INCENTIVES HAVE COME A LONG WAY

This article was published in the NT Sun Newspapers on May 21 2019 under the title Coping with NT isolation.

Incentives needed to attract and retain teachers in remote Northern Territory schools is the subject of frequent discussion between the Education Department and the Australian Education Union (NT).

The issue was first addressed in the NT by a group drawn from the Education Department, the Territory Branch of the Australia Teachers Union and the NT Principals Association in 1978. From that time onward, incentives and rewards for service in centres outside Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs have been regularly enhanced.

Some factors that lead to teachers feeling isolated and cut off from mainstream society have been overcome by technological advances. Nowadays, most communities have mobile phone and internet connections to the outside world. Connections are sometimes unreliable, but until a few short years ago these links were non existent.

The definition of ‘remoteness’ has been broadened to recognise all locations beyond Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs on a sliding scale of distance from these cities.

There have been other negotiated enhancements offered to those living and working in remote areas. They make teaching at distance from NT cities far more attractive than used to be the case. Benefits include the following.

• Rent free accomodation and furniture for all teachers other than those living in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs. Teachers used to pay rent for houses and furniture in all NT communities.

• Leave for special purpose needs (emergency and compassionate leave).

• Up to four business days per year available for employees to take leave in order to access services not available in their communities.

• Parental (maternity and paternity) leave entitlements have been enhanced and provisions modified to recognise family needs.

• Teachers and their families receive two or three fares out of isolated locations each year for recreational purposes in either Darwin or Alice Springs. A kilometre allowance is available for those driving their vehicles rather than flying.

• Special allowances have been introduced for some positions in remote teaching locations.

• Teachers receive a fortnightly remote incentive allowance to help offset freight costs for perishable foods and other necessary goods.

• Remotely located teachers accrue points toward generous paid study leave.

. Depending on location and the time they have been in remote areas, teachers are offered a remote incentive allowance (between $1,212 and $9,239) and remote retention payment (between $500 and $1,000) each year. These provisions reward length of remote area service.

• (Source: Teach in the Territory Employee Benefits)

Living and working in remote Territory locations is challenging. However 21st century communications have reduced the tyranny of distance. Benefits offered have been enhanced over the years and need to be appreciated when conditions of service are being discussed.

RETENTION OF TEACHER INCENTIVES VITAL

This opinion piece was published in the NT Sun Newspapers on 14 May 2019 under the title Rental move is a step back.

It was revealed in the NT budget repair plan that a rental assistance incentive available to teachers in Katherine will be wound back. From the beginning of 2020, the subsidy will be cut from $2 million dollars to $1.5 million. Teachers will be responsible for paying the difference.

In response to the government’s belt tightening demands placed on departments, Education CEO Vicki Baylis “… said her department offered up the Katherine subsidy, along with other subsidies, as instructed by the government.” (Our teachers are ready to leave, Katherine Times, May 3 2019)

Ms Baylis confirmed that reducing the rental subsidy is a done deal. ““It was a Cabinet decision to seek to remove them, it would have to be a Cabinet decision to reverse it” she said.” (Op cit)

Given the reduction will not impact upon Katherine teachers until January 2020, there is hope that matters might be resolved.

A significant package of incentives has been designed to attract and retain teachers to remote areas of the NT. There is some variation on offered incentives, determined by the degree of workplace remoteness. Along with Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs, Katherine is not generally defined as being ‘remote’.

Contemplating the loss of benefits and conditions of service for teachers in areas outside Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs is distasteful. A better and ultimately more efficient way of examining expenditure priorities might be to reduce and redesign the extensive departmental structure that oversights Territory schools.

There was a time when the NT Education Department had two service divisions. With the passing of years this straightforward structure has exponentially broadened and deepened. Education’s organisational structure has expanded to seven divisions. There are 84 director and manager positions within the support service hierarchy. Many of these positions generate a significant number of additional office staff.

Functions that were once the prerogative of the department under a centralised management model, have now been outsourced to school boards and councils. However, this has not reduced the numbers of people employed in the head office. Devolving educational responsibility to schools has generated accountability requirements imposed by government. Overseeing how schools manage their responsibilities has lead to the employment of more central office staff.

