TEACHERS MET REPORTING RESPONSIBILITY

This was published in the NT Suns Newspapers on March 5 2019 under the title In defence of teachers.

While relating to one particular case, the matter of teachers being under appreciated when it comes to reporting issues, happens far too often. Teachers make good scapegoats.


A Sunday Territorian headline (24 February 2019) ‘Teachers failed to save kids’ deserves a response. The story reported that “ a judge has lambasted teachers at a Darwin school for failing to protect children who were being sexually abused by a after school worker. … Justice Anthony Graham was scathing of the “failure” of school authorities … to act on “warning signals” (apparent) as early as November 2013.”

Any abuse of children is deplorable and the perpetrator has drawn a sentence that reflects the gravity of his actions.

However, I am concerned the story fails to recognise that teachers concerned acted responsibly and met the scope of reporting requirements expected of them.

Requirements about mandatory reporting of suspected misconduct against children are covered by Department of Education policy. The need for teachers and educators to be vigilant on matters of student welfare are embedded within the administration of every Territory school.

These policies and procedures have been in place for many years. They are regularly revised and updated as necessary.

Principals of all schools are required to conduct an inservice that covers all aspects of mandatory reporting at the beginning of each semester. The program covers guidelines on the ‘mandatory reporting of harm and exploitation of children’. The inservice is supported by a powerpoint presentation that can be printed and distributed to staff.

All staff are required to sign a document confirming they have been inserviced. Their names, together with a principal declaration which includes an attendance sheet, is sent to the Department of Education.

This program extends to include all people employed or who offer volunteer services at the school. This includes outside school hours care staff members.

In the case reported by the Sunday Territorian, the school adhered strictly to this policy. “The matter was raised with the child’s mother and a report was made to child protection services but … the matter was not referred to police … .” (Op cit.). In this and on subsequent occasions, reporting requirements were met by the school.

Judith Aisthorpe ( Lawler defends conduct, NT News, 25/2/2019) cites Acting Education Minister Eva Lawler who confirmed that “ … all mandatory reporting obligations … were fulfilled by teachers and the school.”

Council of Government School Organisations President Tabby Fudge is reported as saying “ … the children were let down by departments …”

I do not accept that the Education Department or the school should have been held to blame for this sad happening. Judicial criticism of their actions was misplaced. Teachers and school principals adhere to the highest of reporting standards.

PRINCIPAL ABUSE MUST BE RECTIFIED

This column was published in the NT Sun Newspapers on March 12 2019 under the title Violence is a major worry.


A recent Australia-wide study undertaken by Professor Phillip Riley for the Australian Catholic University confirmed an alarming trend towards violence directed at school leaders. “School leaders are almost ten times more likely to be physically assaulted at work than the general population, with women employed at government primary schools the most at risk. … 45 per cent of principals experienced threats of violence during 2018 while 37 per cent were subjected to acts of physical violence.” ( Students, parents attacking teachers, Rebecca Urban, ‘The Australia’, 27/2/2019)

This survey on principal safety and wellbeing has been undertaken annually since 2011. Evidence confirms bullying, threatening and assaulting behaviour as an escalating issue.

Our local school leaders are not exempt from this dire situation. “ … half the Northern Territory’s school principals have been physically attacked at work according to the survey.” (Wave of abuse at principals, Natasha Emeck NT News 27/2/2019). This is appalling! The matter needs to be firmly addressed and not accepted as being normal, tolerated behaviour.

The NT Government and Department of Education uphold the safety of school staff as being a matter of utmost importance. If this position is to have meaning, there needs to be more than acquiescing to the abuse trending towards school leaders. The issue should also be one of the highest priorities on the NT Principals Association agenda.

Principals (and indeed all staff) have a right to feel protected and should not be discouraged from reporting and following through on matters of assault.

Anecdote suggests that over time, the impact of quite serious assaults on school leaders have been downplayed and almost swept under the carpet. Principals should not be made to feel embarrassed about responding proactively to verbal or physical assault. Indeed, response should be encouraged and have the absolute backing of educational authorities and professional associations. The Education Department’s legal arm should be to the fore in supporting principals and prosecuting assailants through the courts.

