Teachers, particularly Primary School teachers often wonder whether schools are schools. It seems that many including parents, politicians and the community at large think of them as creches. According to the Macquarie Dictionary a school is a place where instruction is given for children. A creche is a nursery where children are cared for while their parents work. It seems to many educators that parents and primary caregivers are muddled between the two.
I am not blaming parents for the social malaise of the early 21st century. Talking about parents, schools and children Jeff Wells (Weekend Australian 20-21 April 1991) wrote it is a sign of the economic times that many families have to offer their children to be brought up by institutions alternate the nuclear family because of economic imperatives.
Changes in Educational Perception and School Definition
During the past fifteen to twenty years, for instance, teachers and office staff have become increasingly the minders for sick children, They are sent to school when unwell because parents cannot afford the time off work to care for them. The phenomena of unwell children spending their days in school medical rooms is exacerbated by industrial relations laws that either don’t recognise or are unkind to the needs of parents. This is still the case, notwithstanding the changes to legislation that has lead to some apparent enlightenment and added employee entitlement under the Fair Work Act.This puts school staff into a position of being minders, with school too often like unto health centres.
Front and centre to this are children who will endure as much as they can when sent to school ill, because they fear consequences if parents are contacted by the school about their unwellness. Over my years as a school principal, I became all too aware of this phenomena.
It is during the past twenty odd years that vacation school care, outside school hours care (before and after school) homework centres, school extracurricular programs for sport and so on, have sprung up. I have the greatest respect for the support these programs offer, but make the point that their necessity has been occasioned by parents who are increasingly obligated to work and occupational commitment. The modern world and economic necessity have prioritised their time, largely taking family destiny out of their parental hands.
Expecations coming down from On High
Added to this role expansion (some would say distortion) are in-school imperatives increasingly driven by Australian Government compliance requirement setting detailed agendas which put a real squash on school, learning and teaching time. principals and teachers in schools are feeling the squeeze like never before. Be it wise or not, school based educators appear to be increasingly supplicant to these demands; rarely if ever is debate about the wisdom or otherwise of imposed agendas initiated at school or system level. Schools and staff are expected to ‘stretch’ and cover curricular demands.
I recall Jim Spinks, a prominent Tasmanian school Principal and ‘practical academic’ advising that if things are added onto the school curriculum, items have to be dropped off in order to enable sensible accommodation. This exhortation is rarely followed meaning that schools and staff members become overwhelmed by requirements.
Metaphorically, schools are like sponges, given more and more to soak up: The capacity to endlessly absorb responsibility is reaching toward a perilous end-point. Confirming this is both anecdotal and empirical evidence attesting to teachers leaving the profession in increasing numbers. There is only so much a body can take and there is a huge lack of appreciation offered schools and staff members.
Aspiration and Actuality
Caring educators believing in and practising quality education always aim to meet the needs of learners. However there is an onus on society, its governments and its institutions to make sure schools and educators are affirmatively recognised and appreciated. Meeting the needs of children and students will be more likely to happen if education’s key servants – teachers and support staff – are given support, credit and recognition deserved for they role they play in educational and developmental partnerships.
Note: Published in original form in ‘NT News’ in 1993 and undated in 2013.