Alumni bursary recipients | Polly Farmer Foundation

Impact Evaluation

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2023 Impact Evaluation PDF

5 pillars of PFF's work

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Surveys were conducted with 4 key stakeholder groups – current students, alumni, family members, and program coordinators – in order to capture the experiences and perspectives of different stakeholders, focusing on current and recent program experience. The 5 pillars of PFF’s work – Belonging, Capabilities, Experiences, Academic and Empowerment – were identified as a suitable framework for mapping FTD participant outcomes.

The results were then collected and analysed to form our impact evaluation.


How well does FTD promotes belonging?

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can experience unique feelings of disconnection from their school, due to experiences of discrimination, isolation, not being able to find others with shared experiences, and feeling burdened or singled out during cultural activities.

It’s scary when you’re the only Aboriginal student in school – lots of stereotypes and prejudice… You want to wear your colours but you’re the only one. It’s hard to stand by yourself.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

It feels like a family. I couldn’t say that about any other educational program I’ve been in.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

The bond the students have made with one another and with the staff show a great support team and not only the students felt support but, the parents too.

Follow the Dream Program Coordinator

Follow the Dream aims to create a sense of belonging and safety through providing culturally safe and supportive staff, activities and physical spaces. This supports students to strengthen their connection to culture, to other students, and with their school, leading to wellbeing, self-sufficiency, and personal and cultural identity. As being in a suitable physical space, having the right type of people as staff members, peers to share experiences with, and a trusted person at school can also help engage families, can all further contributes to students’ sense of belonging. Over 80% of alumni and the majority of current students strongly agreed FTD helped them feel more connected to culture.


The ongoing impacts of colonisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including impacts such as intergenerational trauma and disadvantage and poverty, can mean that young people can struggle to develop core capabilities such as including resilience and the confidence to try new things at the same level and time as non-Aboriginal students.

Follow the Dream supports students in developing general capabilities such as personal and social skills, critical thinking, and ethical and intercultural understanding. This occurs through regular mentoring and tutoring to help to build capabilities in planning, goal setting, critical reflection, and teamwork.

Our Alumni spoke about good experiences with program coordinators where they were “on my side” and “had faith in me” and stated that the staff are people they can go to for help, they also strongly agreed that the program gave them useful life skills.

When I’m stuck with anything with life I go to see [program coordinator] for advice.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

The biggest changes I see are growth in leadership and confidence to trust himself.

Follow the Dream Family Member

What did the surveys tell us about the extent to which FTD promotes capabilities?

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[FTD] supports children in everything, whether it be personal, physical and mentally and helps bring out kids personality.

Follow the Dream Program Coordinator


What did the surveys tell us about the extent to which FTD experiences are positive for students?

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A variety of different and new experiences can increase students’ exposure to different opportunities that enrich their learning, help them enjoy school more, and encourage them to broaden their horizons when considering options for their future. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can face barriers to participating in some experiences, such as the cost to participate, this puts them at a disadvantage to non-Indigenous students.

Experiences are an important part of FTD, providing program participants with culturally relevant opportunities that target particular needs and help them enjoy school. Some of these experiences also help connect them with a network in which academic success is celebrated and validated.

The majority of current students and 75% of alumni said that FTD helped them enjoy school more. Some family members also commented on the impact of FTD on school enjoyment, for example “[my child] looks forward to going to school because she loves going to Polly Farmer.” When students and alumni were asked what they liked most about FTD in the survey, camps and excursions were the most common responses. Alumni said that the relationships they built during camps were as important as the information they received, and that building connections with older students and the staff based in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support programs made the transition to university a lot easier.

I loved the activities and the trips that allows me to have a wider perspective of what I can do in life and how I can get there. I also loved making new friends on these trips – some that I’m still in contact with.

Follow the Dream Current Student

Having cultural activities and not just homework time definitely encourages students to attend more and enjoy themselves.

Follow the Dream Alumnus


There is a widely known ‘gap’ between the experience of and success in education by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people compared to other students. This gap has nothing to do with the capacity or intelligence of young people and everything to do with the legacy and on-going experience from colonial dispossession.

In WA 2021, 61.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 20-24 years old had a year 12 or equivalent qualification, compared to 90.4% of non-Indigenous people, and 37.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had completed a non-school qualification of Certificate III or above compared to 73.4% of non-Indigenous people.

What did the surveys tell us about the extent to which FTD is supporting academic outcomes?

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Follow the Dream has given me a support system within school and has encouraged me to aim for pathways that I didn’t believe I had the capabilities of before being in the program.

