Northern Territory education strongly focuses on the academic development of children. In recent years, that priority has been magnified by the annual NAPLAN testing and assessment program. However, holistic development which includes social, emotion and moral development receives less attention than used to be the case.

The School Based Constables program, developed in the NT during the 1980’s emphasised this aspect of education. Attached to high schools, each School Based Constable (SBC) had a number of feeder primary schools he or she attended. Constables would visit their schools to conduct Drug and Alcohol Education (DARE) classes with children. They extended their role to include ‘stranger danger’ awareness and issues such as bullying.

Children used to appreciate ‘their’ constable in a way that helped them build positive feelings toward police. Social awareness and responsibility was an element of the program that helped students appreciate their social and moral obligations. In turn, constables learned a lot about community matters of which they needed to be aware. Appreciation and respect for law and order grew from this program.

Sadly, this program has been redefined and significantly dismantled. School Based Police are now ‘Youth Engagement Officers’. They are no longer based in schools but visit (a lot less frequently than in the past) from suburban and town police stations. DARE programs have lapsed along with the contribution SBC’s made to the sharing of children’s learning and development of their attitudes.

A point of alarm is that the training of police to fill this particular role has been largely discontinued. It may not be long before this program, one of Territory significance will be extinct.

A police sponsored program, the Blue Light Disco, has been discontinued in urban areas and curtailed for remote community schools. This program has filled an important place in the lives of young people and has given them an enjoyable, supervised outing. Nothing has been put into place to fill the vacuum left by Blue Light cancellation. This leaves young people with time on their hands.

The NT School Based Constable program was studied and adopted by police jurisdictions interstate and overseas. It has been instrumental in developing healthy attitudes in young people toward law and order issues. Respect for law and order and acceptance of social responsibility is at a low point within our Territory culture. Now might be an opportune time to revisit and reinstate what was a most successful school and extra-curricular program.  As it stands, School Based Constables are fast becoming an extinct species.



One of the challenges often facing public schools is that of providing them with an identity that resonates within the school and community. Historic and heritage elements embrace private schools in a way that does not translate to their public school counterparts. Whenever leadership and key teaching positions are advertised for private schools, there is a focus on the depth and breadth of the school’s history. That does not happen with advertising for appointment to government schools.

One of the reasons for this lack of individual school recognition is that government schools tend to become locked into systemic expectation. They are considered as a whole, or at best as blocks or categories. There are ‘urban’, ‘regional’ and ‘remote’ schools. Policies are developed with large clusters or groups of particular school types in mind.

This characterisation seems to hold true in every State and Territory. Administrative changes are considered with a large aggregate of schools in mind. Curriculum development and interpretation is made in collective terms, the intention being that modification will have an impact with emphasis for all schools.

Schools in the private sector proudly market themselves by name. Their individual ‘stamp’ is upon publicity outreach. Marketing by Catholic and Independent School Associations draws upon the traditions being developed by schools under their control. Private schools and their associations focus on public relations and marketing strategies emphasising students and outcomes, rather than policy and procedure.

Liberal Policy

The enlightened attitude of private schools to public relations helps create community awareness. Visibility afforded by media outreach means these schools become well known within the wider community. Departmental policy often restricts government schools from achieving anywhere near the same outreach.

Comment on systemic policies and procedures should not be part of public comment offered by schools. That commentary is the prerogative of departments and belongs within the domain of professional associations and teacher unions.

However, the reluctance of Education Departments to allow schools to celebrate their successes free from regulated monitoring is short-sighted. The need to obtain departmental approval to go public, also means that good news is old news before being released. Where it applies, that restriction is anachronistic and distrustful of school leaders.

Careful planning before implementation is a key to successful PR outreach. That preparation should embrace staff, school council, the parent community and students. Part of this is making sure that the community knows beforehand of upcoming television, radio or print media events about their school.
Notwithstanding rules and regulations imposed by systems, the individual stamp and character of a school can be promoted through planned and thoughtful marketing. Quite simple strategies can have an ongoing impact. Some suggestions on developing a public relations profile are offered.

