I am not a researcher but an observer and a long time educational practitioner. The communications skills of young (and not so young people) have diminished over time. Far too many have gotten to the point of aural challenge and oral illiteracy. They do not know how to listen or speak.

Their writing and reading skills, but particularly writiing skills have diminished.

No, I am not a researcher but an educator who for over 40 years watched (and am still aware) of this diminishment of skill.

The iPhone is a device but finger manipulation skills and online language and abbreviation do not replace young people being able to look you in the eye during conversation, speaking clearly, confidently and with grammatical accuracy

This is a drawback for them in dealing with potential employers.

Tertiary institutions do not help. They are prepared to accept assignments and papers that are altogether mediocre by comparasion to past standards.

Not good.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 26 2018.


The importance of adult example is often discounted. Parents, teachers, politicians, church leaders and sports club coaches are among those who offer advice to young people about behaviour, deportment and expectation. The way this advice is shared needs to be carefully considered.

Children are very perceptive. Their awareness of the world around them is often discounted by adults.

Parents and teachers dealing with children should consider the importance of how they speak. It often happens that conversation is directed ‘to’ or ‘at’ young people. This method of communication can be very off-putting because it discourages them from responding. Genuine two-way conversation is inclusive. It encourages children to express their opinions and offer viewpoints on matters being considered.

‘Talking down’ to young people is an unfortunate habit that can be too easily embraced by adults. It discourages a response and can cause young people to feel resentful. It can lead to directives being given without an explanation of why they are necessary. This method of communication can become learned behaviour on the part of those to whom it is directed. In time it will become part of the way they speak to others.

Adults generally stress the need for children to be well mannered, polite and considerate of others. Part of this may include the way they speak to each other. The need for appropriate language is stressed. Speech should not include vulgar or racist expressions and should not be hurtful.

It is unfortunate that these ambitions held toward the development of young people, are often poorly modelled by adults. ‘Do as I say but not as I do’ seems to be the thinking of far too many people who should be setting a better example to young people. Crass speech, bad manners and poor behaviour are too often on display. This has to be confusing for those growing up to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders.

News bulletins are full of stories reporting the dark side of life. Verbal jousting, argument and acrimonious situations are shared on television, radio, print and social media. Manifestations of verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse abound.

Young people come to understand that these social negatives, both historical and contemporary, are condoned by adults. Yet they are urged to change the way things are by an adult population who fail to show a better way through the lives they lead themselves.

Today’s adults must model the behaviours they want to see in our upcoming generation.


This item was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 19 2018


Our Northern Territory Public Education System is often disparaged. It is held to be of lesser worth than its interstate counterparts. That is an unfortunate and inaccurate conception.

One of the challenges I faced as a school principal was that of parents coming from interstate assuming that NT Government schools were inferior to those they were leaving behind. In fact, NT public education more than holds its own. School leaders and teachers deserve thanks for the job they do. They work hard in urban, town and rural settings, supporting students across all social and cultural contexts.

I think at times when enrolling children from interstate, school leaders tend to be defensive of ‘have to’ parents. Parent have to enrol their children in NT. Schools because of work transfer. They may be apprehensive about the NT and what education offers. They don’t really ‘want to’ enrol in our schools.

We don’t need to justify our system to newcomers, or apologise for what our schools offer. They are up there with the best in Australia. This needs to be communicated to parents. Children being enrolled also deserve this reassurance. Visiting the Department of Education website and those maintained by our schools, confirms the many good things happening within the public education sector.

I can visit this topic as a parent as well as being a retired NT school principal. We came to the Territory in the 1970’s with our three young children. We lived and worked (and they were schooled) in remote communities, then town schools (Alyangula and Nhululunbuy) before we transferred into Darwin. Their primary, secondary and tertiary education was largely completed within the Northern Territory. They have in no way been reduced because of this experience, going on to become significant societal and economic contributors. The positive educational outcomes experienced by our children have been reduplicated for many thousands of other Territory families.

I believe public schools are sometimes discounted because they offer ‘free’ education. Private schools place a far heavier financial burden on parents. This can be a factor in shaping the attitude that ‘private education is better because we have to pay’. Government schools and their teachers provide quality education for a diverse group of multicultural students of all ages and ability levels.

