This was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on July 31 2018


Recently Bridget McKenzie the Deputy Leader of the National Party, called for physical education to become a compulsory curriculum component in all schools. Ms McKenzie decries the fact that in her opinion, physical education is not given the time and attention that it should be offered.

There will be many educators around Australia who respond with the thought of “where can we fit this into an already overcrowded curriculum“.

Ms McKenzie would appear to be commenting without understanding the way in which physical education fits into the Northern Territory schools curriculum. Nor has she studied our history. She does not know how long physical education has been part of NT school programs.

There would be few if any schools in the Northern Territory not paying attention to physical education and the important part it plays in student development. PE has been an area of focus in our schools for decades.

Sensory motor programs to develop skills and dexterity have been a part of early childhood programs for decades.

Many of our schools, both primary and secondary, have qualified Physical Education teachers on staff. They teach skills, agilities, games awareness and participation to all students.

Physical Education in NT schools is supported by sporting clubs in both urban and rural areas. Clubs offer after hours development and engage young people in sports competitions.

Development officers employed by sports groups spend time in our schools supporting PE programs.

The Northern Territory Government plays a very important part in furthering Physical Education programs for students. Every year vouchers are offered to parents to help offset costs associated with student sport. These can be processed through schools to help defray costs for those participating in organised sporting programs.

The government also provides vouchers to offset the cost of swimming programs organised through schools.

More informally, children are encouraged during recess and lunch breaks to go out and play in the wide open spaces of school yards. Many schools have large undercover areas and shaded playgrounds protecting students from the weather while they play.

Our Education Department and NT Schools are doing a fine job when it comes to providing what Ms McKenzie refers to as “Physical Literacy“.The call she makes for awareness in this domain, is in ignorance of what is happening in the NT.

When it comes to Physical Education, the NT Education Department and Government, often in association with sporting organisations, have already hit a home run!


This column was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on July 27 2018.  Although descriptive of the Northern Territory situation, I believe it paints a picture of the priorities surrounding the issue of new school construction in other parts of Australia.


Planning for and construction of schools in the newer Darwin and Palmerston suburbs is long overdue.

When suburbs for Darwin and Palmerston were being planned in the 1970s and early 1980s, the provision of schooling was one of the first priorities taken into account.

In Darwin, schools were built in Karama and Leanyer as soon as suburbs were gazetted. The residential areas developed around their new schools. The same applied in Palmerston. Gray and Driver had Neighbourhood Centres which included schools and childcare facilities available as residents purchased blocks and built their nearby homes.

This policy reassured residents that schooling would be available for children.
Guaranteed local schooling encouraged people to buy property and settle in these new suburbs.

Over time, this policy has changed. Rather than schools (and other necessary community facilities) being among the first constructions, provision is left until all residential blocks are purchased and homes built. Lyons and Muirhead in Darwin are overdue for schools. Hundreds of families have to transport their children to schools at distance from where they live.

This has resulted in Nakara, Wanguri and Leanyer primary schools being oversupplied with students who are living outside their catchment areas.

This policy change has also impacted upon Palmerston. People living in Johnson, Zuccoli and other developing residential areas have to take their children to distant schools. In Palmerston , this has resulted in huge numbers being enrolled at Bakewell and Roseberry Primary Schools. Many of the students are being enrolled from out of these schools catchment areas.

Undoubtably, economics have driven this change. Developers are in a hurry to sell land and construct housing. However it leaves people with limited options for their children.

When families have children being enrolled in schools out of area, their attention and focus is elsewhere. They are not able to contribute to the development of their suburb’s character.

The present policy is leading to our suburban schools, particularly primary schools, becoming larger and larger. Historically, school planning was done with the expectation that schools would grow to a population of 300 to possibly 350. In the schools mentioned, these numbers are being substantially exceeded.

It would be in the interests of community for government and developers to revisit the benefits of making schools one of the first facilities constructed in new residential subdivisions. Leaving schools until the absolute last is socially and culturally depriving for those living in our newest suburbs.