SUNS 43 and 44
These columns were published in the Darwin/Palmerson/ Litchfield Suns in May 2014
Readers are welcome to quote and use, but I would appreciate acknowledgement of the Suns Newspapers.
REPORTING TIMES ARE COMING
Reporting on student progress for the first semester of the year is just around the corner. For most schools, this will be the first written report for 2014. It has been traditional for schools to offer parents written reports at the end of each semester, in June and December. Most schoolsv report orally through parent teacher interviews toward the end of terms one and three.
Change over time
In the 1970’s and into the early 80’s, reports for primary school children were standardised and handwritten. They were issued twice each year. Parent teacher interviews either did not form part of the reporting process or were in their infancy. The report was a 4 page A5 size document. The front page identified the school student and grade. Pages 2 and 3 gave students ratings in each subject and had space for a two line comment. Work habits, behaviour and deportment were allowed a small but important space for comment. Ratings were scaled from very, very good (VVG) to fail (F). The report provided for a general handwritten comment from both teacher and principal. Carbon paper was used. Parents received the original. The duplicate copy was placed in the student’s school record folder.
Since those early days, reporting processes have changed. Changes happened as schools endeavoured to recognise and report to parents on current educational curriculum and reporting methods. As priorities change, so do reporting formats. Schools develop their own reporting documentation, but are required to report on key areas determined by the department.
Handwritten reports are a thing of the past. Computer generated reports have their upsides and downsides. Preparing the twice yearly reports for printing and distribution should be easy. However, technical glitches that invariably occur can make the exercise quite nightmarish. These can range from system overload (with teachers trying to access software programs for input at the same time) to template issues. One of the most common template glitches is that data, once entered, cannot be edited or changed. High levels of concentration are necessary and document preparation is often a fatiguing process.
A very high priority is placed on reporting by the Education Department. Reports issued at the end of each semester take many weeks to prepare and finalise. The process is very time consuming.
The reporting focus is on academic outcomes, with achievement being the main area targeted. They are often wordy, but according to many parents lacking in substance. Reports are often criticised for use of jargon and ‘eduspeak’ which make it hard for parents to interpret what is being said. The inclusion of comments relating to student effort, attitude, conduct and character development is held to be less important than once was the case. That is unfortunate because there is much more to the development of young people than academics.
Students used to be held accountable for their attitude and effort toward schooling. That gave teachers the confidence to report on these attributes, for they knew parents would talk with children about changing to improve when outcomes needed to be lifted. That appears to have changed. If students are struggling or do not succeed, teachers are placed under a microscope of scrutiny. They have to justify why students might be achieving less than their best. Naturally that causes teachers and school leadership groups to think very carefully about report wording. There is probably a sub-conscious concern that in years to come, they may be sued for poor student outcomes. In America, litigation by former students against teachers and schools because of their (students) poor outcomes is taking place. That raises concerns for teachers about the Australian and even Territory future in this regard.
The most effective reporting can be that which focusses on conversation and understanding between students, parents and staff. Nothing is better than a partnership where responsibilities are shared, appreciation exists and positive outcomes are enjoyed. Reporting times should be anticipated positively rather than with apprehension.
PROTECTING THE YOUNG
Responsibility for children and young people is vested in both parents and schools. We need to do our very best to ensure they are protected from those who would prey upon them. It is all too easy for our youth to have their innocence violated by those who seek to take advantage of them.
Australia-wide Royal Commissions and inquiries confirm that the abuse of young people has happened over decades. Testimony offered at these hearings confirms that hundreds, possibly thousands of people have grown from damaged childhoods to become adults conflicted by personal and psychological issues. Many never heal. However, this sad abuse continues into our times and will probably feed commissions and inquiries when today’s children reach adulthood. Pornography is possibly top of the list when it comes to modern day invasions upon young people. Hardly a week passes without the revelation of some on-line pornographic ring being broken after police survelliance.
Parents, teachers and those responsible for the well- being of children are constantly urged to be on guard and protective of the young. A raft of processes have been put in place to try and counteract what seems to be the growing trend of sins against young people, by those without moral scruples. Anyone working with children in the NT is required to hold an ochre card, renewable every two years, confirming them as fit and proper persons to work with young people under 18 years of age. Volunteers who support young people have to hold a volunteers card, also renewable biannually. Cards are issued only after police checks confirm the good character of card applicants.
Safe Schools Mantra
Schools focus as fully as possible on practising the ‘safe schools’ mantra. At the beginning of each school semester, principals are required to update staff on issues pertaining to mandatory reporting. Staff sign a document agreeing to the requirement that they keep a close eye on children, reporting anything which may be untoward. The Safe Schools NT websites over-arching operational statement states in part, ‘It is an absolute priority to ensure that our schools are safe…”. Website content includes an abundance of material to assist school staff in providing for this outcome.
The Department of Education works conjointly with the Department of Children and Families (DCAF) to provide the safest possible environments.
There are a number of drawbacks to Education and DCAF’S partnership.
* There can be a time lapse between reporting to DCAF and action being taken.
* While privacy must be respected, school principals often never hear of case outcomes.
* Processes are often hindered by the enormous caseloads carried by DCAF staff.
* The quite rapid turnover of staff within DCAF can result in the passing of cases to incoming staff, necessitating a revisit to the facts and resulting in time delays.
* There is a perception that everything for children is fine as long as they are fed and clothed. In fact reporting is often for other matters relating to the welfare
and care of young people.
Defining what needs to be reported can be problematic. Part of that comes about because teachers and staff may each see situations differently. Workplace pressures involve staff with so much busy work, they have limited time to be aware of students on a wider front. School staff with concerns should discuss those with their principal. My practice was to take those concerns ‘as mine’ and own the reporting process. That ensured my awareness of those issues felt by staff members.
A ‘Must Do’
Protecting our young people is of paramount importance. It involves parents, schools, agencies and the community. Neglect when it comes to matters of care, upbringing and safety can place children in harms way and subject them to soul-destroying damage.