The Territory encourages parent and community participation in establishing school policy through school councils or boards. This enables members to contribute to further enhancing public education.

Our Public School educational system is up there with the best. Our educators do not deserve put downs.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 12 2018


Michael Gunner’s thoughts about Indigenous Education that could be included in a treaty worry me greatly. If a treaty were to eventuate, the Chief Minister suggests that schools in indigenous communities could be given the right to run themselves. “The Government (would provide) money for education and the community (would take) responsibility for how it is delivered locally. Locals could take control of the curriculum … control of children attending school, teachers employed and seeing even more locals becoming teachers.” (Gunner will sign treaty, Sunday Territorian, 3.6.2018) In her story, Judith Aisthorpe reported that several people in high places thought this to be a great idea.

To declare all remote area schools as ‘independent’ and being able to set their own curriculum priorities would be a step backward, not forward. If still working as an educator in remote areas, schools set up under such loose guidelines would be places where I would not want to work.

Some years ago, a Territory politican who represented remote communities, offered a counterpoint. He said that in a mainstream Australian society, English Literacy and Mathematical understanding were key skills. They were necessary for transactional purposes. They were also skills all Australians needed for communication and survival.

Mr Gunner’s suggestions run counter to advice given to me by Aboriginal people in communities where we worked. They wanted ‘proper’ education. A prominent Indigenous Leader at Angurugu in the early 1980’s put it this way. “We want our children to be educated in the same way as children in towns and cities.” That was the brief with which we were charged. There is a place for bilingualism and for education to be culturally relevant. But to deny the need for competence in literacy and numeracy would be totally wrong.

This can only happen if a curriculum emphasising key academic skills is supported by qualified teachers. It is absolutely essential that families play their part by ensuring regular school attendance.

One of the downsides for Indigenous Education (and indeed for education as a whole) is that it has become politically cluttered. Those with and those without qualification feel it necessary to add their opinion to educational debate. People working in schools are busy reacting to what comes down as directives from on high. They have little opportunity to contribute meaningfully to sharing the realities of schools and programs. To uncouple education from an approved Australian curriculum supported by qualified teachers would further weaken remote area education which is already challenged.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on June 5 2018.

While written in relation to the NT, I am sure it has relevance to needs in other Australian jurisdictions.



An article in the NT News in late 2017, pointed out that many public servants take leave which may be questionable. This issue is quite frequently raised in the media. Those taking leave are at times held to be irresponsible for taking time off.

This perception is not helped by the fact that a certain number of days each year can be used without a medical certificate being required. Medical certificates are easier to obtain than was once the case. Pharmacists as well as medical practitioners are able to issue these documents, so a trip to the doctor’s surgery and an expensive consultation fee are no longer required.

One area of leave called upon by teachers may be that of time away to look after their own unwell children. Family should come first for everyone and genuine leave for family purposes should never be questioned.

Public servants are often portrayed as lazy, disenchanted with their work, selfish and interested only in themselves. This may be the case for a minority, but to apply this stereotype to the hard-working and committed majority is grossly unfair.

Permanent public servants are entitled to three weeks of sick leave each year. This entitlement is pro-rated for temporary employees and those on end-dated contracts. Sick leave is accumulative and weeks not used build up year-on-year.

Many public servants approaching retirement, use large portions of accumulated leave for medically confirmed reasons. This happens in part because unused leave is not paid out as a benefit to retirees. In some cases, this amounts to the forfeiture of many weeks of accumulated entitlement.

My suggestion (which to date has fallen on non-responsive ears) is that the NT Government and its Departments consider paying out this unused leave at a 20% rate. Retiring or resigning employees would receive a day’s salary for each week of accumulated leave. Someone with a balance of 20 weeks sick leave would receive the equivalent of 20 days pay on retirement. The greater the balance, the higher the payment.

Because this entitlement is not recognised on employment cessation, to the trend of employees exhausting their benefit prior to retirement may continue. Workplace and system headaches occasioned by employee absence in these circumstances remain an issue.


