Published in the ‘NT Suns’ on 28 November 2017.



In our modern times schools, especially primary schools, are supposed to be all things to all people. Parents are increasingly engaged with work commitments extending from early in the morning until quite late in the afternoon. It is small wonder that an increasing number of children spend time before and after school in care programs. Many children are at school by 7.00 o’clock in the morning and do not leave care programs until well after 5.00 o’clock each afternoon. Most school councils accept responsibility for Outside School Hours Care (OSHC), providing after school support for children. The number of before school care programs for children are increasing. Children are spending almost as many hours each day in school and care programs than at home.

They are also enrolled in care programs during school holiday periods.

Preschool now commences for most children at the age of three, with timetables providing for full day rather than half day programs. This has been designed to fit in with working parents.

These key structural and organisational changes have contributed to redefining educational priorities. Pre and primary schools are as much about child care as education. This is added to by the fact that community expectation seems to be that children will be brought up by the combined efforts of parents, teachers and child care workers. That used to be the sole responsibility of families.

If schools organise pupil free days for professional development, the response from many parents is one of concern because child care for that day changes. Children either stay at home (with work implications for parents) or are booked into all day care.

In these modern times, family responsibilities have in large part been outsourced to secondary caregivers. Governments have reacted to community pressures and endorse institutionalised nurture and care as being a good substitute for parental time and attention. The justification is that parents are so busy working to boost the economy and sustain the home front, that key parenting responsibilities have to be outsourced. The community expects schools and teachers to be involved with the bringing up of children.

Schools and staff play an important part in the development of children. However they can never take the place of parents. Without doubt, parents are THE primary caregivers for their children. That responsibility should never be hand-balled to secondary providers and government agencies. Schools can do their bit. However, if parents and families fail in their obligations, children will be the losers.



This article was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on November 21 2017.  The subject is one that has always resonated with me.  What do readers think?



A great deal of what happens educationally is driven by technology. Computers, iPads and other technologies have their place in supporting students. However, they should always be tools used to enhance assignment preparation and work requirements. If students rely on devices to provide spellchecking, grammatical correctness, accurate mathematical formulae and so on, they may satisfy learning requirements without understanding what they have done.

Reliance on technological assistance starts in primary school and extend all the way through to tertiary study. Indeed, the list of student requirements to be provided by parents often includes the need for an IPA or similar device to be supplied. Relying on the capabilities of iPads and computers can take away the ability to reason and think from students. Computers and iPads become a crutch on which they lean too heavily to help satisfy learning requirements. There can be nothing more dissatisfying for students, than not understanding solutions to questions that are solved by technology, rather than their own brain power.

A great deal of data, both anecdotal and empirically validated, suggests that the concentration span of young people is diminishing. Relying on technological devices can interrupt concentration. If students become overly reliant on computers as learning aids, self confidence and independence can be eroded.

Communication Basics

Listening, speaking, reading and writing are essential communication skills. Use of technology often takes the place of live conversation. Texting and messaging have their purpose, but ought not replace face-to-face speaking and listening. Correct sentence structure, including the use of punctuation, word choice, intonation and clarity should be built into verbalisation. Children also need to clearly hear messages so they understand what has been said. Unclear speech and poor listening skills can develop from lack of practice and the substitution of keyboard communication. Reading from texts may be supplemented by electronic media, but should never be totally replaced by screen reading. Nothing beats books.

Keyboard skills and the ability to electronically produce written text should never be at the expense of handwriting. Mastery of pen and paper communication is important, enabling the written word to be produced anywhere and at any time. That includes the ability to hold a pen or pencil correctly and comfortably.

Technology supports education, but in no way should it replace traditional literary and mathematical teaching and learning. Should that happen, students will be the losers.




This articles was published in the NT Suns on November 14 2017. Written with the Northern Territory context in mind, it has applicability to Year 12 students all around Australia.



Several thousand Northern Territory Year 12 students have reached the pinnacle of their primary and secondary educational experience. Some have completed their publicly assessed examinations and begin the wait for exam results. By Christmas time they will have their results and can begin planning the next stage of their lives. Other students who have opted for school assessed subjects will be considering vocational careers. For some students, there may be disappointment but the majority will experience the joy that comes with success. Commitment and effort generally lead to positive outcomes.

‘Schoolies Week’ will be happening for our Year 12 cohort. Many students will let their hair down and chill out, possibly in Bali or at some other recreational resort. Celebration is fine and should be without incident if the cautions offered by parents and authorities are observed.

Within a few short weeks, the question of ‘what next’ will be exercising the minds of graduates. Apprenticeships and further trade training will be on the horizon for some. Contemplation of university entrance to Charles Darwin or interstate universities will be considered by others.

