SUNS 74 & 75: ‘Give Due Credit’ and ‘Choices To Make’
These are my first columns for 2015. They were published in the Suns Newspapers in January.
SUNS 1 2015 74
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Much is written and said about the mediocrity of public education. There are far more broadsides than good news stories presented to the community through media outreach. Negative rather than positive stories appeal to TV viewers, radio listeners, online subscribers and newspaper readers. Consequently, people quite literally turn up their noses at public schools.
Many negative stories are broken in a sensational manner. Often the whole picture is not presented, meaning a one-sided view is released to public awareness. The lack of balance is partly a systemic fault, because ‘no comment’ is a frequent response. While school or departmental comment may be limited because of regulatory policy, the public at large may feel that the issue is being avoided. Silence or non-response may indicate that the system agrees with these stories.
The enterprise bargaining issue (EBA) of 2013 and 2014 spiked community interest in public education. According to a report by the ABC, the Department of Education (DoE) website was the 7th most frequently visited by the NT public during 2014. There were viewing spikes in March and October. These were key months in the EBA negotiations between the NT Teachers Union, the Public Service Commissioner and the DoE.
Reaction by the public was generally negative. The longer the EBA negotiations took, the more acrimonious they became. The whole issue was a turn-off with parents looking at private schools as an enrolment alternative. This was especially noticeable in senior secondary schools, possibly because of parental fears that staff reductions would reduce program options available.
Contrasting with this backdrop of community concern were the successes earned by NT Year 12 students in their NTCE examinations. A highlight was the fact that 19 of the 20 top Year 12 students in 2014, graduated from the public school sector. Topping the list for individual schools was Casuarina Senior College with 7 of the top 20 students. The Territory dux attended Centralian College in Alice Springs.
The great majority of those sitting NTCE exams in 2014 were successful. This indicates good teaching, caring parental support and of students with both the desire to learn and will to succeed.
The EBA disputation and angst created by reduction of senior secondary staff ratios in some schools was a prime focus in 2014. That ought not detract from senior secondary student successes, with NTCE results proving this to be the case.
Credit where credit is due needs to be offered. Credit is certainly due to students, teachers and parents who, notwithstanding pressures under which the public face of education operated in 2014, overcame challenges and earned the success attested to by NTCE results.
2 SUNS 2015 75
CHOICES TO MAKE
As the commencement of the 2015 school year approaches, thousands of new and continuing Territorians will be refocussing on education. There are many families with school aged children who have recently arrived in the Territory. New starters moving into preschool, primary middle school, or senior secondary years.
There will be a need to choose schools for many students and their families.
Enrolment in a public or private school may be part of that consideration. Some private schools market themselves extensively and their profile is strong. While government schools have less generous marketing budgets, all have websites which are worth viewing.
School visits help parents and students who are considering enrolment. This might include a conversation with members of the school leadership group and a visit around the school. Most principals welcome the chance to share their schools with those making inquiries. If asked, members of the community will offer their opinions about particular schools. However, opinions are just that and should never be accepted as gospel.
Most schools have handbooks, either online or available in hard copy. To accept and study these materials should be part of the choice process. I believe visits to and conversations about school choice should involve children, because they are the ones on whom selecting a school will have the most impact.
When considering enrolment options, school appearance and visible resources play a part in the impressions gained. Belief statements and policies are outlined in handbooks. Some schools may suit potential enrolees better than others, so pragmatic consideration is important.
Schools generally open for business two or three weeks before the school year commences. Getting in early to check options rather than waiting until classes are about to start, can be wise.
People arriving from southern states have left behind systems where zoning for public schools is the norm. Children have to be enrolled in the government school serving their residential catchment area. This restriction does not apply in the N.T. Our schools operate under a priority enrolments scheme, meaning they have to provide for students within their immediate area. However, if there are places available after the local area has been catered for, students presenting from elsewhere can be enrolled.
This provision allows for parental choice of a preferred school. If necessary it also means that students can change schools without the need for families to alter residential address.
Enrolment processes aim to match students with schools in a symbiotic manner. The aim is for children to make the best progress possible while schools are enriched by their student clients.