These columns were published in the Darwin/Palmerson/ Litchfield Suns in April 2014.
Readers are welcome to quote and use, but I would appreciate acknowledgement of the Suns Newspapers.
CAR CHAOS AROUND SCHOOLS
A long term and ongoing problem is that of congestion created by parents dropping off and picking up students from their schools. Traffic issues impacting on many schools is almost chaotic.
This issue has been on the agenda of most schools for many years. It is like a festering sore! Further, it seems the problem will get worse before it gets better. While some schools have spent a great deal of money modifying and extending parking space, the situation is still confronting. Driving past any of our Darwin and Palmerston schools before and at the end of each school day, confirms this to be the case.
Why the problem
There are many factors contributing to the issue.
* The majority of our schools were built many years ago. Then, our city was significantly less populated than now. Growing numbers mean more people and more cars creating a congestion problem. Newer schools have been constructed with traffic and parking consideration in mind, but that is not the case for facilities build more than fifteen years ago – the majority of our schools.
* Some of our older schools have the ground space necessary to modify and extend traffic throughput and parking availably. Several have modified and upgraded vehicle access but at the cost of space loss for other activities.
* For many schools, traffic extensions are not possible because there is insufficient space for upgrades.
* Funds availability can be an issue. While drive-through and parking extensions for some schools have been funded by grants, that concession has not been universally available.
* Tied funds means issues around vehicle movement and congestion cannot be alleviated. The Building Education Revolution (BER) sunk many millions into Territory schools but with strict spending imprimaturs. This meant that identified school needs could not be funded if they were different to the project options offered by the Federal Government. Similiarly, funding for car management projects through NT Governments has been minimal.
* The apparent reluctance of City Councils or the Territory Government (depending on who is responsible for particular roads) to install traffic calming devices is an issue. One particular school with a chronic vehicle issue asked the City of Darwin Council to place speed humps on the road adjacent to its drop off and pick up zone. The request was declined because speed humps would slow the traffic!
* Most schools are not located on major arterial roads. However there is increasing use of these roads by traffic from expanding suburbs. Drivers ‘rat run’, taking short cuts to work on the lesser roads past schools. This adds to traffic volume in local areas.
Walking or cycling
It is often suggested to parents that their children should walk or cycle to and from school. That is fine for students living close to their schools. However, newer suburbs are located at increasing distances from schools. Schools are generally not built to keep pace with suburban development. Building programs lag behind residential and commercial construction.
Walking and cycling can be hazardous. Many footpaths are poorly maintained and children are likely to be confronted by barking dogs. Cars reversing from driveways can be an issue. Some parents have concerns about unaccompanied children because of road crossing hazards. They also worry about their children being confronted by strangers. In an age where we are constantly reminded of the need for personal care and security, many parents and caregivers believe driving children to school is the only sensible option.
It is behoven upon us all to be mindful of the need for care when driving within school precincts. That extends to both parents and children. To date there have been few accidents around school zones, but plenty of near misses. It is a miracle there have not been more serious mishaps. Extreme care and caution must prevail.
RELIEF TEACHERS SUPPLY VITAL SCHOOL SERVICE
Relief teachers fill a vital role in our schools.Without their contribution schools would be stretched in providing teaching continuity for students in the case of teacher absence. Most absences which require class coverage are for sick leave. Sickness is generally brief, one or two days at the most but there can be longer periods of teacher illness.
Employing relief teachers may be necessary when teachers are on long service leave, jury duty, army reserve exercises, or urgent business leave. They may be on professional development courses, parental leave because of sick children or attention required by their own, generally elderly, parents. Children in care may become unwell, requiring the child care centre to contact their parent. asking that the child be taken home. Some teachers are also parents with parental responsibilities.
Short notice given
If they are going to be absent from work, teachers try to give as much notice as possible. However, there may be a need for them to take leave at short notice. With personal child care and other emergency situations, teachers have to walk out the door almost immediately, leaving their classes and school responsibilities to the care of others. Being able to engage the services of relief staff is paramount to smooth running and learning continuity for students.
Until a relief teacher can be booked, the school principal and leadership group step into the breach in order to ensure a lack of disruption. Other members of staff also contribute, foregoing release time, in order to assist.
Organising relief teachers to cover classes and programs is not easy. Schools working off the general relief teacher list (names and preferences of relief staff known to the Education Department) can be frustrated. In countless instances, supply teachers contacted have moved, accepted short term contracts, taken work in other professions, are travelling, have already committed to schools ringing earlier and so on. One remarkable case involved contact with a teacher for work ‘tomorrow’. The teacher responded to the call from Trafalgar Square in London where they were holidaying.
Many relief teachers are available only for particular grades and subjects or only on certain days each week. The process of engaging temporary staff can be challenging. It is not unusual for thirty to forty phone calls to be made before schools successfully engage relief staff.
Supply and Demand
There are far more positions to be filled than relief teachers available to fill them. Generally it is a case of getting in early or missing out altogether. With sudden teacher illness there is a degree of pot luck about engaging relief staff. When staff are going to be away on professional development programs, relief staff are contacted well in advance of the absence, because many are booked up weeks ahead for work.
It can at times be absolutely impossible to obtain relief staff. In these cases classes may have to be split, with teachers from other classes taking extra students for a day or two. In order to avoid these splits, specialist teachers may have to leave their regular programs to help with class cover. Members of school leadership groups may need to put their regular duties on hold and step in to assist.
Teachers and school support staff members are at times criticised because of absence from work. However, they like the rest of us get sick and are parents with family and personal commitments. Absence is both necessary and unavoidable. The support offered by relief staff is necessary and invaluable. Relief teachers fill a vital role in our schools.