This piece was published in the NT Sun on March 20 2018.




A recent Judith Aisthorpe article in the Northern Territory News (Schools battling bad eggs, March 4 2018) pointed out that the number of student suspensions from some schools has grown substantially in the last year or two. The same article also confirmed that 95% of all NT students meet school behavioural standards.

If this is the case then a small number of students are magnifying suspension statistics because of recidivist behaviour.

The behaviour of this minority has a significant impact on both classroom and school management. Disruptive behaviour has to be managed for the sake of pupils and to enable teachers to effectively do their job.

The staffing formula of schools supposedly take into account issues of children with special needs. Additional staff are factored into school staffing budgets to support students requiring extra assistance. Anecdotally, the amount available under budgeting arrangements for staffing allocation to schools does not satisfy all requests from schools needing this support.

The formula under which students are recognised for special needs provision have changed over time. The degree of challenge confronted by children now has to be more acute than was the case in years past. This places a responsibility on teachers and school principals to accomodate greater levels of special need within normal classroom contexts with a reduced number of support staff.

Into this mix has to be added the problems of managing aberrant student behaviour. Some misbehaviour is unavoidable and may be part of an inherent medical or social condition.

However, the issue of deliberate misbehaviour and gross disobedience can also be contrived by students. It is behaviour of this nature that has to be managed and quelled. Constant disruption has a significant impact on the learning opportunities of children. For the sake of the greater good, it can be necessary to suspend students who are not prepared to meet reasonable behavioural expectations.

When it comes to behaviour management, suspension is the last recourse and not the first option employed by schools. All schools have behaviour management policies with these being drawn to the attention of students and parents.

School principals who suspend students sincerely hope that they will learn from their mistakes and correct their behaviours. Every possible support, including engagement with parents, is offered. Suspension has to be an available disciplining option because it takes into account the needs of staff and other students.


This piece wwas published in the NT Sun on 13 MMarch 2018


The Australian Government and various agencies connected with well-being issues have determined that Friday March 16 will be a ‘National Day Against Bullying’ (NDAB). This is in part a response to the realisation that bullying behaviour, both directly and promoted by the use of online devices, is far more problematic than many have realised.

The issue is yet another that will impact on schools, principals and staff. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has written to principals of every Australian school asking that particular emphasis be placed on the humiliating and deleterious impact of bullying. He is asking that attention to the issue receive particular focus next Friday.

The Australian Government’s hope is that Principals and staff in all schools will make Friday an Australian wide day of educational push to give bullying the thumbs down. The Australian Government is allocating $1.37 million, to assist schools wanting to highlight the issue. This funding is additional to the millions already allocated to ‘headspace’ and other student wellbeing programs.

The NDAB is not intended to be either a starting point or endpoint on the bullying issue. It’s purpose is to highlight and draw awareness to an ongoing problem

Bullying is a nationwide issue. In Queensland, it is cited as the leading reason for the huge increase in the number of children being home schooled. The Courier Mail (March 1 2018) reported that five years ago, 1,108 children were being home schooled. That number has grown steadily year-by-year, with 2580 children now receiving education at home. According to the story, cyber bullies are the ‘tormentors (fuelling the) spike in homeschooling’.

In NSW, the problem has become so serious that laws are being enacted to allow principals to suspend students engaging in this behaviour both at school and outside school hours. (It’s too cruel for school, Daily Telegraph, March 2 2018).

All states and territories are developing policies to counter the threat of cyberbullying.

Cyber bullying has become a 24/7 issue and it is a 365 days of the year phenomena. It has become so ingrained that an e-Safety Commissioner has been appointed to receive reports, generate responses and offer advice on how the epidemic of online bullying can be managed. The issue is one requiring ongoing attention at school AND at home.

Students being bullied must be encouraged to speak up on issues to both their parents and teachers. Unless countered, this insidious form of attack on people will become an everlasting scourge.



This piece was published in the NT Sun on March 6 2018.



The NT News ran a story on February 23 confirming that principals are among the most dedicated of all professionals. By and large school principals are among the most committed of all who are leaders. According to the survey results quoted in Judith Aisthorpe’s story, “Territory principals are the most committed to their work.”

School principals should accept this compliment. So too should parents, students and communities supporting them.

School principals are often caught between two sets of expectations. On the one hand they are the contact persons taking orders from and reporting to policy setting politicans and system administrators. They have to ensure that systemically devised policies become practice within their schools. Their performance management is based on how school leaders meet expected school improvement and accountability pressures.

On the other hand, principals are beholden to their staff, students, parents and their school community. The expectations held for schools and schooling by this cohort are often different from the priorities set from on high. The effort involved in satisfying all parties with differing outcomes is both strenuous and time consuming.

The national health and wellbeing survey discussed by Ms Aisthorpe confirmed that occupational stress experienced by school leaders is close to double the anxiety level felt by the population at large.

