These columns were published in the Suns during October and November 2014. Please feel free to quote or use but in so doing please acknowledge the Suns Newspapers as publishers.

SUN 69


There is a perception that teachers in our schools are all permanently employed. This is far from being the case. When teachers who are permanent go on maternity leave, long service leave or leave without pay, their positions are backfilled on a temporary basis. Replacement teachers are on short term contracts, which end when those on leave return to duty. There are few schools without contract teachers.

Contract teachers often move from one school to another, filling a succession of temporary vacancies on short term contracts. When permanently held positions are vacated due to resignation or retirement, contract teachers may be eligible for permanent appointment.

This process can be slow, with the period of time individual teachers spend on contract sometimes extending for years. While temporary teachers are glad to find work, there are downsides to not being permanent. It is very difficult for teachers who are on contract to negotiate home loans, meaning they are likely to be locked into the rental market. From a professional viewpoint it can be difficult for teachers to operate as they would if permanent staff members.

When temporary teachers move on, students often feel disappointment because they have come to know, appreciate and respect ‘their’ teacher. Disappointment means that re-entry for teachers returning from leave can be challenging.

There are no easy answers to this situation. While it might be nice to offer permanency to all teachers, this would rapidly result in teacher over-supply. The department cannot permanently employ more teachers than there are positions to fill within the Territory. A number of years ago, the majority of contract teachers were offered permanency all at once. It quickly became apparent this was a wrong move because there were more teachers than positions to fill.

Making teachers permanent to the NT Educational system rather than to particular schools in which they are working has also been trialled. This reassures teachers because they have permanent positions. However, it gives no guarantee that they will be placed in the school of their choice.

Remote Apprehension

If teachers were willing to accept appointment to the Territory’s regional and remote areas, the tenure issue would quickly dissipate. However the majority of teachers seeking permanent positions have little desire to move from urban areas to more distant locations. Some believe that accepting remote appointments means they will be locked out of positions in Darwin, Palmerston or Alice Springs. Many are mature age graduates with family commitments which preclude them from teaching in remote locations.

‘Difficult to staff’ schools force the Education Department to recruit from interstate. In time, some of these teachers become entitled to transfers into our cities. This adds to pressures faced by teachers on short term contracts. While empathising with these teachers, it is hard to see their appointment opportunities changing any time soon.
Contract employment for temporary teachers may be here to stay.

SUN 70


Several thousand Northern Territory Year 12 students have reached the pinnacle of their primary and secondary educational careers. Some have completed their publicly assessed examinations and begin the wait for exam results. By Christmas time they will have their results and can begin planning the next stage of their lives. Other students will have opted for school assessed subjects and will consider vocationally oriented careers. For some students, there will be disappointment but the majority will experience the joy that comes with success.

‘Schoolies Week’ is upon our Year 12 cohort. Many students will let their hair down and chill out, possibly in Bali or at some other recreational resort. Celebration is fine and will be without incident if the cautions offered by parents and authorities are observed. In past years there have been too many mishaps that have occurred because of celebrations gone wrong. Sense and sensibility need to prevail.

The question of ‘what next’ will follow the release of results in a few short weeks. Apprenticeships and further trade training will be on the horizon for some. Contemplation of university entrance to Charles Darwin or interstate universities will be considered by others.

Gap Year

In recent years it has become the practice for many graduating Year 12 students to take a ‘gap year’. This period of time away from study is used by some for travelling and others for work.

Those who take a gap year are able to secure university places for tertiary entrance in 2016 providing their Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE ) mark is sufficient for them to be offered a place in their chosen course. Having twelve months away from the books after thirteen years of primary schooling and secondary study can be refreshing. It also offers students the chance to think and reflect on their achievements and ponder opportunities that might lie ahead.

A further advantage of taking a gap year is that it gives students the chance to more fully consider career alternatives. Many students who have opted for a tertiary program while still at school have upon reflection changed their minds and chosen alternative career pathways. To go straight to university from Year 12 can mean commencing a course that is really not the most suitable. The options are changing courses midstream or continuing with a program that ultimately may not lead to a satisfying career. While jobs available may not be those of first choice, the chance to earn money and meet people builds confidence and helps develop independence for young people.

Those choosing to work for twelve months know their earnings can go a long way toward accruing funds to help to offset HECS costs and other tertiary study expenses. Degrees do not come cheaply and will shortly become more expensive as Federal Government initiatives impacting on university funding become reality. Accumulated HECS debts are burdensome and can take years to pay back.

To complete Year 12 is an achievement and congratulations are in order. I am sure we all wish our graduates well as they contemplate and prepare for the next stage of life.


These columns were published in the Suns during October and November 2014. Please feel free to quote or use but in so doing please acknowledge the Suns Newspapers as publishers.

SUN 67


* Bring Your Own Device

For many years, schools have been supported by Government in the acquisition of technological equipment. For many years the NT Government has provided hardware equipment and software programs supporting schools, teachers and students. In the NT, one of the most notable programs has been the allocation of laptop computers for teachers. Units are signed out to teachers and retained by them on transfer from one school to another.

