High school principal honoured for refugee education

4 May 2006

A public high school principal who created a range of special programs and services for immigrant and refugee students was conferred an Honorary Fellow of the University of Sydney on 28 April 2006.

At an Economics and Social Work graduation ceremony, Ms Dorothy Hoddinott, Principal of Holroyd High School since 1996, was honoured for her contribution to Australian education at both State and National levels.

Sydney Chancellor Kim Santow with Dorothy Hoddinott, courtesy Memento Photography
Sydney Chancellor Kim Santow with Dorothy Hoddinott, courtesy Memento Photography

At Holroyd High School where the students come from 60 different language groups, Ms Hoddinott not only runs special intensive English classes, counselling and other programs, but she has also created special funds to help her students continue their education at high school and beyond.

Ms Hoddinott says her efforts have been driven by her students' expressed needs.

"Over the last few years this extraordinary group of young people, mainly on Temporary Protection Visas, have spoken up with passion and conviction, taking public positions on issues such as the detention of refugees and the plight of children in detention centres.

"They have created a public face for asylum seekers through their strength and leadership and courage, and we have built our programs from what they wanted to do," Ms Hoddinott says.

"I'm really running two schools in one," Ms Hoddinott says. "Our program of Intensive English classes where the 250 students are 70 per cent from Non English Speaking Background and the High School where 20 per cent of the pupils have been in Australia for less than three years."

Ms Hoddinott has seen a big increase in the numbers of refugee students who have spent years in detention centres or fending for themselves and undergone profound trauma, violence, loss and mistreatment. Going to school each day gives these children vital consistency and security, she says.

In her address at the graduation ceremony she said the gift of education is the greatest gift we can give to young people. "Education gives people a future, and purpose and meaning in their lives. It frees people to make choices they would not otherwise be able to make, and to realise their potential," she said.

All refugee children have missed out on some education, Ms Hoddinott says, usually three to four years, and many now have had no schooling at all.

At Holroyd it is not unusual to begin teaching teenagers to sit in school and hold a pencil and from that point, with a lot of hard work from the teachers and the students, after just one year they can have enough literacy, numeracy and English to go on to vocational training at a TAFE College.

"I am humbled everyday by the courage and grace of these young people," Ms Hoddinott says, "but I'm outraged by the lack of understanding of some people in the community and by the cynicism of the government".

Some students who came to Holroyd as young refugees have gone on to university, and Ms Hoddinott has lobbied government departments, Ministers and university authorities to make it possible for her graduates to continue studying,and set up trust funds to pay their fees and provide them with an income.

An advocate for multicultural education on a number of government advisory groups, she led the way in developing English language syllabuses for students from Non English speaking backgrounds.

On top ofserving for20 yearson the boards of the Association of Teachers of English as a Second Language and the NSW Professional Teachers' Council, she set up two national platforms to represent teachers, the Australian Council of TESOL Associations and the Australian Joint Council of Professional Teaching Associations.

In 2005 Ms Hoddinott received the Commended Award, Meritorious Service to Public Education and Training, from the NSW Department of Education and Training for her contribution to public education. She was nominated and short-listed to receive the Australian Human Rights Medal in 2004.

Contact: Christine Fogg, Media Office

Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0423 782 603