This was published in the NT Sun on November 13, 2018.


There has been a significant change in the setting of funding priorities for schools during the past ten years.

Prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, it was extraordinarily difficult to attract money for school capital works programs. Principals and school councils were often frustrated by the delays in gaining initial approval. Generally works were included in treasury’s forward estimates.

In some cases, approved works remained in abeyance for so long, they were re-announced as new initiatives before gaining final funding approval.

Minor New Works programs for infrastructure projects up to $250,000 were similarly queued for lengthy periods of time.

The GFC consigned this scenario to history. In order to stimulate building and construction, the Federal Government created the Building Education Revolution (BER).
Many billions of dollars were released to state and territory educational systems. ‘Build, build build, like there is no tomorrow’ became the order of the day. Along with all educational authorities, the NT Education Department was overwhelmed with BER money.Funds were allocated for major construction in every Northern Territory school.

A BER downside was the prescription placed on the use of money. Buildings had to be for science laboratories, school libraries, classrooms, assembly halls and physical facilities. When particular schools had higher priorities they were discounted. Timelines attached to the program required projects to be completed and funds expended by specific dates. This meant that building and construction programs had to be undertaken during term time disrupting school programs, in some cases for weeks on end.

Although the BER is now history, there has been a significant shift in funding priorities for NT schools. Compared with pre BER days, it seems that limitations on capital and minor new works funding have been relaxed.

Government tenders in the NT News each Wednesday confirms that money is being allocated for playground equipment, shade structures, irrigation upgrades and other works that were rarely funded in past times.
Previously, it had been up to school communities to fundraise for these ventures.

It is a worry that major funding for schools seems to be based on the fact that projects must support the building, construction, and infrastructure industry. There is a need for funding to recognise and support teaching and learning programs in classrooms. The ‘heart’ of the school is the teaching/learning interface. Buildings and facilities are necessary but should not be prioritised to the detriment of core learning needs.

Funding balance is important. While facilities are necessary, the support of students through classroom programs must not be compromised.


Published in the NT Sun on November 6 2018.


Several thousand Northern Territory Year 12 students are reaching the pinnacle of their primary and secondary educational experience. Many are sitting their publicly assessed examinations which commenced on Monday November 5.

These exams continue until Friday November 20. Then begins the wait for exam results, due to be released on December 18. With the approach of Christmas students completing Stage Two and graduating from Year 12, will have their results and can begin planning the next stage of their lives.

Other students who have opted for school assessed subjects will also be considering vocational careers. For some students, there may be disappointment, but the majority will experience the joy that comes with success. Commitment and effort generally lead to positive outcomes.

Before the release of results, ‘Schoolies Week’ will be happening for our Year 12 cohort. Many students will let their hair down and chill out, possibly in Bali or at some other recreational resort. Celebration is fine and should be without incident if the cautions offered by parents and authorities are observed. Most schoolies week mishaps are avoidable.

The question of ‘what next’ will be already be exercising the minds of Year 12 students. Apprenticeships and further trade training will be on the horizon for some. Contemplation of university entrance to Charles Darwin or interstate universities will be considered by others.

Graduating Year 12 students may elect to take a ‘gap year’. This period of time away from study is used by some for travelling and others for work. A gap year gives students the chance to fully consider career alternatives when not confronted by study pressures.

Some students who have opted for a tertiary program while still at school, may upon reflection during this year away from study, change their minds and choose alternative career pathways.

To go straight to university from Year 12 can mean commencing a course that is really not the most suitable. The options then become changing courses midstream or continuing with a program that ultimately may lead to an unsatisfying career.

Those choosing to work during their gap year, know their earnings can go a long way towards meeting HECS costs and other tertiary study expenses. Degrees are becoming more expensive as Federal Government controls impacting on university funding continue to bite. Accumulated HECS debts are burdensome and can take years to pay back.

To complete Year 12 is a major achievement . All the very best to those graduating in 2018 as they prepare for the next stage of their lives.


Published in NT Sun on October 30 2018


The NT Teachers Registration Board is an important institution playing a key role in ensuring the quality and competence of teachers in our schools.

These boards are part and parcel of the educational make up of every state and territory in Australia. It is behoven upon boards to ensure teachers appointed to our schools meet agreed standards in terms of qualification, competence and character.

Since its establishment in September 2004, the Northern Territory Teachers Registration Board has processed applications from hundreds of teachers. For the most part the board has done a most satisfactory job.

In recent times however, it has been reported that several teachers in our schools have slipped through the net and into our classrooms. That should have not happened. It only takes one or two slips like this to negatively impact on the board’s reputation.

