Over the past decade a range of different approaches to Aboriginal education have emerged in the Northern Territory. Yirrkala School (Amhemland) and Yipirinya School (on Aranda land) illustrate two of these approaches. During the 1980s each moved towards Aboriginal-controlled schooling, but in very different ways. Broadly speaking Yirrkala worked within the government education system by utilising government educational initiatives to their advantage. Yipirinya, on the other hand, developed as an independent school outside the government system. While it might appear that these two different approaches were an outcome of government policy initiatives, a detailed exploration of Yirrkala and Yipirinya indicates that this was not quite the case. Rather, these case studies suggest that the choices each community made regarding education in the 1980s were influenced by their respective histories of contact with non-Aboriginal people, and that each community faced constraints when they moved to control their own education.