It is unwise to prune historic incentives offered to teachers of our schools. A better approach would be to have confidence in and trust in our schools. If that happens, less staff will need to be employed to monitor schools. Salary savings rather than cuts to incentives may help balance the educational budget.

NAPLAN WEEK (May 14 – 17) EMBRACES AUSTRALIA

NAPLAN – THE WEEK AHEAD

This week coming is NAPLAN week for Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students around Australia. NAPLAN the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy is going around for the twelfth time. Year nine students will be going in for4 their fourth dip at the testing regime, so they are old and experienced hands.

Regardless of what people say, think, feel and do, it is important to recognise NAPLAN as the an null lighthouse event on the Australian Educational Calendar for Primary and Middle School students in urban, town, rural and remote locations in every state and territory of Australia. It is not going too far to suggest that NAPLAN is the cement that binds together the bricks of our Australian Educational edifice.

This is not a comment on the sturdiness of the educational wall. I simply suggest that NAPLAN is the idol worshipped by all politicans and policy setting educationists who believe that testing and assessment is the pinnacle of educational essence. Primary school children children and middle school students are the guinea pigs, the means and the instruments enabling the emulation of these tests.

A regional superintendent once suggested to a group of principals in the NT, that education was about teaching, strategies and DATA. It is about teachers being offered strategies to teach toward DATA outcomes. NAPLAN rules OK!

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE IN HANDS OF PARENTS

Indigenous school attendance has been an issue for decades. In a recent speech in the NT Assembly, the Member for Nhulunbuy Yingiya Guyula tried to explain the reason for chronic non-attendance. he said it has top do with the dismantling of bilingual education and as paucity of Aboriginal school principals and teachers.

This in a country where learning depends on keen knowledge of English as our country’s language of transaction.

Yingiya Guyula’s speech about attendance issues is an excuse and not a reason for chronic absence of children from school. Over the past 30 years, millions, indeed tens of millions of dollars have been spent on school attendance programs. The problem continues as the major reason why indigenous children are well behind the schooling eightball. Unless and until parents and communities recognise and manage the problem, under-education will remain a major issue.

The issue is not one that can be fixed by external agencies. The fix HAS to come from home and community. This is a statement of absolute fact.

Chronic school non-attendance by indigenous children is an issue of sad reality, both historically and in a contemporary context. The issue MUST be owned by parents and families. Handballing will not work because it is their problem.

There ARE ways of ensuring school attendance in communities. Ways based on a reasoned and interactive approach between school and community. I know that for an absolute fact because I worked in communities for a good number of years in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The reality is that no one who is responsible for contemporary education wants to know what works. They prefer the trial and fail mode.

Mr Guyula’s speech was made in the NT Assembly on Wednesday May 8 2019.

RESEARCH CONFIRMS HOME/SCHOOL DISCONNECT

This article was published in the NT Suns Newspapers under the title Parents play crucial role on May 7 2019.


Recent research by researcher Amy Graham confirms a long term disconnection between parents and teachers. Ms Graham a PhD student at Charles Darwin University, found that in preparing their children to start school, the prime focus of parents was their literary readiness. Teachers on the other hand “ … just wanted teachable kids.” (Kids not ready for school, Behaviour a Problem: CDU research, Phillippa Butt, Suns Newspapers, 16 April 2019)

Graham’s study confirmed some quite startling results. “My research … shows that teachers find about 62 per cent of children starting school have at least one cause for concern, whether that is their emotional development, social skills, cognitive maturity, physical or literacy development.” (Op cit)

Graham’s research sample was wide-ranging, covering 35 NT and South Australian schools. Significantly, she dealt with children in transition who were into their second term of school, having already experienced ten weeks of settling in activities.

Ninety four percent of parents within the study engaged in literacy activities with their children at least three times each week. While 90% of parents undertook three or more activities each week aimed to boost the self confidence of their preschool aged children, more effort was needed.

The literacy skill and social capability children most need when starting school, is the ability to listen. Listening is often discounted as being of little consequence. Nothing could be further from the truth. From listening grows the ability to think, comprehend and understand the social nuances which support growing up.

A great deal of teacher time during the initial year(s) of school turns from academics to matters of character. Teachers expect to reinforce social and emotional factors of child development but are instead finding they are having to introduce these attributes to children.

