These columns were published in the Darwin and Palmerston Suns in September and October 2014

SUN 61


Invasion by head-lice is a perennial problem for children at school, with re-infection occurring regularly. There is a significant cost for the purchase of products used in treatment. That is particularly the case where two, three or more children in each family have to be treated every time an infestation breaks out.

Until the 1980s, the impact of headlice was felt less than is now the case. Community health sisters used to come into schools, inspect heads for infestation and treat infected children. However, that practice was discontinued because the powers that be decided the head-lice issue was a “social” rather than a “medical” problem. The onus for treatment came back onto schools and parents.

Teachers and administrative staff used to check children if head-lice were suspected, notifying parents of the need for treatment. In more recent years it has been deemed inappropriate for school staff members to touch the heads of children and inspect for lice. In part that was to avoid embarrassing children. It was also felt that physical inspection of heads could be deemed a form of assault.

If head-lice are suspected, staff telephone parents, asking that children be taken home and treated, before returning to school. This may mean time off work for parents and lost learning time for children.

Head-lice continue to be the number one scourge for schools and students. It takes the inattention of only one family represented in a class of children to cause an breakout affecting them all. Schools urge parents regularly inspect children’s heads for lice or eggs, carrying out treatment if necessary. The problem however continues to manifest itself within our schools.


In a similar manner, health problems affecting one or two children can have an impact upon whole school classes. During the cold and flu season classes are quite often decimated because of children who are sick and away. Teachers are also susceptible and many become quite ill. The non-treatment or non-exclusion of one or two children in the first instance can have serious health impacts upon whole school communities.

The Demands Of Work

Parental work commitments can mean unwell children are sent to school, even though they may spend the day in the sick bay. It is not uncommon for primary school sickbays to resemble a scene from crowded house! Support staff (when signed parental permissions forms are completed) can administer prescribed medication. They also handle reluctant parental responses when ringing and requesting sick children be picked up from school.

A good deal of the contagion that spreads through school classes happens because children in poor health are at school and spreading infection.


A growing amount of administrative time is spent in notifying parents about health issues. Letters from schools to parents about head lice are sent home with monotonous regularity. With a growing percentage of parents declining immunisation for children, notification about measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, new strains of flu and other outbreaks have to be made.

Student health and well-being matters are major school issues. They should be at the forefront of parental awareness and response.

SUN 62


In recent weeks that hoary old chestnut ‘discipline’ has been to the fore in local media. The key issue raised was that of corporal punishment and it’s use in schools. What came to light was the fact that the NT Education Act still refers to corporal punishment as an available disciplinary alternative.

That in fact has not been the case for more than a decade. Around the turn of the century, principals in Government Schools were notified that corporal punishment was no longer to be administered. Prior to that time and as far back as the 1970’s, the use of the cane was allowed within strict regulatory parameters.

It is true to say that discipline applied to students was quite harsh in both verbal and physical terms. With the passing of years, anachronistic practices have been streamlined and modified. Behaviour management strategies based on understanding students have been developed and implemented. All schools have behaviour management policies which are included within their improvement action plans. Principles of natural justice underpin these policies. They are ahead of the present Education Act, which when modified will catch up with discipline practices in place within our schools.

Boot On Other Foot

We have moved a long way from the old, historical methods of discipline. Every effort is made to offer safe, secure learning environments to students. The idea for discipline is that it should positively uphold and reinforce 2014 school values.

A key and sinister shift however, is not how discipline impacts upon students but how the softly, softly approach can and does backfire on schools and staff members. This is particularly the case within the public school sector. Student aberrance, deliberate defiance and antisocial conduct raises difficult, sometimes intolerable situations for school staff, along with silent, suffering student majorities. As disciplinary options for principals and their teams have ‘softened’ it seems there has been an escalation in the unacceptable behavioural attitudes of some students. Teachers and other students have to suffer the indignities these behaviours unload on classes and schools.

Nicely worded, affirmative and embracing behaviour management policies, in practical terms, have little impact or influence on this hardline student core. The system appears to have little capacity to deal with manifestly unacceptable conduct, meaning that schools suffer. At the classroom level, about the only countering device and control measure available to teachers are their tongues. In many cases, verbal remonstration has little impact on correcting student behaviour. Principals and school leadership teams are similarly constrained.

Offering engaging educational alternatives within purpose built units for disruptive students has been tried and can make a difference. However, there are far more students needing this support than places available to meet school and system needs.

Stress Issues

Student discipline is an area increasingly impacting on health and well-being issues for school staff. A health and well-being survey conducted by the Monash University in 2013 identified student violence and bullying as a key stressor for school leaders (Summary Report pp 7,8). The number of teachers taking long term sickness and stress leave has escalated in the last decade and is largely attributed to student behaviour. Recently a Victorian teacher was awarded $1.3m as compensation for a career disrupted and ruined by student behaviour. According to rumour, this settlement has other educators, who have similarly suffered, considering litigation. ‘Discipline’ is a two-way street, and teachers are increasingly on the receiving end.

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