This column was published in the NT Sun on March 27 2018.



Cyclone Marcus which hit on Saturday March 17 2018, left a significant imprint on the Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield communities. Few places were spared the impact of fallen trees with downed powerlines creating hazards in many areas. Water quality was compromised and power outages in some places extended to several days. Transportation services were disrupted and movement made risky because of footpath and road blockages.

The impact of the cyclone lead to all schools being closed on Monday March 19, with a significant number still shut on Tuesday March 20. Moil, Wagaman and several preschools remain closed on March 21. It is fortunate that damage to school buildings was minimal. The major problem was that of power loss, which for some schools stretched over four days.

Shade sails and playground equipment proved vulnerable to gale force winds and uprooted trees. Many school yards and student outdoor recreational areas were rendered inaccessible because of fallen trees and vegetation debris. Security was compromised for those schools, preschools and childcare centres where falling trees crushed perimeter fencing.

Against this backdrop of devastation and confusion, the Territory sense of community came to the fore. From late on Saturday afternoon, principals were getting across restoration needs. Teachers and administrative staff contributed as they could, juggling personal domestic needs with a keen desire to support school restoration. Many schools were supported with cleaning up by parents and community members who volunteered time and equipment to help with this daunting task.

The clean-up needs in school grounds and surrounds was supported by Australian Defence Force members and American Marines. Education Minister Eva Lawler was to the forefront in keeping the community appraised of school restoration and reopening schedules. There was no lack of information or awareness.

There is an immediate need for school tree management policies to be revised. Currently, pruning and trimming, is an annual requirement. But that does not go far enough.

The NT Government is considering the removal of mahogany trees in public places. This should be extended to include the removal of all mahogany trees from school yards. Black wattle and red gum trees should be included, for both pose dangers.

Funding could be provided for school councils to undertake this work, or a ‘whole of government’ contract let to remove tree hazards from all schools.

It’s time to secure school grounds and surrounds by removing all hazardous trees.



 This piece was published in the NT Sun on March 20 2018.




A recent Judith Aisthorpe article in the Northern Territory News (Schools battling bad eggs, March 4 2018) pointed out that the number of student suspensions from some schools has grown substantially in the last year or two. The same article also confirmed that 95% of all NT students meet school behavioural standards.

If this is the case then a small number of students are magnifying suspension statistics because of recidivist behaviour.

The behaviour of this minority has a significant impact on both classroom and school management. Disruptive behaviour has to be managed for the sake of pupils and to enable teachers to effectively do their job.

The staffing formula of schools supposedly take into account issues of children with special needs. Additional staff are factored into school staffing budgets to support students requiring extra assistance. Anecdotally, the amount available under budgeting arrangements for staffing allocation to schools does not satisfy all requests from schools needing this support.

The formula under which students are recognised for special needs provision have changed over time. The degree of challenge confronted by children now has to be more acute than was the case in years past. This places a responsibility on teachers and school principals to accomodate greater levels of special need within normal classroom contexts with a reduced number of support staff.

Into this mix has to be added the problems of managing aberrant student behaviour. Some misbehaviour is unavoidable and may be part of an inherent medical or social condition.

However, the issue of deliberate misbehaviour and gross disobedience can also be contrived by students. It is behaviour of this nature that has to be managed and quelled. Constant disruption has a significant impact on the learning opportunities of children. For the sake of the greater good, it can be necessary to suspend students who are not prepared to meet reasonable behavioural expectations.

When it comes to behaviour management, suspension is the last recourse and not the first option employed by schools. All schools have behaviour management policies with these being drawn to the attention of students and parents.

School principals who suspend students sincerely hope that they will learn from their mistakes and correct their behaviours. Every possible support, including engagement with parents, is offered. Suspension has to be an available disciplining option because it takes into account the needs of staff and other students.


This piece wwas published in the NT Sun on 13 MMarch 2018


The Australian Government and various agencies connected with well-being issues have determined that Friday March 16 will be a ‘National Day Against Bullying’ (NDAB). This is in part a response to the realisation that bullying behaviour, both directly and promoted by the use of online devices, is far more problematic than many have realised.

The issue is yet another that will impact on schools, principals and staff. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has written to principals of every Australian school asking that particular emphasis be placed on the humiliating and deleterious impact of bullying. He is asking that attention to the issue receive particular focus next Friday.

The Australian Government’s hope is that Principals and staff in all schools will make Friday an Australian wide day of educational push to give bullying the thumbs down. The Australian Government is allocating $1.37 million, to assist schools wanting to highlight the issue. This funding is additional to the millions already allocated to ‘headspace’ and other student wellbeing programs.

The NDAB is not intended to be either a starting point or endpoint on the bullying issue. It’s purpose is to highlight and draw awareness to an ongoing problem

Bullying is a nationwide issue. In Queensland, it is cited as the leading reason for the huge increase in the number of children being home schooled. The Courier Mail (March 1 2018) reported that five years ago, 1,108 children were being home schooled. That number has grown steadily year-by-year, with 2580 children now receiving education at home. According to the story, cyber bullies are the ‘tormentors (fuelling the) spike in homeschooling’.

In NSW, the problem has become so serious that laws are being enacted to allow principals to suspend students engaging in this behaviour both at school and outside school hours. (It’s too cruel for school, Daily Telegraph, March 2 2018).

All states and territories are developing policies to counter the threat of cyberbullying.

