This column was published in the NT Sun on January 15 2019 under the heading Vandalism still scourge.


The recent trashing of Ludmilla School (NT News 5/1/2019) is a jolting reminder of what seems to be an everlasting saga. Schools are often the prime target of vandals. The threat to schools is constant.

History confirms that over time, every school in our urban, town and rural areas has been affected by wanton damage and vandalism. Since self government in 1978, the bill for damage repair has run to tens of millions of dollars.

Barrier fences, wrought iron gates, sensors and cv cameras have played some part in reducing the incidence of security breach. However, the matter is one that continues to impact on our schools.

There seems to be no end point to these reckless and uncaring behaviours by perpetrators. The break-in at Ludmilla, which damaged quite a number of classrooms is just the latest in 40 years of destructive behaviour wrought on NT schools. Sadly, schools will continue to be the target of vandals as we move into the 2019 school year.

These attacks on our schools, lead to feelings of student and staff desolation and insecurity. They become the victims of senseless acts, violated by damage to their possessions and school work.

There has at times been evidence of Faginlike behaviour behind these breaches. On some occasions adults have encouraged young children to break into schools, in order to steal property. The issue of stealing goods in order to exchange them for drugs may also motivate a percentage of break-ins.

There is no doubt however, that many of the breaches are the result of children, many of them quite young, causing senseless damage. They wander the streets late into the night, breaking into and entering into schools and other premises, creating a mess for others to clean up.

The irony is that if caught, little happens to these miscreants. They are often taken home to parents who don’t know where they have been or what they have done. Restitution for physical damage is never forthcoming.

Judicial consequences for those who proceed to juvenile court or into youth justice are generally perceived as being ineffective and limp. The move toward raising the age of accountability wrong-doing from 10 to 12 or 14 years, defies sense and sensibility; the proposed change will exacerbate the problem.

Those who commit these acts know full well they are doing wrong. There can be no justification for their actions. The victims of school violation, the students and school staff are the ones deserving empathy and consideration.


This column was published in the NT Sun on December 18 2018. It was publish3ed under the title ‘Students feeling the pressure’.


Thursday December 12 marked the end of the 2018 school year for those in urban schools. Remote schools closing their doors the following day.

Schools acknowledged students who have done well during the year. Presentation assemblies have been held, giving peers, staff, parents and community a chance to recognise and celebrate student success. Recognising students with certificates together with monetary or book awards has been part of many celebrations.

These ceremonies as endpoints to the academic year, leave students feeling satisfied and fulfilled. They can also encourage those, who with greater effort, could also have been recognised and rewarded.

There is no better way of ending a long school year than by celebrating the efforts and successes of students. We are often quick to point out what children and students should do to improve performance or attitude. We need to be equally as forthcoming in offering recognition and praise.

Pressures are increasingly on schools to perform. Everything seems to focus on data driven outcomes. Teachers and students are pointed in the direction of achieving more and more in terms of key academic results. Increasing amounts of content have to be shoe-horned into every school day. So much is demanded, that students of all ages often go home thoroughly fatigued by the end of each school day.

Both primary and secondary students need the respite offered by the six weeks of Christmas and New Year holidays.

The school day is only part of teacher commitment to education. Planning, preparation, marking, assessments, recording and report writing are obligations that take place beyond the classroom. To this must be added an increasing plethora of meetings covering everything from school action plans to personal performance management. Downtime at Christmas is sorely needed by all classroom teachers.

While the school year is out for students, the same opportunity to relax is not being afforded to many school principals and leadership teams. A great deal of what the system requires of them, is worked on and completed during school holiday periods.

Chief among these items will be the preparation of school annual reports, due to be completed by 31 March next year. These documents are intricate and detailed, requiring specific data that reflects upon the 2018 school year. They cover student progress, staff development, community relations and capital works completed or anticipated. Minutely detailed financial accountability is included.

All the very best to students, teachers and school support staff for a great holiday break.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on December 11 2018. It was under the heading ‘Nothing can top parents’.