In one case a person had a background that included quite a number of “aliases”. This would have made it difficult to accurately evaluate that person’s background and character. There have been other instances of people being registered when that was not the most appropriate option.

Systems need to safeguard our children and offer them the best possible education. While 99% of our teachers approved by the board fill the brief for appointment, no oversight can be excused.

Any failure will become general knowledge and sully the reputation of the board in the eyes of the public. What needs to be understood is that it can be extremely difficult to work around issues of alias names and identity issues of people who may be trying to hide past circumstances when seeking registration.

The fact that state and territory boards are separate entities only operating within their own boundaries, may be a weakness of the current registration system. We have a national curriculum and national testing program. Consideration should be given to nationalising teacher registration.

Unifying national registration might help overcome glitches that can occur when teachers move from one state or territory to another, requiring new registration. How thoroughly NT registration and police checks are able to explore the history of teachers seeking endorsement may be an issue. A national teacher registration board could also promote the idea of portability of teacher qualifications from one state and territory to another. This would facilitate nationwide teacher transfer.

To nationalise teacher registration would be a logical step in developing an Australia wide perspective on education. It may also help to overcome the likelihood of teachers inappropriately slipping past registration processes and into NT classrooms.



This year’s Tournament of Minds International Competition was hosted by TOM’s NT. The tournament culminated twelve months of preparation for this event.

Previously known as the Australian Pacific Finals, the program this year was expanded to international status. The NT hosted primary and secondary school teams from all Australian states and territories. Participating teams from overseas came from Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates.

Interstate and overseas teams arrived onThursday October 11.

The tournament was opened on Friday October 12, with a special welcoming ceremony at the Darwin Convention Centre. The welcome focussed on the ‘Spirit of the NT’ as embodied in the Larakia seasonal calendar.

Part of the opening program included the grouping of students into Larakia weather and climatic seasons. This was to enable their participation in the tournament’s launching.

. The build up season was considered by all primary/secondary language literature (LL) teams.
. Rainy season awareness was offered to primary social science teams
. The monsoon season was studied by secondary social science groups.
. Super grass, goose egg and knock-em down seasons were considered by the primary arts teams.
. Barramundi and bush fruit times were studied by secondary arts teams.
. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) primary teams considered the heavy dew time.
. The big wind season went to STEM secondary teams.

After the opening, participants went on excursions and attended workshops.

Saturday October 12 was competition day at the CDU Casuarina Campus. Teams were allocated rooms to consider challenges and had to prepare their responses within a three hour time frame. The presentations by teams in the competition disciplines, language literature, arts, STEM and social science, then took place in four presentation theatres. Audiences appreciated the imaginative and innovative solutions to problems posed to students.

The presentation of awards took place at the Darwin Entertainment Centre. A table of winning and honours schools is on the TOM’s website at

The event enabled Australian and overseas teams to share intellectual challenges and thoughtful, team focussed solutions to challenging problems. All participants were winners. TOM’s NT delighted in sharing the Territory with visiting teams and their supporters, who will return home with great memories.

Published in  NT Suns on October 23 2018



This Friday, October 26 is being celebrated as World Teachers’ Day. Northern Territory teachers and school support staff will be recognised and thanked at functions in Darwin, Palmerston, Alice Springs, Katherine, Nhulunbuy and at smaller centres around the NT. Individual schools, their students and communities will also celebrate their teachers and school support staff. This is well deserved.

Teachers and school staff members have enormous responsibilities. High-level expectations are held for them. Teachers are people responsible for a great deal that goes beyond the academics of teaching and learning. They are advisors, counsellors and friends, responsible for social, emotional and moral aspects of development in young people. They share a real partnership with parents and primary caregivers in the nurturing of this world’s most precious resource – our children.

Dispelling Myths

There are two everlasting myths about teaching that need to be dispelled.

The first is that teachers work a six hour day, five days a week, for forty weeks each year. The amount of time teachers spend “on tasks” over and above that time means the public is only aware of the “tip of the iceberg”. Hours of additional planning and preparation go into teaching. Instruction is followed by assessment, upon which revision and extension programs are based.

The second myth is that teachers focus only on academics. Although the “3Rs” are very important there is a great deal more to the development of children other than ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’.

The aim of school educators is to work with parents to develop well rounded students. Young people need both confidence and skill to master the challenges they will face. Sincere educators offer children the chance to succeed, by growing up to become confident, competent adults.

