon Tutoring Centres and Bill Spooners Coaching Academy.

The first set of mid-year results released shows the Academy students are also thriving away from the field in their schooling life.

Comparison data between boys now in the Pride Academy, and their schooling data before they joined, show that among 140 students from more than 20 State, Catholic and Independent high schools in the region:

average school attendance increased by 2.5 per cent to 95 per cent

average academic average increased to HA 7-9 from SA 5-7

average behavioural referrals a term decreased by 31 per cent to 1.52

no current member of the Academy has received a suspension in 2013.

Monitoring and assistance with all aspects of the boys schooling life is an integral part of the Academy, with the aim to help develop their future away from rugby league, and further enhance their social behaviours, said Mr OCallaghan.

The Pride High Performance Academy currently enrols most of its children in its main Cairns-based program, with satellite Academy programs in operation in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and Torres Strait, and soon in Mount Isa.

Northern Pride Chief Executive Officer Brock Schaefer said it was encouraging that other schools in the region also signed up to the rugby league curriculum after seeing the early positive results from the Academy players.

We leave no stone unturned to achieve results not only on the field, but also off the field to develop these guys into good young men and leaders in their communities, Mr Schaefer added.
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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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