Follow the Dream Current Student

Getting university tours and enrolment support is one of the main reasons I ended up making my choice to go to university.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

I think [FTD] is an amazing program for children and my daughter not only loves it, but it has made a huge impact on her leaning achievements as well as her attitude toward going to school. Without the help of this program my daughter would have fallen behind in her schoolwork.

Follow the Dream Family Member

FTD provides targeted assistance to secondary students that promotes academic achievement and active school participation. In addition to the experiences and activities mentioned earlier, this includes after-school tutoring that runs for 3~4 afternoons each week, along individualised support around learning plans and career mentoring, and specific help to students with the transition to post-school pathways such as finding and applying for scholarships, finding accommodation, connecting with university contacts, developing study skills, and creating resumes.

Program statistics available for WA show FTD students, on average, have stronger academic results than the average for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. For example, 67% of Year 12 students in FTD achieved WACE in 2022 compared to 41.5% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (Department of Education WA Annual Report 2022-23). Survey results also support this, with 86% of families strongly agreeing FTD helped their child achieve their learning potential.


What did the surveys tell us about the extent to which FTD is supporting empowerment?

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Many students keep in contact with me for years to come.

Follow the Dream Program Coordinator

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who commence a post-school qualification are significantly more likely to drop out, with first year attrition of 27% compared to 14.5% for non-Aboriginal students (in 2020). Success in a chosen path goes beyond entry into university or starting work, young people need consistent, supporting and ongoing help to succeed, as the realities of post-school life set in – finding and keeping housing and jobs and overcoming setbacks.

Whilst focused on supporting students during their schooling years, FTD aims to have lasting positive impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people that build on but go further than school achievement, encompassing outcomes such as good choices in career and life, and being able to pursue their aspirations, and inspiring others.

Once they finish Year 12, FTD participants are sometimes offered further support into ‘Year 13’ (a colloquial term for the first year after high school) and beyond. In addition to support, program coordinators may invite alumni to return to their school in a ‘role model’ capacity, for example to provide a speech that aims to inspire current or potential future FTD students. Once FTD students have finished high school, they can stay connected to PFF through the alumni network, to connect with other alumni (e.g., through events) and help inspire others to follow their dreams.

These are strong indicators that FTD is having its intended impact in empowering young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 100% of alumni strongly agreed that FTD helped them follow their dream and 92% (n=22) strongly agreed FTD helped them achieve their post-school goals.,98% of families strongly agreed FTD was good for their child, 72% of current students strongly agreed that they have bigger dreams for their future since being part of FTD, and 59% of alumni strongly agreed FTD encouraged other children in their family to get more involved in school.

They allow us to blossom in our own way but importantly with a bit of guidance, so we are able to have a future we deserve. They allow us to explore so many options for our futures and allow us to change our minds and consider every possibility.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

I didn’t think to work in schools, didn’t want to come back to school. But now I am an AIEO [Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer] and studying teaching.
Seeing the improvement in kids – their mental health and grades – is motivating, what keeps you in the job.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

My children are looking forward to the future.

Follow the Dream Family Member


Overall, FTD is successfully enabling young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ‘follow their dream’.

Quantitative data show FTD students perform better, on average, than other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Alumni of the program strongly consider that the program is part of what contributed to academic success, helping them finish school and pursue higher education opportunities. The program does this by creating and enhancing students’ sense of belonging in and enjoyment of school, providing practical and necessary supports to grow life skills and solve immediate problems, and providing experiences that enable students to see different futures for themselves. Within the program, the role and value of personal connections that the students make with each other and with other adults are a key part of success. We heard that seeing and meeting other young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were succeeding in their life paths was strongly encouraging for current students. Ultimately, alumni said that FTD was part of what gave them the confidence and inspiration they needed to go on to succeed, and they credit it, in part, for them being able to live lives they feel empowered in.

The earlier students engage with FTD the more successful both the students and the program will be. I strongly encourage family involvement for long term success.

Follow the Dream Family Member

Making sure the best person is in the role as Program Coordinator. For our family we acknowledge that the current FTD Program Coordinator had played a major part in the development and journey over our child’s high school years, having the right person in this role goes a long way in assisting the best outcomes for the student, school and families.

Follow the Dream Family Member

I definitely wouldn’t have the life I have now if it wasn’t for Follow the Dream.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

I was lucky enough to have amazing support and great teachers and tutors to help me find new pathways and opportunities for my future at one of the schools but unfortunately at the other school there was not as much support. There was limited support from teachers and unfortunately not a lot of funding at all to help with university excursions, or any one-on-one help with the coordinators and even food for our sessions. I think everyone in the program no matter what school or district you’re in should all get equal opportunity and support.

Follow the Dream Alumnus

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