Graham found that what teachers rate the highest is “… the child’s ability to self-regulate, be confident … and cope with the new demands of the school environment. That might be simple things like (opening) their own lunchbox …(following) basic instructions like sitting on the mat … or (waiting) for their turn at an activity.” (Op cit)

The general shortfall and lack of social and emotional readiness for school, means teachers have to devote significant time to these developmental needs before settling into academic routines.

Anecdotal awareness suggests that if teachers change initial teaching expectations focussing on this development, children will adjust and catch up on academics.

Graham’s research suggests that parents should take the time to help children develop the personal habits and social skills that will give them a good start in their early years at school.

NAPLAN : 12TH YEAR OF CONFUSION

This opinion piece was published in the NT Suns Newspapers on April 30 2019, under the title NAPLAN no perfect plan.


As students and teachers head into term two, it is with the realisation that the 2019 NAPLAN program is only days away. The tests start in 14 days. The 2019 tests in literacy and numeracy will take place from Tuesday May 14 to Thursday May 16, with Friday May 17 a catch up day.

NAPLAN tests, introduced in 2008, will be undertaken by all year 3, 5, 7, and 9 year Australian students for the twelfth time this year. The ‘all’ is advised because parents have the option of withdrawing their children from the program. There may also be other circumstances leading to students not sitting these tests.

Of all our national educational programs, NAPLAN has probably survived the longest. It is also the one area of national compulsion that is the most misinterpreted and misunderstood of all mandated school requirements.

When introduced, NAPLAN tests were proposed as providing an opportunity for snapshot awareness of student progress at a particular point in time. That initial focus quickly expanded, with systems, schools and students now being compared with each other. They are used by some schools when advertising for students.

The whole process is burdensome, in both time and cost. When tests are completed in May, analysis begins. Wave after wave of data is developed in both minute and voluminous detail. Results are rolled out within systems, to schools, students and parents. That continues during the following months, ceasing a few short weeks before the next round of tests are due.

Data’ is always the prime subject on the agendas of most educational meetings at both system and school level. The major subject when considering data, is NAPLAN.

Program costs are mind-boggling. Dr Justin Coulson a psychology researcher conservatively estimated that the 2015 program cost $100 million. Multiplied by the twelve years NAPLAN as been a testing regime would put its cumulative cost well above a billion dollars.

Costs of maintaining the ‘My Schools’ website, created for the prime purpose of sharing this testing data, needs to be added. Federal Budget Estimates of 2013-14 cited the website cost within a range of $700,000 to $1.5 million a year. With annual add ons to the site, this would not have become any cheaper with the passing of years.

If the salary costs of teachers and curriculum specialists pre-occupied with the program were added, NAPLAN expenditure would be stratospheric. Education first and foremost should be for children. Testing should support students, not sacrifice them and their schools on the NAPLAN altar.

HONORARY DOCTORATES ARE A SELLOUT

Few things make my blood boil more the the crass and indifferent manner in which our universities hand out honorary doctorates to notary publics. Doctorates not earned through any academic effort but conferred because they are deemed to be important people.

The ‘Australian’ today noted that Adam Goodes had been awarded his third honorary doctorate – this time from the University of Adelaide. He already has honorary doctorates from the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales. He joins the myriad of sportsmen, politicans and other citizens who have done good works but not in the academic field.

No one denies that Mr Goodes is a standout citizen who earned the Brownlow Medal and was deemed to be our Australian Citizen of the Year in 2014. My point is that academic qualifications should be earned through academic application and deep study. Honorary qualifications are not so earned and discount the worth of the efforts made by those who study hard for years and years in pursuit of academic excellence. They may help university administrators in some feel good way, but they are given in arrant disregard of the worth of genuine academic effort.

Hundreds and hundreds of people in Australia have been given honorary status and then lauded in a way that must be off-putting for genuine university students.

Honorary doctorates waive all thesis, research and examination requirements. They are pyrrhic. They acknowledge people who have contributed in other arenas in life’s world but not through university study. Their conferral at awards ceremonies must do little to make genuine doctorate earners feel good about the work they have done, their hundreds of hours of study and the many thousands of dollars surrendered in university fees.

Those with the ‘honorary’ title go on their way, generally in a quite affluent financial environment, and in a manner totally unrelated to the university, to students and to tertiary education.

I wish the practice of giving out honorary qualifications would become history.