Cyber bullying has become a 24/7 issue and it is a 365 days of the year phenomena. It has become so ingrained that an e-Safety Commissioner has been appointed to receive reports, generate responses and offer advice on how the epidemic of online bullying can be managed. The issue is one requiring ongoing attention at school AND at home.

Students being bullied must be encouraged to speak up on issues to both their parents and teachers. Unless countered, this insidious form of attack on people will become an everlasting scourge.



This piece was published in the NT Sun on March 6 2018.



The NT News ran a story on February 23 confirming that principals are among the most dedicated of all professionals. By and large school principals are among the most committed of all who are leaders. According to the survey results quoted in Judith Aisthorpe’s story, “Territory principals are the most committed to their work.”

School principals should accept this compliment. So too should parents, students and communities supporting them.

School principals are often caught between two sets of expectations. On the one hand they are the contact persons taking orders from and reporting to policy setting politicans and system administrators. They have to ensure that systemically devised policies become practice within their schools. Their performance management is based on how school leaders meet expected school improvement and accountability pressures.

On the other hand, principals are beholden to their staff, students, parents and their school community. The expectations held for schools and schooling by this cohort are often different from the priorities set from on high. The effort involved in satisfying all parties with differing outcomes is both strenuous and time consuming.

The national health and wellbeing survey discussed by Ms Aisthorpe confirmed that occupational stress experienced by school leaders is close to double the anxiety level felt by the population at large.

A seriously concerning revelation was that 57% of school principals had been threatened with assault during the period covered by the survey. More alarmingly, 47% had been victims of physical violence. Any suggestion that principals as school leaders (and teachers) should absorb, accomodate and live with physical abuse is way off beam.

If assaults are inflicted by students, then departmental and government response supporting those assaulted is necessary. If inflicted by parents, guardians or members of community, the force of the law with appropriate changes needs to be brought. School leaders (and teachers) should not feel they have to live with such injustice. Neither should they feel themselves to be inadequate if they are victims of assault.

Principals reported they enjoy and gain satisfaction from their positions. If that satisfaction is shared by colleagues and family members, so much the better. However the pressures and expectations placed on school leaders are obvious. That awareness is a factor leading to many more junior educators determining they will never become principals.

That vow is ominous and must be turned, for the future of school principalship is under threat.



This piece was published in an edition of the (NT) Territory Teacher. The issue is one teachers and those working with children need to consider.



The rash of child abuse inquiries happening around our nation at the moment have lifted this  issue to the forefront of public awareness. Without doubt, some of the allegations levelled against teachers and others are as a result of the “stimulation” generated by these inquiries. Sins against children need to be visited and perpetrators punished. However, the reputations of those who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing need to be protected. Current actions need to be such that educators protect and guard against allegations at some future time.

Teaching is a profession that requires increasing vigilance in human relations by teachers, school leaders and principals. In recent years, the issue of child abuse has gained traction. Lots of abuse issues, most of an historical nature, are being raised. Various Royal Commissions and Inquiries have highlighted the matter. I have heard from Victorian Inquiries, that around 1,600 issues have been and are being followed up (July 2015). There are inquiries taking place in other states and territories.

Without doubt many of the allegations being brought against alleged perpetrators of past abuse, especially sexual abuse, are justified. They need to be followed through. However, there are instances when allegations are made with mischievous and malevolent intent. They hang those falsely accused out to dry. Accusations may be levelled against people many years after the alleged abuse occurred.

A quite recent program on ABC “Four Corners” illustrates this point. A female teacher in Melbourne was accused of sexually interfering with two boys around 30 years ago. She was dragged through a messy court process, including being accused, found guilty, and jailed. The case was subsequently appealed and another grimy court process ensued. At the end, she was found not guilty of these crimes and acquitted. Her career, of course was absolutely ruined. The protagonists who had brought the case against her, two men in their early 30s (they had been boys of seven or eight at the time referred to in the allegation) have not to this point in time been charged with their own gross criminal misconduct. The story’s inference is that they have simply shrugged it off! Significantly, the Victorian Department of Education, Teachers Union and Teachers Registration Authority appear to have offered no visible support to the teacher. These cases are not rare.

Allegations made against teachers presume guilt until the teacher proves his or her innocence.

I have been told that it is very unlikely prosecution will be brought against false complainants. The only recourse available to someone falsely accused and acquitted, is to seek redress through the civil court. That is costly, messy and continues the hurt.

It is wise for teachers to keep a clear, detailed and time noted record of instances when they have been connected with students in counselling and development. Nothing beats a detailed diary. When moving schools, retiring or otherwise moving on, take these records with you (I would suggest a diary). Maintain their accessibility. Keeping this data in USB or electronic form is an option.

If allegations are then brought, there is a clear record to show the date, time, place, and nature of the counselling. Often details brought by the complainant are fairly vague and being able to refute them with accurate data is of inestimable value.

There are one or two other points to keep in mind.

If counselling or working one-on-one with children, ensure that it is in a space that has visibility from the outside. A room with a see-through window, a common area within, a learning module, or a location within a linear classroom close to an open door are options.

I believe it paramount for teachers to report matters of counselling and discipline to a senior or to the principal along with keeping a written record.

Those who have false accusations brought against them, regardless of outcomes, are never the same people again. I understand they look at life differently. Their outlook becomes tinged with suspicion. They wonder if they can never be part of trustful relationships again. This issue is one of growing consequence and something all educators need to take on board and carefully consider. Don’t live in fear but never think it can’t happen to you because it can.

Henry Gray