Create appealing and interactive web sites that are student focussed. People interested in particular schools from an enrolment viewpoint, want to know about engagement with students. Carefully planned and regularly updated websites assist families making enrolment decisions. They also keep the school community fully informed about happenings and events.

Consider embedding within websites, a page that visits school history, past celebrations and remembrances. This helps viewers understand the depth and breadth of school experiences that have been part of its culture. It is also a section of the site that former students may revisit and use in conversation with others.

Ensure that school mottos and logos are prominently displayed. It helps if these symbols are talked about and written about for the sake of understanding their significance. Their inclusion on school uniforms, letterheads, electronic correspondence, school newsletters and other publications keeps them to the forefront of awareness. An occasional explanation of their origin is informative, serving as a timely reminder of school ethos and values.

School newsletters that are regular, pupil focussed and inclusive of highlights have more appeal that those which are simply statements of school policy, practice or procedure. Humdrum newsletters will do little for school promotion because the community is more interested in what is happening for students. While electronic newsletters are popular, production and circulation of some print copies helps, because not everyone has access to or preference for online communication.

Consider a ‘wall of fame’ featuring news and photographs of key school events and student achievements from the past. As a highlight feature, this should be periodically updated. Space availability would be limiting, but the wall could point to additional detail housed online or archived within the school.

Annual updates might include whole school photographs. A photo gallery could also include key school groups including student councils, house captains, staff, school council or school board members and so on. A significant pictorial history can be created within a relatively short period of time. It is wise to consider displaying these photographs in a location or locations where they can be accessed by students and the community. From experience, I know these displays attract constant streams of viewers, including past students and ‘children now adults’ coming to revisit and remember.

Annually produced yearbooks, often attracting business support and sponsorship to help defray printing costs, can offer great wraps on each school year. They become a special and unique history of schools, allowing glimpses into the past. Yearbooks are often shared by students and school families. This helps spread the word about good schools, over time contributing to the building of traditions. Yearbooks can be produced in print or DVD format, the latter becoming great gifts to share with others.

Celebrating historical occasions by opening the school to the wider community is impression creating. These might include the opening of new or upgraded facilities, celebration of school anniversaries (10, 20, 25 years since opening) and so on. These occasions have great appeal to local media – providing they are told of these events beforehand, so programmed coverage can be planned.

Creating history walls, walkways, garden bed edging and pathways that embed the names of past students, staff and others with connection to the school provide a chance to reflect on those who have gone before. Pathways with naming bricks of students, families and times of association allow people to ‘walk up the years’ of people history. In some cases there might be provision for such pathways to be extended, to include those who will be part of the school in years to come.

Print media stories might be kept and filed. Placing copies of recent clips in front offices and school libraries for perusal by visitors and students helps maximise the value of publicity. As they date, these stories could be filed into folders, indexed and added to the school’s archival collection.

Murals depicting aspects of the school’s history and development might be considered. There are often external wall spaces around schools which would lend themselves to a visual historical record . Artists in residence might lead such projects. A commercial artist supported by local business sponsorship might be another option. (I’d suggest that once completed, murals should be painted with anti graffiti paint to counter any possible graffiti attack)

Honour Boards acknowledging students for academic, citizenship, sporting and other accomplishments, if added to annually, are ongoing reminders of school successes. They instantly consider the culture of development offered by the school back through the years.

There’s are many other activities that could be added. Costs involved with some of these suggestions could be considerable. Business support and sponsorship can help defray expenses. There would also be other fundraising opportunities.

How to Develop a Sharing Culture

School prestige is enhanced if incoming staff and leaders accept, appreciate and acknowledge the institution they inherit. Upon arrival, it helps if they take the time and have the conversations which make them aware of inherited school nuances. A hallmark of many prestigious and private schools is that successive groups of staff, students, school councils and parents keep adding to precepts and priorities which have been building reputation. Accepting school history and ethos, then working toward further building and consolidation makes sense and contributes to their ongoing success.

This approach is one that underpins the philosophy of private schools. As public schools strive to build profile and enhance reputation, it is one that should become part of Education Department culture. Many government schools have a lot to offer. Education Departments, schools leaders and those within individual schools should not shy away from going public with their stories of celebration.