The best love and care children can have, is that offered by parents. Too often this is disregarded and overlooked.There is a belief that early learning educators, teachers and after school carers can stand in the place of parents. A Sunday Territorian article ‘Hands on parenting is what helps children’. (April 2, 2017) touched on a truth that in these modern times is too easily discounted. Study authors Stacey Fox and Anna Olsen from the Australian National University found that, ” reaching out to children, talking with them and helping them with their homework matters more than income or background.”

This realisation was one of the revelations of this family focussed study conducted by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

It seems that work preoccupation can distance parents from their children. Before and after school care have become a way of life for children whose parents leave home early and arrive home late. They are often placed in vacation care during school holidays because their parents are at work.

Many parents are both preoccupied with and wearied by work, making quality time with their children during the week a rarity. While family catch-up may happen at the weekend, there is a need to manage domestic chores and get ready for the working week ahead. In this context it can become easy for children to again be overlooked. Their need for family closeness and attention may be misunderstood by parents.

According to Fox and Olsen, “children … benefit when their parents provide a positive environment for homework and play a role in school activities.” Primary school children particularly, like their parents identifying with them in school settings. Parents attending assemblies, participating in parent teacher nights, and supporting extra-curricular school activities is a highlight for their children.

According to the study, children really welcome and greatly value the first hand connection of parents with their educational development. In terms of hands on parenting, “the aspects which appear to matter most include high expectations and aspirations for children, shared reading between children and parents and family conversation.” (Fox and Olsen)

Children need room to move and develop as independent human beings. ‘Helicopter parents’ who constantly hover around children can be very stifling. They suffocate independence and dampen the decision making potential of their offspring. However, when parents are there for children, engaging with them, nurture and love are to the fore. And it is these attributes in parents their children want and need.


This article was published in the NT Sun on December 4 2018. It was under the heading of ‘Teachers set to dwindle’.


The question of teacher supply is a problem looming on the education horizon.

Professor Barry Harper, Dean of Education at the University of Wollongong, recently raised the need for the Australian community to prepare for a looming teacher shortage. If educational systems ignore his advice, this may well result in schools without teachers.

Harper, in his paper ‘Factors fuelling the looming teacher shortage’ (Media @ University of Woollongong) advises that a significant percentage of teachers will be retiring within the next five to ten years. Educational authorities understand that a vacuum in teacher supply will create problems. He states that “ … efforts to plug the gaps left by retirees are being thwarted by two factors. … One is the attraction of teaching overseas … the other is a desire by a significant number of teaching graduates to only teach for a short period of time before moving on to other careers.”

The number of teaching graduates attracted to overseas teaching destinations runs into the thousands. As far back as 2003, British school principals had headhunted 3,000 Australian teachers. “There are also hundreds of Australian teachers working in New York schools with many more scattered throughout North America … and Canada.” (Harper)

Harper suggests that Australian teacher graduates are classroom ready because their training includes first hand practical teaching experience. They are attracted overseas by salary and the experience of living abroad. An upside for Australia is that they don’t want to stay away forever. They come back with a world view of education ready to commit to teaching in our classrooms.

“Unfortunately Australian public school systems do not recognise (their qualities). Rather, teachers returning from overseas find themselves behind their colleagues who stayed at home, both in pay and promotional opportunities.” (Harper)

Adjusting the profession to accord equity to both returning from overseas and stay-at-home educators, may help to boost overall teacher numbers.

The more significant issue is that of graduating teachers opting for short term rather than long term careers. Various studies referred to by Harper confirm that fewer graduating secondary students are opting to train as teachers, with 25% of graduating teachers opting out within five years of starting their careers. “Around 32% of qualified teachers (are) working outside the profession.” (Harper).

This issue is one that must be addressed before chronic teacher shortages become a school and classroom reality. The jury is out on whether education ministers and their departments “ … can make our schools attractive for a long term (teacher) commitment rather than as staging posts for other careers.”


This column was published in the NT Sun on November 27 2018.

There has been much ado about Charles Darwin shifting to have a major operational focus in Darwin’s CBD.

Students are to help save the city!


