This is my last column for 2014. It was published (in edired form) in the Suns Community Newspapers on December 17 2014
SUN 73 CLOSING OUT THE SCHOOL YEAR
Another school year has passed into history. Despite distractions the essence of education, teaching and learning within our schools, has continued.
The EBA has occupied teachers, schools and the system for almost the whole of 2014. Sixteen months after it began impacting on government schools, the EBA was settled in the 39th week of the school year. Never ending negotiation resulted in unsettled relations between the government and its schools. Differences of opinion aired through the media impacted on the thinking of the NT community.
Staffing cuts affecting senior secondary schools from the start of 2014 added fuel to the EBA fire. These issues have played some part in transitioning many families toward enrolment in private schools.
Marketing plays a part in determining where parents enrol students. In an earlier column I suggested that schools ought to consider developing a media profile. There is little evidence to show this happening. The fortnightly ‘School to Work’ supplement in the NT News includes two pages of stories about schools, drawn from around the NT. Apart from the supplement, occasional stories are few and far between.
The issue of school attendance has been on the agenda in both urban and rural centres. Department of Education school attendance officers are fully occupied on most school days in our cities and towns. Further afield, ‘Nigel Scullion’s Army’ of federally funded truancy officers have been encouraging better school attendance from indigenous students. However, poor school attendance and absenteeism remains a Territory-wide problem.
The Territory continues to do poorly in the NAPLAN testing program. Schools and regions that do well ought to be celebrated because dismal overall statistics hide the positive results. While there is more to school than NAPLAN it is sometimes stated that these tests are the only tool available to measure school successes.
The Middle School Review undertaken by Vic Zbar and Bruce Wilson’s report into Indigenous Education were two major reviews this year. Both make strong recommendations for change. Zbar recommends student consultation and involvement in change management, a need too often overlooked.
The Wilson Report stresses early childhood and attendance needs. It advocates regional residential education for remote students, a method which was tried and failed in past decades. The tyranny of distance has been solved by many indigenous families. They have moved into urban and town centres, enrolling their children in primary and secondary schools. Growing multiculturalism is a strong demographic in our urban schools.
As the 2014 educational year reaches its endpoint, school principals and councils are left wrestling with the issues of global budgeting (GB). GB has sent alarm bells ringing throughout the system. This model of funding accountability was introduced to schools in September, to become operational from January 1 2015. It has caught many schools short. A longer lead time bringing global budgeting online at the beginning of 2016 would have been a better option. This issue is the number one challenge facing Robyn Lambley our newest Education Minister. Five changes to this ministry in less than two and a half years is not helpful because no minister has had the chance to fully develop within the role.
Territorians will be hoping education settles and goes places in 2015.