An attitude of ‘our school is a good school and we like to keep it to ourselves’ is anathema. It is also selfish. It will ultimately deprive that school of the success and recognition it, and it’s community deserves.



Those training to be teachers and recent graduates who have been appointed to schools, are usually on contract, are sometimes reticent to contribute View points on issues. For trainees, there may be a question as to whether or not they’re welcome at staff meeting is.

I believe it to be an important part of pre-service education for those on practice to make every effort to attend staff meetings. This validates educational interest and confirms to staff members and school leaders more than a minimalist sense of obligation.

As in “newbie” in staff meetings it is important to listen and take in what’s being said. A part of staff meetings is to contribute to the debate. Quite often those who have been in schools for a long period of time are up to date with current educational trends and thinking. Sharing what to many will be “new knowledge” helps in terms of deepening and broadening the thinking an awareness of all staff members.

After a period of time (and it doesn’t usually take too long) people get to understand when it’s appropriate to speak and to listen. It’s within staff meetings that teamship and the idea of being a team member really develops.

The suggestions apply equally at team and unit meetings. Within schools, professional development meetings are also held and it is in this space the contributions by people relatively new to the profession maybe particularly appreciated.

An important part of meetings is to keep a note of both key inputs and outcome is generated by the gathering. This doesn’t have to be in huge detail but certainly assists recall during reflective times.

Regardless of what people might say, meetings are an important part of the school fabric. Meaningful contribution and establishing positive meeting habits stands teachers in good stead as they move through the years of their experience.



It is easy with so much pressure placed on educators, to change teaching materials and methodology with almost frightening regularity. It often seems that particular approaches are no sooner introduced, trialled and bedded down, that exhortation to change comes over the educational horizon. We need to move with the times and stay relevant. We also need to work in a progressive and steady way within our schools and toward our students.

Ignoring change is foolish but reaching out to eagerly grasp new approaches before they have been properly considered is equally nonsensical. Consider that some who advocate wholesale change, do so because of marketing considerations and commercial interest in support materials.

Consider too, that we tend to go around in circles, discarding approaches to teaching and learning that are then reinstated as ‘new beaut’ ideas a decade or two later. Direct Instruction and Visible Learning are two ‘old now new’ approaches that come to mind. So too is the phonetic approach to teaching reading. That approach was tossed out for the whole word approach and has now come back in in many places because of its superiority.

Building education in a layered way, always considering what has gone before is important. Too often, that sensible approach is overlooked.



The Sunday Territorian (‘School of Hard knocks’ 9 September) touched on a subject that is too often ‘taboo’ in educational circles. Judith Aisthorpe reported that “hundreds of assaults are bring inflicted by students on Territory teachers each year … There have been more that 800 assaults … during the last three years.” That figure is based on students suspended for assault and does not include instances where a warning has sufficed.

Not all assaults by students on teachers are reported. Only those attracting a suspension become part of the formal statistical record. 186 injuries to staff have been inflicted by physical assault during this period. This, together with mental abuse of teachers should set the alarm bells ringing. AEU (NT) Secretary Anita Jonsberg said that schools do not always report incidents. “Sometimes teachers don’t report assaults and assaults don’t go beyond school level” she said (op.cit.)

The Department of Education upholds the fact that the safety of teachers and school staff is a matter of utmost importance. 230 alleged incidents occur on average each year in government schools. These are managed through due process.

Principals in a bind

In matters of assault against staff, principals may find themselves in a cleft stick situation. With the public now knowing a lot more about schools because of media penetration they can feel pressure about downplaying assault incidents. That has to do with preserving the good name and reputation of schools.

At the same time, staff have a right to feel protected and should not be discouraged from reporting and following through on matters of assault.

It is essential that school staff do not place themselves in situations which can lead to assault responses by students. “School pressure, peer pressure, distractions and student-teacher interactions are nominated … as the main cause of problem behaviour.” (Johnston Sargeant ‘Are we expelling too many children from Australian Schools’, The Conversation, 16 September)

There are significant management challenges for teachers and schools when individuals repeatedly disrupt classes with threatening behaviour. Behavioural issues have to be managed and suspension has to be an option.