It is not good enough for principals to be given an annual allowance to fund programs helping them cope with the stress of assault. That is tantamount to accomodating actions which should never occur.

Firm action against abusive students and adults will provide a clear and visible message that school leaders (and teachers) are not prepared to absorb this behaviour. That action has to be paramount. Assault against principals must not be tolerated. The trend must be countered openly, visibly and with full backing by Government, the Education Department and the Principals Association.

NAPLAN THE ALBATROSS

NAPLAN keeps hundreds of educators in permanent jobs. Since its inception, NAPLAN has become an institution costing at least a billion dollars, maybe more.

Since being introduced in 2008, it has become a monster.

NAPLAN dominates the educational thinking in schools, their controlling systems, State, Territory and Australian Education Ministries.

It has spawned countless highly level salaried positions in curriculum departments and ACARA.

NAPLAN underpins the focus of many school staff meetings. It always influences the agendas of school principals gatherings. It occupies the system hierarchy whenever state and territory administrators and leaders meet to consider key issues. It exercises the minds of education ministers whenever they gather to consider Australia wide educational matters.

Without NAPLAN, meetings would be shorter and called far less frequently than is the case.

NAPLAN predicates the thinking of classroom teachers. “Your score is my score”, the words of Tim Chappell when singing about the subject, are ingrained into the thinking of those responsible for preparing children for these annual excursions into the study of comparative data.

NAPLAN is about more than three days of testing each May for students sitting the tests. ‘Pretesting’ programs commence in many schools weeks and even months before the tests are administered. Students practice and practise and in all honesty get to be bored stupid by all the pretesting attention that goes on. When students are asked about the tests, they confirm this to be the case.

NAPLAN is an industry. It engages thousands of people in primarily focussing their attention on its accumulation of data. Teaching and strategies are driven by the data imperative that has its base in NAPLAN.

This program in its many parts is like unto the seven headed hydra of Australian Education.

NAPLAN has come with a huge cost and through the years of its operation, has given little back.

Teachers Met Reporting Responsibility

This was published in the NT Sun on March 5 2019 under the heading In defence of teachers


A Sunday Territorian headline (24 February 2019) ‘Teachers failed to save kids’ deserves a response. The story reported that “ a judge has lambasted teachers at a Darwin school for failing to protect children who were being sexually abused by a after school worker. … Justice Anthony Graham was scathing of the “failure” of school authorities … to act on “warning signals” (apparent) as early as November 2013.”

Any abuse of children is deplorable and the perpetrator has drawn a sentence that reflects the gravity of his actions.

However, I am concerned the story fails to recognise that teachers concerned acted responsibly and met the scope of reporting requirements expected of them.

Requirements about mandatory reporting of suspected misconduct against children are covered by Department of Education policy. The need for teachers and educators to be vigilant on matters of student welfare are embedded within the administration of every Territory school.

These policies and procedures have been in place for many years. They are regularly revised and updated as necessary.

Principals of all schools are required to conduct an inservice that covers all aspects of mandatory reporting at the beginning of each semester. The program covers guidelines on the ‘mandatory reporting of harm and exploitation of children’. The inservice is supported by a powerpoint presentation that can be printed and distributed to staff.

All staff are required to sign a document confirming they have been inserviced. Their names, together with a principal declaration which includes an attendance sheet, is sent to the Department of Education.

This program extends to include all people employed or who offer volunteer services at the school. This includes outside school hours care staff members.

In the case reported by the Sunday Territorian, the school adhered strictly to this policy. “The matter was raised with the child’s mother and a report was made to child protection services but … the matter was not referred to police … .” (Op cit.). In this and on subsequent occasions, reporting requirements were met by the school.

Judith Aisthorpe ( Lawler defends conduct, NT News, 25/2/2019) cites Acting Education Minister Eva Lawler who confirmed that “ … all mandatory reporting obligations … were fulfilled by teachers and the school.”

Council of Government School Organisations President Tabby Fudge is reported as saying “ … the children were let down by departments …”

I do not accept that the Education Department or the school should have been held to blame for this sad happening. Judicial criticism of their actions was wrong. Teachers and school principals adhere to the highest of reporting standards.

ADULTS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BULLYING

This was published in the NT Sun Newspaper on February 26 2019 under the title ‘Keep on top of bullying’.