Homegrown tertiary education in the NT commenced in 1974. The Darwin Community College (DCC) occupied two large rooms in Mataram Street, Winnellie. In time and over the years, the DCC became the Darwin Institute of Technology (DIT) and later the NT University with campuses at Myilly Point Larrakeyah and Casuarina. In 2003, the NTU merged with the Menzies School of health Research and Centralian Colleges in Alice Springs. The Charles Darwin University (CDU) era began.

CDU’s major campus is in the suburb of Casuarina. Other campuses are in Palmerston, Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy. A waterfront campus housing the school of business opened in 2015. The university includes smaller training centres at Jabiru, Tennant Creek and Yulara.

Interstate offices are located in Melbourne and Sydney. “Charles Darwin University … showcases teaching and research unique to its region. … Its membership of the Innovative Research Universities … enhances the outcomes of higher education.” (Good Universities Guide 2017, p.303)

External students enjoy online study opportunities. A large percentage of its externally enrolled higher degree students are from interstate and overseas. The university supports Indigenous Students through the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education (ANIKE) at the Casuarina Campus and its outreach program at the Batchelor Institute of Tertiary Education.

Administration reorganisation and changing priorities are sometimes forced by political pressures and changes to funding policies. In spite of challenges study options have been expanded. In its early days, the university was limited to offering only first and second years of degree courses. CDU students often had to complete their studies at southern universities. Full degree courses in Science, Engineering, Education and Medicine are now available.

The development of Charles Darwin University into the future must be carefully considered. Our university is set to become central to CBD re-development under the Darwin Cities Deal.

The vision is one that includes magnificent architecture, state of the art facilities and student accomodation.

The plan is similar to that in Newcastle NSW, which has “ … a university in the middle of the city. It means … when students finish classes in the evening, they’re moving through the city and keeping it alive.” (Madonna Locke, urban designer in The Deal , November 2018, pg. 8)

The purpose and intention of university study must always be student focus. The evolving vision encompasses large numbers of overseas students living in Darwin, in order to revitalise and save the city. Surely the prime purpose of academic education is to provide study opportunities leading to the conferral of worthwhile degrees. Future direction must not diminish this prime focus.



This was published in the NT Sun on November 20 2018


In our increasingly cashless society there is a distinct danger that children will grow up without understanding the value and worth on money. It was recently reported that 81% of business transactions are now completed online or by card. Only 19% of transactions involve hard currency. With coins and notes disappearing from purses and wallets, the value of money is becoming abstract and without real meaning.

Writing in the Sunday Territorian (August 19) Sophie Elsworth warned that children are losing ‘the sense of cash’. Our card focussed culture is eroding their understanding of money and finances.

Elseworth’s column cites a recent Financial Planning Association report. “The report … quizzed 1000 Australian parents with children aged between 4 and 18. … A majority of parents (66%) concede electronic transactions are a massive barrier for children grasping the true value of money. It … showed 68% of parents were reluctant to speak to their kids about cash.”

Parents have an important part to play in helping their children overcome ignorance about money. The article suggests that giving children pocket money “… makes it a lot easier for parents to discuss and teach their kids about money. … The truly important thing is to teach kids about the ‘value’ of money.”

Giving children pocket money and encouraging them to save some of it, initially in money boxes and then by banking into a savings account can help. With that should come conversations about the reason for saving. There is a paradox to parental responsibility in this matter. Elseworth wrote the FPA report “ … showed 38% of parents admitted to borrowing money from their child’s piggy bank or bank account to pay for urgent expenses.” That does not set a good example on money management.

Although children should have been introduced to money at home, schools have a part to play in extending their awareness about the value of money.

Educators often state that children learn best when their initial experiences involve the use of concrete objects.Their understanding is reinforced if they can use and handle the materials being discussed. The Australian Curriculum requires that “ … students learn about the nature … and value of money.” (ACARA Mathematics overview). Children start with simple experiences which include them handling money and understanding it in a very basic way. More complex matters are presented as students move up the grades through their schooling years.

Elseworth advises of caution offered to parents (and teachers) by Tribeca Financials Chief Executive Officer Ryan Watson. He urged that young people be taught that “credit cards are the devil”. This may be a little extreme but cards need to be managed carefully and sensibly.


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.