Firm action against individual students provides a clear and visible message that a school is asserting a strong moral focus. That has to be paramount. Assaults against staff by primary and secondary aged students are intolerable. They have to be dealt with openly and visibly. If that happens, the reputation of schools will be enhanced.




While families with children are not encouraged to take annual leave during school term time, this can be unavoidable. Parents either have to stay at home for the sake of school continuity, or remove children for a period of time in order to meet family holiday needs.

Schools and the education department are not able to work with parents on this issue, because it is controlled by employment circumstances. Some employers are able to accommodate families so school holidays and recreational leave coincide. However, the economies of business mean that many employees have to take annual leave during school terms.

Parents sometimes approach teachers for work to be done while children are on interstate or overseas holidays. That strategy generally fails to work. At best, the tasks set are only attempted in a half-hearted manner. Young people also feel ‘school during holidays’ to be an imposition and approach assignments with a negative mindset.

Over the years I was regularly contacted by families taking leave during school time with a request for holiday homework. Standard tasks were not set but instead, children were encouraged to compile journals. Entries were to highlight places they visited, discussing experiences shared with parents and siblings. In order to expand written text, photographs and illustrations were encouraged.

Students who accepted this task were rewarded when they returned to school. This happened in a number of ways:

Children had their diaries read and evaluated for content, creativity and accuracy, with a feedback sheet prepared for each student. They were able to discuss their journals in class, sharing their knowledge and recounting their experiences. They received certificates commemorating the effort they had devoted to journal preparation.

Children were interviewed during assemblies, sharing their travelogues with units or the whole school.

Students had the opportunity to summarise their travels with articles included in the school newsletter.

On occasion, the NT News was contacted. Children were featured in the local newspaper, with the work they had done being acknowledged.

Encouraging children to complete diaries commemorating their travels, gave them an indelible and everlasting reminder of their holiday. Developing the recording habit had the added benefit of impressing upon them the value of recording their experiences. Keeping a journal or diary is a good habit to establish.

Travel is a great educator, offering exposure to the world that adds to an understanding of other cultures and places. Trip diaries children compile help with remembrance and recall long after journey’s have ended. Retaining memories and reliving experiences is a positive outcome.


Whenever there is a political change in the NT or anywhere else, a shake-up within key departments takes place. CEO’s go, along with other key personnel. In so many ways, educational priorities ‘start all over’. This creates confusion for those within departments and schools can suffer the outfall. Steady state and predictable school and system progression, desirable qualities, are often thwarted by changes at the top.

EDUCATION IN THE NT – Some 2016 Reflections

What is happening with Education

Some thoughts on NT Education as we move forward into the  future


Behaviour Management to become a priority

Behaviour Management has an aberration that continues to bug education in the Northern Territory. there is the “Malak Behaviour Management Unit” attached to Malak Primary School the tykes on notified primary students for behavioural management purposes. (However, anecdotally it is hard to get students into that unit and the time stay can be relatively short).

The Department is planning to have units attached to education in the regional centres.

It will be good if this works and if it does, that will be a first. There has been talk in past times but programs have generally worked less than well.

Special Education’s Fillip – Thanks to Gonski

Special Education otherwise is being given special emphasis through facilities and infrastructure improvements. In Darwin the new Nemarluk and Henbury Avenue schools are looking after students with special needs. This does not include behaviour management. (However, the admission of students depends on evermore stringent criteria, meaning that students who were special needs identified a decade ago May no longer qualify for entry. The Intelligence quotient used to be around 80; these days it is down to 70. Another problem about the schools are attitudes of parents and family members who believe that it to enrol students is somehow denigrating, bringing the notion of “family shame”. If parents cannot be persuaded to wards special school in roll meant for eligible children, ordinary schools have to enrol them in mainstream programs. While the schools may be supported by Special Education School Assistants a great deal of stress and strain is placed on classroom teachers and students. I disproportionate amount of teacher time goes into trying to manage these children. Quite often special needs children who are mainstream and I given “holding” activities which may be for them quite frustrating. There is a lot to be said for special schools.parents and educators need to be more aware of what is on offer in these schools.)