Recognising Northern Territory Teachers

The Northern Territory Government, the Department of Education, Catholic Schools and the Northern Territory Independent Schools Association’s will recognise teachers and school support workers for the contribution they make to our community. Teachers unions and professional associations also appreciate teachers and school staff members. This once a year celebration recognises the effort, care and commitment teachers and staff bring to work every day.

Celebrations on Friday will enable the NT community to appreciate teachers, support staff and others connected with education across the length and breadth of the Territory. This recognition is richly deserved.

There can be no greater or more significant work than what is done by staff in our schools. The destiny of our children and young people of today, the leaders of tomorrow’s world, is largely in their hands.

Thank you all for your good work, your care and empathy, the blessings you bring to the lives of our students and for the way in which you enrich our community.


This was published in  the NT Sun on October 16 2018



We are approaching that time in the year when senior students will begin to earnestly consider their futures beyond school.

The focus for senior students seems to be on what degree courses they will need to support their chosen occupation. Much emphasis is placed on academic studies and careers requiring bachelor, masters or even pH D level certification. To this end, students are placed under stress to do well with year 12 examinations.

By comparison very little emphasis is placed on apprenticeships or training for a trade. There seems to be an inference that these courses are for students who cannot succeed academically. Students are almost discouraged from considering occupational alternatives.

There are an array of trades in desperate need of bolstering by qualified people. While a handiperson’s skill can suffice at times, a qualified trades person is often needed for a safe, efficient and lasting job finish.

We have such a critical shortage of qualified tradespeople in the Northern Territory and many other parts of Australia. To fill the gap, overseas recruiting is often done in order to bring people in on visas to fill trades gaps for major projects being undertaken.

It’s time for trades training and study to be presented in a more optimistic, positive light. Students need encouragement to consider these alternatives for they are not “second rate” or inferior. Incomes that can be earned by qualified tradespeople are right up there alongside the earning potential of white collar, degree holding employees.

Stephen Billett Professor of Adult and Vocational Education at Griffith University wrote that “we need to change negative views of the jobs VET serves to make it a good post school option.” (The Conversation, October 4 2018) Billett maintains that there needs to be three key actions to transform present perceptions.

1 A public education campaign is necessary to inform the community (particularly parents) that VET is a viable and worthy post-school option. Industry should support this government sponsored program.
2. Schools should better promote VET as a post school option to students including “…entrance into VET is an important performance indicator.”
3. Governments and industry should ensure that VET options are “… organised, ordered and resources (to provide) students with appropriate educational experiences” (op cit).

Vocational education is overlooked too often as a viable post school option. This is contributing to the NT’s desperate shortage of qualified tradespeople. For the good of our community and the future of our economy, this situation must be reversed.


This was published in the NT Sun on October 9 2018


Casuarina Senior College night classes were to be permanently shelved at the end of 2018. That would have been a strike against community supported education in the NT. The program has been operating at Casuarina since the 1970’s and is one of the longest serving and most successful educational programs ever provided.

The news that it is to be continued for another three years (2019 – 2021) is a win for common sense. The decision recognises the crucial need for adult education provided by the program at Casuarina Senior College.

One of the reasons given for discontinuing the program was cost. Education Department CEO Vicki Bayliss when interviewed on air said that the support provided annually by the department had to go to more pressing priorities. The reversal of the decision that had been made recognises adult education is after all, a high priority area.

A further justification for considering terminating this program was that of declining enrolments, from 3047 in 2010 to 1807 last year.

What may be needed is an advertising campaign to remind top end territorians about adult education.
With our population going and coming as it does, it follows that many people who would enrol in courses, do not know about the program. Newspaper advertisements and static displays of courses on offer in a few suburban shopping centres, do not reach everyone.

What has happened in the past weeks resulting in near loss of this program has raised the issue to the forefront of territory attention. That could be a good starting point for an awareness campaign.

Some of the many positives about the program follow.
. It enables ordinary people to build their skills, knowledge and understanding across a vast array of practical subjects.
. It meets the needs of women and men who cannot undertake alternative courses because of time and cost.
. Courses are non-competitive, allowing those enrolled to progress at their own pace.
. Tutors are empathetic, encouraging and offer one-to-one support to those enrolled.
. Certificates of completion are offered to course participants.
. Courses offer people the chance to develop social and group learning opportunities with like minded participants.

Discontinuing the Adult Education Program at Casuarina College would have made about as much sense as did terminating the school based policing program.

That program has been reinstated because the void created by its absence could not be filled. In similar vein, our adult education program is vital and necessary. It is to Minister Uibo’s credit that she has recognised the need for its continuation.