A seriously concerning revelation was that 57% of school principals had been threatened with assault during the period covered by the survey. More alarmingly, 47% had been victims of physical violence. Any suggestion that principals as school leaders (and teachers) should absorb, accomodate and live with physical abuse is way off beam.

If assaults are inflicted by students, then departmental and government response supporting those assaulted is necessary. If inflicted by parents, guardians or members of community, the force of the law with appropriate changes needs to be brought. School leaders (and teachers) should not feel they have to live with such injustice. Neither should they feel themselves to be inadequate if they are victims of assault.

Principals reported they enjoy and gain satisfaction from their positions. If that satisfaction is shared by colleagues and family members, so much the better. However the pressures and expectations placed on school leaders are obvious. That awareness is a factor leading to many more junior educators determining they will never become principals.

That vow is ominous and must be turned, for the future of school principalship is under threat.



This piece was published in an edition of the (NT) Territory Teacher. The issue is one teachers and those working with children need to consider.



The rash of child abuse inquiries happening around our nation at the moment have lifted this  issue to the forefront of public awareness. Without doubt, some of the allegations levelled against teachers and others are as a result of the “stimulation” generated by these inquiries. Sins against children need to be visited and perpetrators punished. However, the reputations of those who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing need to be protected. Current actions need to be such that educators protect and guard against allegations at some future time.

Teaching is a profession that requires increasing vigilance in human relations by teachers, school leaders and principals. In recent years, the issue of child abuse has gained traction. Lots of abuse issues, most of an historical nature, are being raised. Various Royal Commissions and Inquiries have highlighted the matter. I have heard from Victorian Inquiries, that around 1,600 issues have been and are being followed up (July 2015). There are inquiries taking place in other states and territories.

Without doubt many of the allegations being brought against alleged perpetrators of past abuse, especially sexual abuse, are justified. They need to be followed through. However, there are instances when allegations are made with mischievous and malevolent intent. They hang those falsely accused out to dry. Accusations may be levelled against people many years after the alleged abuse occurred.

A quite recent program on ABC “Four Corners” illustrates this point. A female teacher in Melbourne was accused of sexually interfering with two boys around 30 years ago. She was dragged through a messy court process, including being accused, found guilty, and jailed. The case was subsequently appealed and another grimy court process ensued. At the end, she was found not guilty of these crimes and acquitted. Her career, of course was absolutely ruined. The protagonists who had brought the case against her, two men in their early 30s (they had been boys of seven or eight at the time referred to in the allegation) have not to this point in time been charged with their own gross criminal misconduct. The story’s inference is that they have simply shrugged it off! Significantly, the Victorian Department of Education, Teachers Union and Teachers Registration Authority appear to have offered no visible support to the teacher. These cases are not rare.

Allegations made against teachers presume guilt until the teacher proves his or her innocence.

I have been told that it is very unlikely prosecution will be brought against false complainants. The only recourse available to someone falsely accused and acquitted, is to seek redress through the civil court. That is costly, messy and continues the hurt.

It is wise for teachers to keep a clear, detailed and time noted record of instances when they have been connected with students in counselling and development. Nothing beats a detailed diary. When moving schools, retiring or otherwise moving on, take these records with you (I would suggest a diary). Maintain their accessibility. Keeping this data in USB or electronic form is an option.

If allegations are then brought, there is a clear record to show the date, time, place, and nature of the counselling. Often details brought by the complainant are fairly vague and being able to refute them with accurate data is of inestimable value.

There are one or two other points to keep in mind.

If counselling or working one-on-one with children, ensure that it is in a space that has visibility from the outside. A room with a see-through window, a common area within, a learning module, or a location within a linear classroom close to an open door are options.

I believe it paramount for teachers to report matters of counselling and discipline to a senior or to the principal along with keeping a written record.

Those who have false accusations brought against them, regardless of outcomes, are never the same people again. I understand they look at life differently. Their outlook becomes tinged with suspicion. They wonder if they can never be part of trustful relationships again. This issue is one of growing consequence and something all educators need to take on board and carefully consider. Don’t live in fear but never think it can’t happen to you because it can.

Henry Gray










This piece was published in the NT Sun on February 27 2018


In some respects, education in Australia has been about the cart being put before the horse. That has occurred in part because the predominate focus of Australian Primary and Secondary education has been at State and Territory level. It is only in comparatively recent times that education has taken on a more national look.

History contributed to Australian Education becoming fractured and developing along state and territory lines.
In a vast country challenged until comparatively recently by communication and distance issues, this organisation was the only real possibility. But there have also been parochial constraints. In the mid 1980’s, attempts to develop a national curriculum were thwarted by State and Territory authorities who did not want to pass educational control to a national body.

For education to take on a truly national outlook, there are three requirements. In the first instance, there needs to be a curriculum framework that embraces the whole of Australia. Secondly, teacher education should lead to national teacher registration. This would allow portability for teachers wanting to move schools across state and territory boundaries. Finally, a national curriculum should be nationally assessed.