Adults not knowing about what is going on with children on this subject is a real issue.


Recent revelations on the reporting of cyberbullying are quite alarming. Online bullying of young people is more common and more harmful than many have realised.

Young people of the 21st century have been born into a technological age, foreign to their parents and grandparents. Many adults have no real idea of what children know and understand about devices and applications. Neither do they fully grasp the habits and the extent of devices used by young people.

Devices are often touted for the benefits they offer students through access to online texts, encyclopaedic information and so on. Distributors of technology (and educators) constantly extol the virtues of technological usage as offering significant benefits to students. Computers and iPads are promoted as assisting in both research and document preparation. Clever marketing ensures that parental expenditure on computers and iPads is at the top of what used to be the traditional school booklist.

Schooling without computers, iPads and even iPhones is said to be impossible. In actuality, many young people are far more interested in devices for the games, entertainment and non educational applications they offer. A casual scroll through the online store confirms that applications supporting entertainment are mushrooming at an exponential rate.

Careful checking on students using technology during the school day will confirm how quickly many switch from educational to entertainment mode. Rather than supporting their learning, devices become a distraction.

Students use these tools to share with each other through email accounts, on facebook, instagram and other applications. Sadly, these channels of communication are increasingly used to bully young people, who become online victims of abuse. Many children, possibly because they are trusting, share far too much by way of an intimate and personal nature when online.

Online bullying and coercion are often perpetrated on young people under the noses of parents and other adults, who are not aware of what is going on.

Two key reasons for adult ignorance come to mind. The first is lack of awareness. Victoria Laurie (Parents ‘not ready’ for digital oversight, Australian, 9.7.18) wrote that “ … children … are capable of accessing digital content on mobile phones and tablets … their parents are often totally unprepared for managing their … digital future.”

Secondly, children who may be the butt of online bullying, are reluctant to discuss this with parents or adults. Instead, they either keep silent or share their concerns with peers. Children must be encouraged to unburden their souls and adults must become aware of these issues and be supportive without being too distrusting and judgemental.

Recent revelations on the reporting of cyberbullying are quite alarming. Online bullying of young people is more common and more harmful than many have realised.

Young people of the 21st century have been born into a technological age, foreign to their parents and grandparents. Many adults have no real idea of what children know and understand about devices and applications. Neither do they fully grasp the habits and the extent of devices used by young people.

Devices are often touted for the benefits they offer students through access to online texts, encyclopaedic information and so on. Distributors of technology (and educators) constantly extol the virtues of technological usage as offering significant benefits to students. Computers and iPads are promoted as assisting in both research and document preparation. Clever marketing ensures that parental expenditure on computers and iPads is at the top of what used to be the traditional school booklist.

Schooling without computers, iPads and even iPhones is said to be impossible. In actuality, many young people are far more interested in devices for the games, entertainment and non educational applications they offer. A casual scroll through the online store confirms that applications supporting entertainment are mushrooming at an exponential rate.

Careful checking on students using technology during the school day will confirm how quickly many switch from educational to entertainment mode. Rather than supporting their learning, devices become a distraction.

Students use these tools to share with each other through email accounts, on facebook, instagram and other applications. Sadly, these channels of communication are increasingly used to bully young people, who become online victims of abuse. Many children, possibly because they are trusting, share far too much by way of an intimate and personal nature when online.

Online bullying and coercion are often perpetrated on young people under the noses of parents and other adults, who are not aware of what is going on.

Two key reasons for adult ignorance come to mind. The first is lack of awareness. Victoria Laurie (Parents ‘not ready’ for digital oversight, Australian, 9.7.18) wrote that “ … children … are capable of accessing digital content on mobile phones and tablets … their parents are often totally unprepared for managing their … digital future.”

Secondly, children who may be the butt of online bullying, are reluctant to discuss this with parents or adults. Instead, they either keep silent or share their concerns with peers. Children must be encouraged to unburden their souls and adults must become aware of these issues and be supportive without being too distrusting and judgemental.

DIGITAL LICENCE CONCEPT MISSES THE POINT

This was published in the NT Sun Newspaper on February 19 2019 under the title ‘Flaws in a digital Plan’.