Computers remain the property of the Department, with resigning or retiring staff having to return units to their school. Units are then re-issued to new staff members appointed to the school. Laptops have been maintained by the Department under leasing warranty and replaced by upgraded models after a period of years.

Computers issued to schools for student use have been allocated under a similar program. When hardware has been replaced, schools have had the option of keeping redundant equipment and also assuming future maintenance costs.

Costs of school computerisation has been a number one outlay for both the government and schools themselves. Included for schools have been outlays for licensing agreements and network establishment. Increasingly, school council fundraising has also been directed toward supporting technology in schools. It seems that budgetary requirements for technology and technological support can never be satisfied.

Rapid change

The pace of technological change means that equipment purchased for schools is outdated almost as soon as it is installed. Update needs are constant, impacting significantly on budgets. At the same time, government funding of computer needs is becoming less generous. This is placing funding onus more squarely on schools. Without doubt, technology is the most significant item impacting on educational costs. The question of affordability and the need to balance income and expenditure is pressing schools into the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) era.


Bring your own device is a requirement in a growing number of schools, both public and private in southern states. The approach is also creeping into Northern Territory schools. “The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program works like this: Kids in all year levels are free to bring in their own iPads to use in the classroom. … Parents buy the devices, kids take them to and from school, and everyone hopes like hell they end the day with screens intact.” (Kate Hunter ‘When a free education costs $650’ from

William Cohen a Sydney Secondary Education Teacher says this new approach is challenging. “Unfortunately, the switch to student-owned technology is not going to be a simple one. Leaving aside the equity issues that underlie a BYOD model … the options are so varied that some schools are now creating documents that give minimum device specifications.” (William Cohen ‘BYOD … Buyers Guide To Schools’,

Whether we like it or not, BYOD is becoming the new way forward. Painful budget cuts and the need to carefully prioritise expenditure, will make this the only option available for many schools. BYOD may only be the start. As funding becomes even more scarce, parents and families may be increasingly called upon to make up the difference.

SUN 68


Over time, we have become increasingly conscious of the need to protect children as they are going to and coming home from school. The provision of flagged school crossings makes motorists aware of the need to watch out for children. The other is speed restrictions in school zones. In the Northern Territory motorists driving past schools must observe a speed limit of 40 km/h between 7 am and 5 pm each school day. Two schools, Milner and Wulagi have speed limit signage supported by flashing lights that warn motorists of the fact that they are entering a place of speed restriction during school hours. Signs elsewhere are passive.

Crossings exist in all states and territories. However systems elsewhere differ from ours in two key respects.

• Speed restrictions past schools are limited to a 40 km/h period each morning and afternoon, coinciding with children going to and coming away from school. There is not a blanket restriction of 40 km/h applying for ten hours each school day.

* In some states “lollipop people” are paid to control crossings during peak student times. Crossing monitors operate before school and after school each day. This adds extra security for students using crossings.

Fair Work Act spoils scheme.

NT Schools provide for crossing control if that is a school council preference. Some schools did employ people for a thirty minute period each morning and afternoon coinciding with the arrival and departure of students. However, the introduction of the Fair Work Act with a requirement that anybody employed be paid for a minimum of two hours for each period of duty, made this an unaffordable option; schools would have to pay crossing monitors 20 hours each week for no more than 5 hours work.

Schools used to pay crossing monitors for hours worked until the Fair Work Act was legislated. Nowadays, the only options available for schools is through volunteer crossing support or for school staff to control crossings. Having an adult on crossings during peak times adds to their safe use. Children running onto crossings without stopping to look for oncoming traffic can be a problem. Similarly, motorists can disregard and drive through when students are on or about to enter crossings. Supervision guarantees a degree of security for crossing users that is not otherwise available.

Change would help

There is no need for speed restrictions past schools to apply for ten hours each day. Cancelling the speed restriction between 9.00 am and 2.00 pm would make sense. While there may be some movement to and from schools during this time an accompanying adult would guarantee student security.

While traffic calming devices have been installed adjacent to some school crossings, their use needs to be expanded. In one case a school’s application for these deterrents was denied because the road was busy and installation would slow the traffic!

Additional warning to motorists by a modification to include flashing orange lights when they are in operation would be useful. Millner (Sabine Road) and Wanguri (Wanguri Terrace) are supported by this enhancement.

Speed restrictions and school crossings are necessary to help guarantee student safety. However change that considers both students and road users could be made for the good of all.



These columns were published in the Suns during October 2014. Please feel free to quote or use but in so doing please acknowledge the Suns Newspapers as publishers.

SUN 65


It seems that at long last the Australian Government is trying to get our educational house in order. The Wiltshire-Donnelly Review of the Australian Curriculum commissioned by Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne recommends a refocus on literacy and numeracy, particularly at the lower end of Primary School. A phonetic approach to language learning is part of the change. Phonetics used to be a key language learning approach until supplanted by other ideologies. Minister Pyne is aware of overseeing a system where States and Territories are over-stretched in terms of curriculum content. Whether States and Territories willingly accept review recommendations is another matter.

