SCHOOL HOLIDAYS A BLESSING AND BANE
Australian Education was once offered on the basis of three terms making up the school year. Then semesters replaced terms as the model under which education was offered. Four terms, each of ten weeks were organised into two semesters. All States and the ACT opted for a two week break between each term, with six weeks holiday at year’ end.
The Northern Territory Government and Education Department settled on a different model.
* Six weeks over Christmas and the New Year
* One week between terms one and two
* Four weeks between semesters one and two
* One week between terms three and four
* Six weeks (Christmas/New Year) at the end of the school year.
The Northern Territory chose this model because of isolation and the need for a long mid-year break. That was many years ago and things have changed.
* The Territory is less transient and families are more settled than was the case.
* Dry season festivals encourage people to stay in the Territory.
* Travel costs and economic realities are making two long holidays a year less affordable.
* This is the season for relations visiting rather than Territorians exiting.
* Communications have come of age. Contact with distant family and friends is achievable through online connections
There is a case for shortening the mid semester holiday, adding a week to the break between terms 3 and 4. The final term of the year is both busy and exhausting. One week does not allow sufficient time for recovery. Both staff and students flatlined as they go into term four’s critical examination and assessment period.
The NT News regularly carries letters written by people lambasting teachers as minimalist contributors who are given far too much holiday release. While there is a small percentage of poor performing educators, the great majority of teachers put in many, many more hours each week than the 36.75 for which they are paid. It is not uncommon for teachers to work for 60 or more hours each week, making the profession the most significant in the Territory for unpaid overtime. In addition, many use a large percentage of holiday time, planning and preparing in readiness for the return of students. Not only is teaching an exhausting profession, but one in which teachers are rarely appreciated and regularly condemned.
I suspect that community discontent over holidays is due in part to schools being considered by some as child-minding centres rather than educating institutions. This misplaced understanding is fuelled by governments who charge educational systems and schools with taking on responsibilities for bringing up children. These were once once vested in parents. With schools closed, the onus of responsibility for holiday weeks falls back on parents. Child care costs far more than school attendance and this can lead to resentment. There are of course many parents who welcome holidays as a chance for family refreshment and organise their yearly schedules around school term time. However, it is the perceived ‘negatives’ of school holidays that are most upheld in the public eye.
Without these necessary breaks, teachers and students would be forever flagging and never refreshed. Teaching would suffer with learning becoming a drudge. It is in the interests of teachers, support staff and students that school holidays stay in place.
ANCILLARY STAFF ARE ABSOLUTELY INVALUABLE
The roles filled by parents and teachers in developing meaningful educational partnerships and programs are important and valued. The care, concern and empathy of their parents and teachers, supports and encourages students during their educational years.
However, partnerships underpinning successful schools go beyond the three-way linking of students, parents and teachers. There is a fourth dimension, that being the educational support offered by ancillary and support staff employed within schools. Without their involvement, services available to students would be drastically reduced.
Administrative support staff include the school’s registrar (these days designated the ‘Finance Manager’) and front office staff. Frontline staff members set the tone and atmosphere parents and visitors feel when entering the school. That welcoming quality is crucial because first impressions are lasting, for those who come calling. Of equal importance is the impression gained when phone calls to the school are answered. Students come to the office for a myriad of reasons, including sickness, and need to feel comfortable with that contact.
Office administrators are the public relations front-runners for their schools. They are also responsible for maintaining the bulk of student records, including everything from admission to assessment records. Contact with parents and caregivers on behalf of the school is part of their brief. Daily and weekly returns that have to be lodged with the Education Department, school newsletters, web site updates and maintenance are included in their responsibilities. They carry out a myriad of tasks, most being programmed but others of a more immediate nature.
Perhaps the most significant administrative support role, is that filled by each school’s Finance Administrator. Money management and budget responsibilities are becoming more complex by the year, with several million dollars annually going through the books of many schools. Careful management of financial delegation is crucial to both school solvency and success.
Classroom assistants include preschool aides, transition aides and Student Engagement Support Assistants (SESO’s) who support younger children and those with special needs. Students adjusting to school and those confronted by learning challenges gain from added support and attention. Aboriginal and Islander Educational Workers (AIEW’s) encourage indigenous students and fill a role in linking home with school. Assistants can and do bolster students and help teachers in understanding the capacities and needs of individual children. Within many schools, teachers and support staff form valuable, collaborative teams. A significant number of classroom assistants undertake further study, including teacher training, outside their work commitments. They make excellent teachers, largely because of the background they gain through working in schools.
School function without support staff would grind to a halt. Administrative staff carry significant delegations and without their efforts school leadership teams would find coping quite unbearable. Without classroom assistants, teachers responsible for upwards of 25 children, would be less effective in meeting the broad spectrum of student needs.
The motivation of most ancillary staff is unquestionable. They are there because they want what is best for their school, its students and teachers. An examination of salary scales confirms that occupation is about far more than money. Most bring maturity, understanding and deep dedication to the jobs they do. They add value to our schools and are indispensable team members.