The newest educational bandwagon appears to be a push to digitally licence all Australian students. This would seem to indicate that until students have received some confirming certificate, they will not be deemed ready to manage online learning. The program would be “… similar to the old fashioned pen licence…” with children “ … required to sit the digital licence test … before entering year three under a plan put to the Federal Government.” ( Lanai Scarr, ‘Test kids’ for digital licence’, NT News, 28/1/2019).

There is a misnomer in this proposition. ‘Pen licences’ were never required under education department directive or curriculum mandate. If organised, pen licences existed at school and classroom level. Some schools and teachers supported the initiative and issued children with pen licences. Others did not use the idea of ‘licensing’ as a motivation or incentive toward the development of handwriting skills.

There has been a call for “ … national leadership on (digital testing) to stem the risks kids face online and (to) combat the increase in cyberbullying.

The test would be required before children were … allowed to bring their own devices to use during school hours for educational purposes.” (Op.cit)

The proposal to carry out Australia-wide digital testing overlooks a number of salient points.

Attitudes toward digital use have their foundation in the home and begin to develop in children long before they begin preschool and transition. Licensing students entering year three is too little too late. Many use devices at home from very young ages. The home is where attitudes about digital use and responsibility should commence.

Parents and students are asked to sign agreements on digital access and device usage at their schools. That takes into account the responsibilities children must exercise when accessing sites and using the web. Breaches by students have consequences, including the withdrawal of Internet privileges. This process has been in place in most schools for many years.

Many schools have specialist computer teachers or technicians who ensure that appropriate firewalls and barriers are in place. The NT Education Department also bars entry by school systems onto some inappropriate sites.

A great deal of cyberbullying occurs on Facebook and other sites. Facebook urges parents not to allow the creation of accounts for children until they turn thirteen. However, many far younger children access Facebook and this can lead to bullying issues.

The use of devices and online technology must be predicated by care, vigilance and wise decision making. This goes far beyond earning a one off digital licence.

TEACHERS SHOULD NOT BE PROFESSIONALLY MALIGNED

This item was published in the NT Sun on Tuesday 12 February under the heading Teachers under fire.

TEACHERS SHOULD NOT BE PROFESSIONALLY MALIGNED

A lot has been said and written about the need for teachers to be professionals who meet an expanding raft of the developmental needs of students. Educational expectations held for teachers seem to be constantly expanding.

Teaching is more minutely inspected by the community than any other profession. It seems greater responsibility for the bringing up and development of children is placed on teachers and schools rather than on parents and homes. It has become the done thing for some parents and primary caregivers when things go wrong for children, to vent their displeasure on teachers.

The bullying of teachers by a cohort of parents is an issue of growing concern. The Sunday Territorian (Teachers’ bullying crisis, January 27 2019) confirmed that the Australian Education Union (NT) is worried about this trend and its impact on teaching staff. Union secretary Adam Lampe said he was aware of incidents “ … where parents scream and harass teachers constantly in person and online … that can really take a toll … teachers leave their jobs, transfer and even fall into depression – it pushes people to a breaking point.”

Stories from media outlets within the Territory and around Australia are increasingly reporting on matters of teacher abuse. The way in which the personality and character of teachers can be misrepresented and maligned is extremely alarming.

Expectations held of teachers from selection and training through to their delivery of educational outcomes in the classroom, are subject to increasing scrutiny. However, respect for them in personal and professional terms seems to be diminishing.

The Department of Education is on the record as upholding the fact that “ … wellbeing and safety of all … staff is paramount. … The department takes all incidents seriously and does not condone bullying, harassment and violence of any form in schools.” (Op cit)

I believe that teachers are at times reluctant to report matters of bullying behaviour to school leaders because they may be considered as not able to manage unpleasant situations. Contract, limited tenure and relief staff particularly, may feel that raising the issue will adversely affect their future employment opportunities.

It may well be that some school principals, who are on end-dated contracts, feel the same way about reporting these matters to the department. The Teachers Union maintains that a significant number of teacher bullying incidents go unreported.

Most parents are people who develop respectful relationships with their children’s teachers. However, the actions of the minority referred to in recent reports, negatively misrepresent that majority. Bullying and abusive behaviour should be consigned to history.