Problem is years old

It seems somewhat ironic that the issue of a burdensome and somewhat superfluous curriculum is being labelled a new issue. For many educators, realisation about curriculum irrelevancy is close to 20 years old. During the early 1990’s Mr Jim Spinks a prominent Tasmanian school principal and now senior consultant was extolling the need for curriculum balance. He told NT Principals this could only be achieved if we ‘dropped off’ as well as ‘adding on’ to school curriculum requirements.

We have failed to heed cautionary advice. Rather than carefully evaluating programs and projects raised for consideration, curriculum initiatives have been eagerly grasped with both hands and piled on top of an already burgeoning program. Schools and students have become the testing fields for myriads of ideas raised by theoreticians and academics. Many of these initiatives treat schools, teachers and students as little more than guinea pigs. While trial and experimentation is important, the equilibrium of existing programs should not be disrupted by the impact on schools of countless initiatives. This has happened in our schools time and time again.

Back to the past

An irony of the Wiltshire – Donnelly Review is its advocating a return to what used to be the primary focus of education decades ago. There was a time when curriculum, particularly the primary school curriculum was straightforward, uncluttered and focused on basics. Over time, programs have been distorted and timetables seriously disrupted by the adding on of everybody’s bright ideas. Curriculum has largely become fad-driven.

Everything for everybody

The primary school curriculum hurdy-gurdy has been added to and distorted by the expectation that the bringing up of children is a school responsibility. Increasingly, children enrolled in early years programs are just not ready for school. Many do not know how to dress, cannot look after their basic personal hygiene and have few social skills. Care of belongings is beyond them. Under-development of speaking and listening habits suggest minimal time has been spent by parents conversationally engaging with young family members on the home front. The development of manners, deportment and attitudes to life are also assumed to be part of the school’s educational brief.

When deficits in the development of social skills and self discipline are identified, the onus for rectification is directed at schools and rarely toward parents and primary caregivers.

Hopefully, the Wiltshire-Donnelly Review and recommendations will be applied to slimming primary curriculum, refocussing on basics and minimising extraneous demands placed on schools. If review advice is accepted and applied, school and teacher responsibilities will be meaningfully redefined.

SUN 66


This Friday, October 31 is being celebrated as World Teachers’ Day. Territory teachers will be recognised and thanked at functions in Darwin, Palmerston, Alice Springs and at regional centres around the NT. Individual schools and communities will also celebrate their teachers and school support staff.

Teachers and school staff members have enormous responsibilities. High-level expectations are held for them. Teachers are people responsible for a great deal that goes beyond academic teaching and learning. They are advisors, counsellors and friends, responsible for social, emotional and moral aspects of development in young people. They share a real partnership with parents and primary caregivers in the nurturing of this world’s most precious resource – our children.

Dispelling Myths

There are two perpetuating myths about teaching that need to be dispelled.

The first is that teachers work a six hour day five days a week for forty weeks each year. The amount of time teachers spend “on tasks” over and above that time means the public is only aware of the “tip of the iceberg”. There is much, much more to teaching than the “30 hours per week with 12 weeks holiday” theory.

Hours of planning and preparation go into teaching. Instruction is followed by assessment, upon which revision and extension programs are based. The system demands countless hours from teachers and support staff for the sake of bourgeoning administrative tasks. Teachers can be found at their schools early in the morning, late at night, on weekends and during holidays. Many take work home with them. What is seen of teachers’ work by the public at large is a small percentage of their total commitment.

The second myth is that teachers focus only on academics. (Indeed the recent Wiltshire-Donnelly Currriculum review suggests that is the way it should be.) Although the “3Rs” are very important there is a great deal more to the development of children than ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’. They work to accommodate both system priorities and their concerns for the development of students in order to prepare them for entry into the world beyond school.

The aim of school educators is to work with parents to develop well rounded students with the confidence and skill necessary to master the challenges of preparing them today for the world of their future. They aim to offer children the chance to succeed and celebrate.

Recognising Northern Territory Teachers

The Northern Territory Government, the Department of Education, the Northern Territory Independent Schools Association’s and others will recognise teachers and school support workers for the contribution they make to our community. This once a year celebration recognises the effort, care and commitment teachers and staff bring to work every day.

This Friday will enable the NT community to pay tribute to teachers, support staff and others connected with education across the length and breadth of the Territory. This recognition is richly deserved.

There can be no greater or more significant work than what is done by staff in our schools. The destiny of our children and young people of today, the leaders of tomorrow’s world, is in their hands.

I hope our Territory as a whole takes time this week and indeed every week, to acknowledge and say “thank you” to our teachers and support staff members for the great job they do individually and collectively, in our schools. They are members of a critically important and indispensable profession.

Henry Gray