Published in May 2016


This morning, all Northern Territory students in years three, five, seven, and nine, begin three days of NAPLAN testing. Now in it’s ninth year, NAPLAN dominates Australian education during this week of May. The literacy and numeracy tests are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is a catch up day for those who may have been absent during the week. These four ‘May Day’s’ of testing have become a permanent educational fixture.

For the first time, some children will be completing tests online. This is a pilot program the Australian Government hopes to extend to all schools.

NAPLAN testing is all about compliance. Testing was made compulsory during the Rudd, Gillard years. It overrode and replaced other testing programs.

The stated intention of this compulsory exercise is to capture student performance at a particular point in time every year. In fact, it’s impact goes far deeper. For weeks and months leading to this week, students in many schools sit practice tests or undertake activities slanted toward their readiness for NAPLAN. In some schools this happens on a daily basis.

The regime is one that excellently illustrates compliance at work. The Australian Government has mandated NAPLAN and it’s compulsion underpins system and school responses. School funding and educational futures are determined by data profiles. Test results are taken into account during school reviews, principal assessment and staff evaluation exercises.

At individual school level, NAPLAN results can lead to everything from moments of euphoria to feelings of despair. While it may not be talked about openly, principals, staff members, parents and tested students feel the pressure of waiting for results. When released, statistics for each school are microscopically dissected and studied by system leaders. In like manner the data is cut, sliced and analysed in every conceivable way at school level.

Outcomes for every school in Australia can be scrutinised by the public at large on the ‘My School’ website.

Many teachers believe that Tom Chappel’s ditty on NAPLAN, particularly the line that “your score is my score” carries real weight.

Students sense tensions and feel the underlying vibe created by this program. While some may appear indifferent, others are reduced to nervous anticipation and pre-test stress. Weeks and months of preparation together with countless classroom hours spent working on preparing for this week, adds to their unease.

NAPLAN is seemingly here to stay. But questions about its need, purpose and legitimacy remain.


Expenditure on education is often in the doldrums. However, when elections are in the offing, governments hasten to ramp up systems. Their newfound interest is expressed through money allocated for buildings and facilities. These are visible artefacts that allow governments to boast of their support for schools.

Truth be known, the desperate expenditure need is in the area of teaching and learning. The interface between teachers and students is stretched because human resources are often under-recognised.

Infrastructure development enables governments to show off. “Is this nor a great school I have built” might be the cry. Yet the highest priority is that of expenditure needed in classrooms with lessons, program implementation and assessment tasks.

This matter needs addressing.


Homework is an issue that continues to do the educational rounds. Some educators believe in homework while others would like to discount it altogether. Similarly, some parents appreciate homework while others would like it to be abolished. Those in favour of homework believe it reinforces and consolidates learning through extra practice at home. Opposition to homework comes from those who think ‘enough is enough’; that beyond the school day, children should be freed from learning tasks.

Some parents and commentators suggest that homework is the teacher’s way of handing their responsibilities to parents. Homework should never be offered as a substitute for teaching. Lessons taught at school can however, be consolidated and reinforced through follow-up tasks completed at home. Homework can be a link between home and school, in helping to keep parents informed of what their children are learning and how they are progressing.

It is important that parents know assignments are set for children, rather than believing tasks are set for them to complete on behalf of children.


Be a listener.
Lead by action.
Walk the walk. (Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk when walking is not part of that talking.)
Offer praise and catch people doing something good.
Share celebrations with staff and students.
Take ownership of discipline issues.
Delegate decisions not just tasks.
Know about each student and be known to students.
Write notes of thanks.
Let people know why you have to do what you do with regard to imposed system. Understand policy and direction.

Colleagues, these are a little random but all have status at one time or another.

I hope you all have a great week.


Henry Gray


I used to periodically shout morning teas for my staff. That came from my wallet and not a slush fund. Also shouted birthday cakes on quite a number of occasions. Intrinsically, Christmas cards, letters of thanks and certificates of appreciation were part of my repertoire. Some of my colleagues had me as an odd ball but I would do it the same again because of the dividends caring and appreciation pays.


I believe in mission statements. They are focussing. I revisit my mission statement regularly. It is included on correspondence and emails. It is also on the reverse side of my business card.

My Mission Statement:
* To fulfill and be fulfilled in organisational mode: Family, work, recreation.
* To acquit my responsibilities with integrity.
* To work with a smile in my heart.
These precepts have been my guiding light since 1984.

Consider developing a mission statement that offers purposeful focus. You’ll be glad you did!


Notwithstanding email and SMS traffic, there is still a place for old-fashioned correspondence by letter and printed memo. As a principal I valued the ability to transact communications using this ‘old fashioned’ approach. I always took the opportunity to personally sign all correspondence, no matter what the volume.

Attaching a signature in this way adds a personal touch. If signatures are verifiable as having been individually added, this somehow adds a note of empathy and personality in contract that is not otherwise available.

Dampening the signature just a little and adding finger pressure will quickly confirm if it has been personally added or is stereotyped. Often signatures are added in a different colour to the text but are still copied rather than being added by hand.

The receiver of a letter or memo that has been personally signed appreciates that the sender has taken time to confirm individual care. In personally signing correspondence, I reflected briefly on the person to whom the communication was being sent. This brief reflection was important.

Consider personalising correspondence in this manner. I am sure it is a positive strategy.


All educators, regardless of their positions within schools have ‘In Trays’. Tasks that need to be completed stay there until they are done. The ‘out’ tray comes into play for all finished assignments.

There is nothing more frustrating that to have an in tray burdened by documentation, an out tray light on for tasks that have been done. Finishing work and going home leaving a laden in tray does not augur well for feelings of satisfaction with accomplished work.

It is wise to aim for an empty in tray before departing for the day. Perhaps an ‘In Train’ tray for tasks that have been completed as far as possible would help. This makes sense because tasks are often a work in progress.

Apart for that, aim for an empty in tray before leaving for the day. This practice delivers a feel good outcome. Better that, than feeling the burden of office.


From time to time in educational articles and at the head of online stories about our profession, pictures of children immersed in learning illustrate the text.

These pictures are great pictures , often showing children in their formative years hard at work, learning heaps and enjoying learning.
These are pictures that resonate with the memories of my years in education. They reflect the essence of what education should be about.

“Schools are for children”, as stated by Dr James Eedle to Northern Territory Principals in 1979. How often it seems, that becomes a forgotten precept in this modern educational age.

These days it seems, children as people take a back seat to testing, assessment, data collection and system accountability. Children inform the data and the data justifies systems.

Point is, in taking from children and young people, are we giving back to them in terms of a holistic education that foundationally fits them in going forward into life’s world.