The order in which these priorities have been considered is not logical. The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was introduced in 2008. NAPLAN assesses all Australian students in Years 3,5,7, and 9 for literacy and numeracy competence. Yet it was introduced as a nationwide measure of accountability, while States and Territories still held responsibly for their own curriculum delivery. Having a national curriculum prior to national assessment would have made more sense.

While we are now a fair way down the road toward universal curriculum, State and Territory authorities seem reluctant to fully embrace the concept. We contrast interestingly with many countries which have had a national curriculum for decades. It could well be that tested competencies in Australia are below comparative international standards because our curriculum has been so divided. Although State and Territory education authorities are coming together on the issue, national curriculum in many respects has a long way to go.

A third consideration ought to be the introduction of a National Teacher Registration Authority. At the moment Teacher Registration Boards (TRB’s) have State and Territory jurisdiction. A teacher wanting to move interstate has to be approved by that state’s registration board. A national board would streamline this process.

State and Territory boundaries limit educational effectiveness and are a barrier to Australia-wide outcomes. Nationalisation would introduce efficiencies and promote quality outcomes.


This article was published in the NT Sun on February 2018.



Caring for school environments is the duty of all users. If care is not taken, classrooms, walkways, toilets and school yards can quickly become littered and grubby. Most schools emphasise the need for students to properly dispose of rubbish. There are rubbish bins inside classrooms and buildings and strategically located around school, in toilets as well as communal areas.

It can be extraordinarily difficult for schools to maintain a clean, litter free appearance. A drive past some schools, particularly late in the afternoon, reveals a scatter of paper, plastic cups and other rubbish. A proliferation of rubbish detracts from the grounds appearance, giving the impression that all students are litterers. That is true only of of a minority.

Awareness of the need for classroom organisation and tidiness should be part of student development. In many classrooms there is a roster, assigning students to specific tasks. They might include the following:
• Cleaning whiteboards
• Delivering and collecting notes from the office
• Taking lunch orders to the canteen
• Collecting lunch orders from the canteen
• Tidying shelves and classroom storage areas
• Giving out and collecting work books
• Collecting recyclable materials.

All students take responsibility for:

• Tidy desks and personal storage areas
• Stacking their chairs at the end of the day
• Disposing of food scraps and their own rubbish into bins
• Putting litter into outside bins
• Personal hygiene including toilet flushing and hand washing
• Using classroom bins rather than floors for pencil shavings and scraps of paper.

Some would argue that attitudes of cleanliness and tidiness should be automatic. However, recognising effort and rewarding enterprise can help reinforce personal and civic attitudes. Recognition of class responsibility for care and maintenance of school appearance might include the following:

• The awarding at assembly of a mascot that ‘visits’ the tidiest classroom until the next assembly.
• Recognition of the class that looks after the verandahs and public areas adjacent.
• Giving small rewards to children caught ‘doing something good’ when it comes to  environmental care.
• Presenting class or principal’s certificates to classes and children who always do the right thing when it comes to school and classroom appearance.

Schools have cleaning contracts. Contractors attend to daily and weekly cleaning together with a ‘spring clean’ during each long holiday period. However, it is up to students and those using the school to look after and take pride in their facilities. Along the way, habits of cleanliness and tidiness that should last a lifetime, are reinforced.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on February 13 2018. I would welcome reader feedback on my position. This reflection takes account of my experiences with mobile phones in schools while a school principal.



The issue of mobile phones and students accessing them while at school has again come to the fore. The issue has become more critical because of self harm and suicides apparently motivated by the receipt of macabre messages.

Cruel messages and heartless pictures have a deleterious impact on the well-being of many students. From anecdotal evidence it seems that the impact of these messages on younger students is particularly pronounced.

We hear of students misusing their telephones during the school day to send such messages. They are also being used to “steal” photographs of others which can then be shared online. There are also stories of older students (in both primary and secondary schools) using their mobile phones during recess and lunch periods to share pornography between themselves and with younger students.

That this sort of thing is happening in schools is mind-boggling! The suggestion that it’s okay for students at school during the school day to access mobile phones when ever they want, is beyond all common sense.

We are also learning that very young students have their own devices which they are able to freely use, seemingly, whenever they wish

The latest scenario is that federal and state politicians suggesting that students should not be able to use mobile phones at school during the school day. This should not even be a point of debate. Students should not have phones and free access to the use at school during the school day. That used to be the way it was. If there has been a relaxation of the “no phone“ rule, it needs to be immediately reinstated.

Children and students bringing phones to school should be required to hand them to the front office or to a teacher for minding until home time. It would be better in the altogether for parents to resist pressures from children to supply them with “phones without operating rules”.

There are mobile phone options available which can be programmed to limit incoming and outgoing calls to pre-set numbers. The use of a limited device should be sufficient to enable necessary contact between parents and their children.

While some schools require students to bring their own devices to assist in study programs, these are usually laptops and iPads, which lend themselves to better control and monitoring. To continue unfettered phone use at school will continue the bullying and harassment trends which should not be a part of school culture.