Special Education is been given attention through the construction of a special school costing $21 million in Roseberry. Acacia Hills in Alice Springs, special School is getting a significant upgrade.

Behaviour Management is identified as a real need in areas outside Darwin. There is a unit for special needs students in Palmerston attaching to the Hi School.

The intention is for behaviour management to be better accommodated in Tenant Creek and also in Alice Springs.

Tennant Creek Modifications and program changes

There is a significant issue around operations at Tenant Creek Primary School. The student profile is not good and they seem to be well-being issues. The Hi School on the other hand is operating successfully. With that in mind, there is a plan to move year four and five students from the primary school to the high school campus. That would leave the primary school catering for transition to year four students.

The second Primary School in Tenant Creek, Karguru, is being returned to the Education Department. it will how’s senior classes of alternative students are presently are challenging at the high school. It’s also going to be a resource Centre for the region.

Contracts for Barkly Remote Principals

In the interests of eliciting performance, there is a move towards principals in charge of smaller schools in the Barkly Region being offered contracts rather than being appointed permanently. It will be interesting to see whether this gets off the ground. It could also be a phenomena that takes off in other regions of the territory.

The Executive Group of the department is spending more time around the regions and identifying with schools. In recent days the groups second visit to the Barkly took place of the year. Some went east and West others north and south.

Without the shadow of a doubt, NAPLAN results continue to ingrain the system. There are other testing batteries as well that seem to be predominately within education. Looking at results of being data driven is all well and good; however it ought not to destroy holistic education as a motivator and driving force.

Global Budgeting

it seems there are plenty of schools with pretty healthy bank balances. This being the case, some schools are discovering that with these they are able to fund extra teachers all staff positions if student enrolments increase. The self-realisation has come up on the school principals that if they need staffing increases, it is an area for them to look after rather than coming back on the department for support. This becomes an area of independent self-management.

(By the same token and it is important for schools to hang on to an amount of money that can be used for contingency purposes if necessary. While “special circumstances” funding can be available there is a fairly long wait on whether or not claims are made good. There are principles on this particular committee who may be more critical than others with evaluation of claims.

Seemingly, balances that are held in trust for schools are now being cashed out to schools at the end of each year. Unspent funds are not being returned to Consolidated revenue.
(I wonder whether this will encourage schools to skip a little when it comes the staffing or resource spending in order to build up cash reserves. Then the juxtaposition may be that with those extra monies, schools are required to spend before further support.)

Professional Development

Something has certainly improved on funding contexts then my ones have been the case. Either that, or school priorities have changed. More and more schools seem to be funding consultants to visit (with costs shared between a number of schools). People within schools are also going off spending time intra territory, interstate or overseas on study missions to take best practice into account. These visitations cost money.


The Department of Education certainly seems to see its self being in competition with private schools for student share.

Pastoral care and marketing are strong points for private sector schools. The percentage of coverage for government schools in media is far less. However, that trend may be turning a little. Principals and school councils need to be embolded when it comes to media attention.

Building and Construction Focus

In building and construction terms I think the industry is doing very very well. Nowhere is this more apparent than on multiple school premises in Darwin, Palmerston, and around the Northern Territory. It seems that every school has building or renovation of some kind happening.

The government put this into place because it wanted to support a flagging building and construction industry. This is in terms of both new work a major renovation. It’s not all that many years ago that no way no one would schools have gotten the building considerations that have been unfolding for the last several years. The closer with gotten to the election, seemingly, the more prolific and frequent these works have become. This seems to be a hardly school anywhere where something is not happening.

The timing is not necessarily right from the viewpoint of student and program facilitation. People have to work around what’s going on and will make do because I have to.

The sad thing about all this is the money that is needed to support programs in classrooms does not have a high priority. Governments are not able to look and see and boast about what they’ve done unless there are physical facilities that substantiate the claims.

Notwithstanding the rapid pace of constructions growth, it’s not an end! Labour has promised that if they win the election $300,000 will be given to each school for capital developments.