Gap Year

Graduating Year 12 students may elect to take a ‘gap year’. This period of time away from study is used by some for travelling and others for work.

A gap year gives students the chance to fully consider career alternatives. Many students who have opted for a tertiary program while still at school, have upon reflection changed their minds and chosen alternative career pathways. To go straight to university from Year 12 can mean commencing a course that is really not the most suitable. The options then become changing courses midstream or continuing with a program that ultimately may lead to a unsatisfying career. While jobs available may not be those of first choice, the chance to earn money and meet people builds confidence and helps develop independence for young people.

Those choosing to work for twelve months know their earnings can go a long way toward meeting HECS costs and other tertiary study expenses. Degrees are becoming more expensive as Federal Government initiatives impacting on university funding begin to bite. Accumulated HECS debts are burdensome and can take years to pay back.

To complete Year 12 is an achievement and congratulations are in order. I am sure we all wish graduates well as they contemplate and prepare for the next stage in their lives.







This article was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on November 7 2017



Always uppermost in the planning minds of universities and education departments, is training our future teachers. It is well known and understood that good teachers make a difference. Teachers who build student confidence and a commitment towards learning are always well remembered .

Those selected to train as teachers need to have done well in their own secondary years of education. Once relatively low tertiary entrance scores were sufficient to allow students into teacher training programs. This is no longer the case. The Federal Government wants those considering teaching to have finished in the top 20% of Year 12 students. A quality academic background is deemed essential for those contemplating entry into the teaching profession.

More recently, it has been determined that preservice teachers should pass literacy and mathematics competency tests that have been developed by the Australian Council of Educational Research. These tests became mandatory for students who commenced training from the beginning of 2017. Maths, spelling, English literacy including listening, speaking and reading tests were part of training programs in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. They should not need reinstating because they should never have been dropped.


Teaching Schools

Teacher training has changed over time. Until 2000, the focus for teachers on practice in schools was to be visited and advised on teaching methodology by university or training college lecturers. While lecturers still visit, the emphasis is now about partnerships between ‘Teaching Schools’ and universities. Trainee teachers are evaluated by classroom teachers who are their advisers and mentors. In each teaching school, a member of staff is appointed as Professional Learning Leader (PLL). The PLL supports both mentors and students. During practice, pre-service teachers are introduced to programming, planning and classroom teaching. A tutorial program to share ideas about teaching strategies is organised in each teaching school. Assisting student teachers to understand testing and assessment requirements is included in this focus.

The teaching schools approach is directed toward helping those in training to understand and meet graduate standards set by the Australian Institute of Teachers and the NT Teachers Registration Board. Results of literacy and maths competence are now included in registration requirements.

Could universities through their teacher training courses do more? Past university training included learning about teaching methods and the ways in which key subjects could be presented and taught. There was less onus on earning a degree and far more on teaching and classroom practices. That focus needs to be reinstated.




Published in the NT Suns in October 2017.  This subject continues to be a hot topic.




The National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, introduced for year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students in 2009 is about to enter another phase.

The tests started off as being “pencil and paper” related, with students completing tests in booklets. These were then sent for marking by panels of appointed teachers. That marking was done by people qualified to examine responses, moderate and then allocate levels.

We have now moved to a point of where NAPLAN testing is about to be undertaken by students generating online computer responses. From 2018, tests will be marked by computer rather than people. This will even apply to literacy tests.

While computer assessment may be okay for tests where boxes are being checked, there are issues around the marking of text. Taking people out of the marking equation, means computers are being asked to interpret innuendo, understand colloquialisms and appreciate local references. While test results may come back to schools within weeks rather than months, one would have serious doubts about marking accuracy.

The NAPLAN program has become one of distance and remoteness, with students removed from those who are gathering the data. With online computer generated answers coming from all schools around Australia, we can look forward to systems becoming overloaded and crashing. The idea of the same tests being sat on the same day at the same time by all students will have to change.

Before NAPLAN, each State and Territory had its own internal assessment system. These individual programs generally worked well in terms of data feedback. Nationalised testing might satisfy the idea of “oneness” for all Australian students. However, specifics relating to NT school locations and student characteristics, which may impact upon test results, are not taken into account. That is one reason why results for the Northern Territory show NT students in a dismal light. Each year, our teachers and schools are battered with a “sea of red” results. Unhealthy contestation by comparison of results between schools can add to student stress.

One has to ask what real difference this testing regime has made in terms of enriching and enhancing Australian education. A further question might be whether the many hundreds of millions of dollars spent on this program might have been better spent on meeting school and student needs.