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


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.


This column was published in the NT Sun on February 5 2019 under the heading We need to fix our school attendance.


A recent NT News story (Darwin schools divided 23/1/2019) reported on the disparity of student success between schools. Jason Wells wrote that Darwin’s schools “ … are sharply divided along race and class lines, revealing a family’s relative disadvantage as the single biggest determinant of student outcomes.”

The editorial ‘School data is an outrage’ published the same day suggested “It’s no secret that our family backgrounds bond plays a role in what we’re likely to achieve in life, regardless of our innate abilities.” Both column and editorial infer that the problem of disparity between schools on the basis of NAPLAN success is somehow due to the NT Education Department not ensuring equalisation of income between schools.

The issue of parental contributions (we are not allowed to say fees) is a matter which is the responsibility of individual Government Schools. ‘Reputation’ cannot be conferred by Government or the Education Department: The reputation of individual schools builds from within those schools.

There are issues with NAPLAN that challenge students and their schools that sit outside the scope of Mr Wall’s column. However, the one issue that impacts in universal terms is that of school attendance. Unless children attend school, poor academic performance will be an issue.

Truancy is a long term problem. There have been issues surrounding school attendance in both rural and urban areas in the NT dating back to the 1970’s.

Both Territory and Federal Governments have seized upon non-attendance as an issue that needs to be corrected in our schools. Big dollars have been and are spent on attendance officers.

School attendance officers are employed to monitor attendance. It is their job to encourage reluctant students and non-supportive families toward being more positive in their attitudes about school. They work with students and visit families who find the issue of attendance problematic.

Unless children establish regular habits of school attendance, there will be substantial gaps in what they learn. Yet, when these students perform poorly in tests and assessment, the onus of responsibility is placed back on teachers, schools, the system and government.

School attendance was identified as a key issue in the 2014 Wilson Report on Indigenous Education. However, the report intimated that children attending for 60% of the school week (three days out of five) were satisfying attendance requirements. Part time attendance will not help overcome learning deficits. Quality education depends on full time school attendance.

If truancy is overcome and the attendance issue fixed, perceptions about ‘good and not so good’ schools will largely be overcome.


This column, in abridged form was published in the NT Sun under the header NAPLAN pressure on teachers on January 29 2019.


The 2019 NT school year is under way. In urban schools, teachers came in for a day of preparation and readiness on Friday January 25 and students are back for their first day today. Remote school teachers are today getting ready for the return of pupils tomorrow.

While on annual leave, teachers engage in both subconscious and conscious readiness for the school year ahead. They are well aware of the teaching responsibilities with which they will be faced. Educators new to the profession will be anticipating life in their classrooms and with their students.

At the beginning of every school year, principals and their leadership teams set agendas which include expectations they have of teachers and pupils. A great deal of focus is on expectations held for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, whose NAPLAN results will determine the school’s standing in this national testing program. NAPLAN data is the key point of focus in many staff meetings. The agendas around regional meetings of principals and school leaders will also primarily focus on the analysis and consideration of academic issues.

NAPLAN is not the only testing program that occupies the highest of priorities in schools. There are a range of other formal testing options administered to students as they move up the grades and through the years of formal schooling.

Major and ongoing stress is placed on teaching strategies that will lead to advantageous data outcomes. Data collection and analysis has become the major driver in schools. School, system and national accountability seemingly underpins the Australian educational agenda at primary and middle school level.

The Melbourne Declaration on Education was developed as a statement of ambition and consensus by State and Territory Ministers and Directors of Education in 2008. The declaration’s preamble states that education should be holistic. Social, emotional and moral/spiritual needs were as important as students’ academic development.

It is somewhat paradoxical that 2008 was the first year of Australia-wide NAPLAN testing. From that time onward and notwithstanding the declaration’s focus, it seems that academics alone is the driver of Australian education.

“ …Bureaucracy dehumanises and compromises our teachers and our children … the joy of teaching can be turned into despair … children are becoming less important than outcomes.” (Noni Hazelhurst on cover of Teacher by Gabbie Stroud.)

I sincerely hope that 2019 will be a year focussing on holistic education and children as people … But that may well be a wish in vain.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on January 22 2019 under the banner Curriculum is not a toy.

On December 9 2018, in the early days of the Morrison Government the new Minister for Education Dan Tehan made pronouncements about educational priorities. Mr Tehan spoke about the need for school curricular to cover basics ( the three R’s) and how important it was for basic education to be front and centre in the curriculum for Australian schools. Basics he said, needed to be the number one school priority.

In essence ‘the basics’ have always been to the fore. However, in practical terms, things are not quite that simple. The Australian curriculum is constantly bombarded by those who want to influence subject agendas. They speak loudly, with persuasion and often about matters they think important. However they are peripheral issues, far removed from Mr Tehan’s expectations.

Organisations like COAG impose a Commonwealth imprimatur on what happens educationally at Australian, State and Territory level. These requirements are interpreted by state and territory governments through their education departments to schools.

This weighty organisational scenario leads to constant change in curriculum priorities and challenges educational practice. It seems that nothing ever stays the same for very long. That makes it hard for schools to set agendas, purchase resources and service programs. Staff development required to familiarise teachers with endless changes is a constant after school requirement.

What doesn’t help the process is the fact that many demands from on high are without notice, being suddenly foisted upon systems. That was the case with Mr Tehan’s pronouncements. It was also the case when his predecessor Simon Birmingham declared that a foreign language had to be taught in all preschools in Australia. Nothing throws school programs and system expectations out of kilter more than hasty and intemperate pronouncements.

Part of the dialogue around shaping curriculum in schools should be a response to change suggestions being initiated by schools and fed back to system leaders. However, there is a tendency to meekly accept and comply with edicts from above, hoping these changes will work.

This means priority setting is an exercise conducted from the top down, with little suggestion for implementation happening at school level. It may well be that school leaders and teachers are worried about their performance management reviews and future employment prospects if they debate these issues with their superiors.

Curriculum changes should be carefully considered. They should be based on substance and not on whim. Those advocating for change should be considerate of students, teachers and school communities. They should not spring major curriculum change and redirection out of leftfield.


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.