This was published in the NT Sun on May 29 2018.

The subject is one very close to my heart.


The NT Government is considering the reinstatement of the School Based Policing program. That is indeed good news! Reintroduction would be proof positive governments are prepared to accept that not all policy changes have been for the best.

The axing of the school based policing program from Territory schools was one of the worst decisions ever made. Judith Aisthorpe was absolutely right in reporting that when introduced in NT Schools in the 1980’s, “the program was heralded a success and adopted worldwide … the program in its original state was beneficial as it stopped crime and anti-social behaviour before it happened”. (Back to school for cops, NT News, 28/5/2018)

The School Based Policing program, introduced in the 1980’s, was a ‘top drawer’ initiative. Attached to high schools, each School Based Constable (SBC) had a number of feeder primary schools he or she attended. Constables would visit their schools to conduct Drug and Alcohol Education classes with children. They extended their role to include ‘stranger danger’ awareness and issues such as bullying.

Children used to appreciate ‘their’ constable in a way that helped them build positive feelings toward police. Social awareness and responsibility was an element of the program that helped students recognise their social and moral obligations.

In turn, constables became aware of important community issues that might require intervention. Appreciation and respect for law and order grew from this program.

The dismantling of the School Based Policing program with the substitution of police station based ‘Youth Engagement Officers’, was tokenistic. Key school programs lapsed, along with the contribution SBC’s made to the sharing of children’s learning and development of their attitudes. The changes went against the advice Territorians offered to government when regional meetings floating proposed changes were held. Those meetings urged the retention and strengthening of the program as it existed at the time. Notwithstanding community advice, changes were made. The program became far less effective and meaningful than had been the case.

The NT School Based Constable program was studied and adopted by police jurisdictions interstate and overseas. It was instrumental in developing healthy attitudes in young people toward law and order issues. Respect for law and order and acceptance of social responsibility is now at a low point within our Territory culture. That in part is due to the discounting of what was a highly successful and effective initiative. Now is the time to revisit and reinstate what was a most successful school and extra-curricular program.


An edited version of this column  was published in the NT Sun on May 22 2018.


Recent commentary has discussed shortfalls in the accomplishments of Australian students. Our students compared poorly with their Asian peers and other overseas counterparts. More money and material resources are directed towards Australian education than in many of the countries to whom we are compared, yet our results continue to be inferior.

An issue that impacts on outcomes is that of student attitude. Googling ‘student discipline’ online brings up countless reports confirming this to be the case. The latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) survey found that “…Australia ranked 63rd out of 68 OECD countries for classroom discipline.” (Classroom behaviour the key to future pay, Weekend Australian 19 – 20 May 2018). Dr Sue Thompson from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) confirmed that “… the environment is challenging for teachers.” (ABC Australian Kids behaving badly in classrooms, 16.3.17)

The ABC Report by Alice Martin goes into the level and degree of student offending. “ Things you would find in a classroom: an entire class deciding to ignore the teacher in silent protest, chairs thrown, threats and overturned desks.
(Australian) Teachers came forward to tell the ABC about the biggest classroom disruptions they experienced. It did not stop there. One teacher had three Year 9 boys skip her class and smear their poo all over the school gymnasium walls, while others had been cursed with the full spectrum of profanities. The list went on…and on.”

While the level and degree of ill-disciplined behaviour varies, the issue is one that has a deleterious impact upon learning opportunities and academic outcomes.

Classroom behaviour (or misbehaviour) has a negative impact on what can be achieved. Although not talked about openly, the behaviour of many students at both primary and secondary levels, leaves a lot to be desired. Teachers spend as much, if not more time, on classroom management and discipline as they do on teaching. This is not fair on those who are keen to learn.

Classrooms and students in many of our Territory schools are not quarantined from this sad reality.


The issue is one that has its genesis in the bringing up of children. Parents as primary caregivers are responsible for the initial shaping of the values and attitudes of their offspring. Proverbs 22.6 suggests “Teach your children right from wrong and when they are grown they will still do right.” (Bible, Contemporary English Version)

If Australian students are to attain the levels achieved by their overseas counterparts, this issue needs to be recognised and corrected.