While always facilities are wonderful the people teacher in the face and the need for staff in terms of both training and support seems to go begging.

Edifices a wonderful bit more important are the program is happening with them.

With construction this off on the corollary. It’s the building tends to focus on staff facilities of ministration rather than classrooms and refinements necessary for teachers and students and working situations.

The fact that the Northern Territory Government received a lot of money from the Commonwealth that was “Gonski-like” but without strings attached, means that that money has been used for facilities construction particularly in the field of Special Education.

This may well have been needed. However, the “spirit of Gonski” has not been acknowledged by the way priorities on this money has been sent. There is no secret about the expenditure. The Government in Department quite openly talk about the facilities are have been and are being constructed.

Part of the justification for what’s happened is the principles in school councils can cope with staffing needs because of global budgeting. This assumption is it the money on the wherewithal is there to manage staff is necessary, including staff increases.

It will be interesting to see where indication in our schools goes in the near to mid future. We are told that the Department of Education is streamlined and functioning smoothly. That other departments I no way in there as well situated when it comes to operations.

As with the election of most government there are changes mooted within departments with some departments being collapsed and some turning into super departments. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen with Education! We’ve had a super department in past times. Education has been “employment, education and training”. It’s also been the “Department of Education and Children’s Services”. I believe the department should be the “Department of Education” as it was before becoming superstructural and as it’s been reinstated in the not-too-distant past.

Leaving well alone is wise but often not done. I’m imagining that if the Department of Education does change that one of the initial costs (and this is ad nauseum) will be yet another excursion into the land of rebadging, logo changing, and carrying on with other identifications the costs hundreds and thousands of dollars to implement.


A lot is being talked about in the community and reported in the media on the subject of teacher quality. The soul searching and almost daily comment around Australia and in the Northern Territory is futuristic and forward looking. I believe in looking forward, those responsible for teacher preparation need to reflect on past teacher training practices, revisiting and including some of the key elements in our 21st century teacher preparation courses.

I worry that critical teaching and preparation methodologies are insufficiently stressed. Rather than prospective teachers receiving that understanding while in training, they graduate with degrees and as neophytes are expected to begin acquiring practical teaching skills and dispositions upon full-time entry into classroom teaching positions.

This column was published in the Suns Newspaper (NT) in September 2016.  It revisits a hoary issue, but one in its longevity which is well and truly evergreen



The issue of school attendance in both remote and urban school situations is quite regularly in the news. While solutions are suggested , they are rarely tested. The issue is one concerning all schools.

School attendance issues for Indigenous students are influenced by social and cultural circumstances. Sorry business and ceremonial occasion have an impact. There is also the issue of regular movement from place to place. This makes it hard to keep up with children and families. Computerisation of school records to track children from school to school has limited success.

Irregular attendance is also an issue for children attending urban schools. A major factor is that of families taking holidays during school terms when airfares and accomodation are cheaper. Time away from school also happens because of visits by relatives religious observances and families deciding to make their own long weekends. Often children return late from holidays or leave before the end of term. Truancy and non-attendance are issues for all schools.


I have often heard people say that school is not relevant for indigenous children. Students out in the bush might be “doing traditional things”. Who is to say they are not getting a better and more enriched education than provided by school? Literacy and numeracy skills are important for all students. Without them, employment will remain out of reach.

More than slogans needed

Slogans and legislative solutions developed to solve attendance problems can be pretentious. In the Territory we have moved in slogan terms from ‘catch the school buzz’ to ‘every child, every day’, to the more recent ‘every day counts’. In some local areas there are ‘no school, no pool’ programs. We have had truancy officers in the past. There were authorised school attendance officers as far back as the 1980’s. They have been employed, albeit under varying titles, on and off ever since. The Scullion initiative is a new take on a program more than thirty years old. ‘What will make it work this time’ is a burning question!

There needs to be follow up for all students on issues of school attendance regardless of whether they are Indigenous, non-indigenous, in remote, rural, town or urban schools. Programs to date have had little impact on changing attitudes toward school attendance.

Plans need to follow through and be fully implemented. If that does not happen, planning around the issue will continue to be about wasting time and money.