This column was published in ‘The Suns on 20 December 2016.


School is out for another year and the holidays are here. The immediate aftermath of the school year is a time when principals, teachers, support staff, students and parents have a chance to reflect on the year. During the past few weeks award nights and presentation assemblies have taken place. There have been graduations for students moving from primary to secondary and from senior secondary to tertiary level education. These are important milestones for students.

At this time of the year it is good to celebrate both individually and collectively. Northern Territory educators could afford to do this because of this and see a commitment they have to the educational tasks they are undertaking.

One of the major challenges faced by schools is that of of of offering “steady state” educational development, when educational systems seem to be always changing priorities. Very rarely during the course of the year is They’re good public city about education. Inevitably, students in Australia are compared with each other in terms of NAPLAN performance. They are also regularly compared with overseas students. For the most part it’s the negatives that get an airing. The way publicity comes across, gives the impression that most of our students are years and years behind their peers in countries with whom they are compared. This in turn leads to negative commentary about the quality about teachers.

While there are points of difference between Australian students and their overseas counterparts, the majority of our students are doing well. Comparisons need to be kept in perspective. Our students may be adrift in terms of some academic comparison. However, these “points of difference” are often fairly minimal.

The plus side of education for our schools is the concentration on holistic education and the development of personality and character within young people.
Our teachers are generally caring, concerned and empathetic. They consider students as people. They don’t regard them as being empty vessels into which knowledge has to be poured.

Reflections need to be positive as well as considering ongoing challenges. Of course it’s the time for those who could do better to reflect upon what they can do differently. No student should be satisfied with doing less than their best.

The 2017 school year will be here soon enough. Congratulations to our students and educators for all they have accomplished during 2016. Enjoy a great Christmas and New Year.

Nationalising Education is at Snails’ Pace

Nationalising Education is at Snails’ Pace
One of the drawbacks to Australian Education is its organisation by State and Territory rather than at National level. While some progress has been made in the direction of nationalising education, there is still a long way to go. A national curriculum is again on the agenda. The first attempt at a common Australian curriculum in the 1980’s failed. States and Territories refused to cede authority for what was being taught.

While States and Territories are again moving in the direction of a national curriculum, it is slowly, slowly. Parts of the national curriculum are being selectively adopted at different times and at different rates. It is almost as if local educational authorities and their curriculum support areas are cherry picking.

There have been moves toward national testing, the best example of this being NAPLAN which came into vogue from 2007. National comparison of students literacy and numeracy competencies takes place in May each year. However, other measures of success including Certificates of Education and Tertiary Entrance Rankings for Year 12 graduates are still the prerogative of State and Territory authorities.

The most glaring anomalies are in the areas of teacher education, registration and clearance to work with children. Teachers cannot move freely across state and territory boundaries in pursuit of employment. They must meet the rigid expectations of each authority.

We may be working toward nationalisation of education. But there is still a long way to go until the one system is embraced by our nation.

Part published in the Suns December 2016


This piece was written for the Suns and published on November 6 2016. It is based on the NT, but has wide ranging applicability.

During the last decade, building and construction programs have significantly upgraded Australian and Northern Territory schools. Previously, capital works money was scarce. Many established schools, both urban and remote had to make do.

The Rudd Government’s ‘Building the Education Revolution’ (BER) program reversed this trend. A $16.2 billion cash splash lead to frenzied construction of school halls, libraries, science blocks and classroom spaces. Within the NT, there was an unparalleled school building boom. The opening of completed school facilities by politicans became a weekly event.

Then came Gonski. The NT did not sign up to the Gonski reforms (of 2011) but still received big dollars from this initiative. Not signing, meant that government and the Education Department were freed from restrictions about the use of this money. Rather than being spent on programs in classrooms, it was used to further capital works. The new Henbury and Bellamack Special Schools and Acacia Hills Special School upgrades came from Gonski funds.

The sale of TIO and the leasing of Darwin Port provided the CLP Government with funds for further infrastructural development. Many schools benefited from a substantial infusion of money for major works on buildings, grounds and surrounds.

Last Saturday through the NT News (Gift time for schools: Green light for minor new works programs) the government announced that all schools can begin applying for $300,000 allocations, to be rolled out over four years from next July. The money is for renovation and construction programs.

There is plenty of money for buildings and facilities at schools. However, support for in class programs and teaching initiatives is in far shorter supply. Educational outcomes are measured by student successes, not by the quality of facilities in which learning is taking place. In a way, it is paradoxical that while school structures are receiving such focus, Australian and Territory educational outcomes are failing.

Since 2000, every major report comparing Australian and Territory students with their overseas peers shows them to be slipping further and further behind the world in key competencies. The latest comparisons show many of our students are heading for new lows in tested areas. (Kids are slipping through the gaps, NT News, December 1)

There needs to be an urgent change in priorities. Its time for spending on structures to become spending on teaching and learning programs. It is in the area of student learning outcomes that NT Education has a major systemic weakness.