This was published in the NT Sun on August 28, 2018.


With so much going on within schools, it is easy to discount the need for special events and activities. Teaching and learning strategies, together with data collection and analysis, are constant and almost totally preoccupying. The need for academic pursuits to be a key activity is unquestioned. It often seems that schools are so wired to testing, measurement and assessment that there is little time for anything else.

Schools become so busy responding to systemically imposed requirements and the academic imperative, that the fun part of education can be overlooked. Schools should be happy places. There is a danger that the overloaded curriculum will impose a ‘nose to the grindstone’ mentality on teachers and students alike. This is not helped by principals and school leaders feeling the need to everlastingly oversight the school academic tasks at hand.

Including special days and celebratory opportunities into school calendars is important. These activities help to build school spirit. They draw students, staff and community members together. There are many special events from which to choose. They might include the following.

* School discos. One held toward the end of each term is a way to socially celebrate school and students.

* An annual or biennial school fete brings people together and offers special fundraising opportunities.

* Celebrating anniversaries is a way of remembering school history and looking forward to the future.

* Organising events to celebrate the opening of new school facilities.

* Organising open classrooms and celebrating learning themes is positively focussing for parents and the community.

* Highlighting book week including a costume parade of students dressed in the costumes of book characters.

* Special days celebrating science, maths and the cultures of children who are members of the student community.

* Highlighting student accomplishment during school assemblies. This might include class items, celebrating success in competitions and acknowledging sporting results.

* Taking part in the Tournament of Minds, ‘Lock up Your Boss’, Principal for a Day and so on.

This is not an exhaustible list. Many more activities could be included.

Not for a minute would I downplay the academic priority of education. However, there is need for fun, enjoyment, camaraderie and days of relaxation to be mixed with more formal teaching and learning pursuits. These are the things upon which happy and memorable school days are based. They should not be forgotteN.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on August 21, 2018.

(This was the 250th column I have written and had published in the NT Sun.)


Use of the word ‘fees’ when requesting monetary support for government schools from parents or primary caregivers, was outlawed over a decade ago. Until that time schools, when requesting extra support to assist in covering costs for educational extras, did not have to be so careful when wording this request.

This change was necessary because of the connotations linked to ‘the word’. Asking for a fee was seen as a compulsory demand. Public education was promoted as being free, so using ‘the word’ when requesting extra monetary support was not appropriate. At the time, both the government and the education department went to great lengths to ensure schools did not make any reference to fees. This was so off-putting and of such concern to some school leaders, that money contributed to support programs, was refunded to parents.

The issue was eventually clarified with the following statement under ‘Fees and contributions’ on the Education Department website. “Tuition for the standard curriculum program is provided free to all students in government schools.

There are three areas where you may be requested to make a contribution:

Educational items

Optional extra items

Voluntary contributions.”

A further statement clarifies the issue of voluntary contributions. “You may be asked to make a financial contribution or donation to your child’s school for a specific purpose. You are not obliged to contribute.” (Bolding mine)

The department and schools considered the embarrassment when inability to pay arose. “If you are unable to contribute to optional extra items because of financial hardship you should arrange a confidential talk with the school principal. Confidentiality, privacy and dignity will always be maintained.”

The NT Government’s Back to School Payment Scheme of $150 per child each year, helps with defraying some of the costs parents face. In particular, the vouchers can be be used to offset the cost of book packs and school uniforms.

There has always been some angst about educational costs.

Populist thinking is that in government schools, everything should be provided, with education being totally free for parents. Without parental contributions, many of the extra programs that add to extending educational opportunity would not happen.

Explaining how voluntary contributions will be used and what extras they will provide always helps. Some schools produce an information statement for parents, explaining how contributions will support these extra programs.

This helps counter misunderstandings about the way donated money is used. Without doubt, the provision of quality education is enhanced by these contributions.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on August 7 2018.  Without doubt, media plays a part and a big part in influencing the thinking and the actions of young people.


From time to time the issue of media influence on shaping the values of young people comes up for discussion.

It is often asserted that what young people see, hear and experience has no influence on the shaping of their attitudes and values. People are scoffed at if they suggest otherwise. Researchers and others connected with empirical study assert that young people know that games are for amusement. Therefore, playing these games will have no impact upon their lives.

I believe that to be totally wrong. Many young people immerse themselves for hours on end, day after day, week after week in playing these games. Common sense suggests this has to impact on their thinking and attitudes.

Young people may become so totally absorbed in this “escape from reality“ that it becomes their reality.

While some of these amusements are quite benign, many of the more popular ones are about murder, massacre, slaughter, and macabre behaviours. It stands to reason that young people (and those who are not so young) who become totally immersed in these activities will be influenced by their addiction.

The fact that so many young people these days are “I“ and “me” people who do not think about others, may well be a result of exposure to online gaming. Lack of manners, slack, disrespectful speech, the inability to focus on real life tasks in school and elsewhere, disinclination toward real life activities all point toward cyberspace influence. The key characters in online games generally behave in a way that promotes heroism through bullying, harassment and other negative behaviour. Can we wonder at this bravado and these attitudes rubbing off on the impressionable minds of youthful gamers?

Common sense suggests that the antisocial behaviour of many young people has its genesis in their indulgent online activities. When cyberspace completely absorbs the minds and the attention of users, something has to give!

One of the most recent games is “fortnite”, which focuses on extremely negative social behaviour. Game changes and modifications always seem to focus on negatives, rather than social decency.

I believe it imperative for parents to be aware of the online games their children are playing. They would be wise to monitor the classification of these activities and the length of time spent in online indulgence.

Without doubt, the games children play impacts on their thinking, attitudes and behaviour. That can have negative consequences. It may result in them making poor decisions that impact upon their lives and their futures.


This column was published in the NT Sun on August 7 2018. While school leadership (and staff) stress is written about in terms of the Northern Territory, the issue is one with Australia-wide implications for school leaders, teachers and all school staff.



The Northern Territory Government and Education Department have finally recognised an issue that has been dogging Principals and Assistant Principals for many years. Our school leaders are very stressed people.

This year it was agreed that Principals and Assistant Principals should be entitled to an allowance of $600 per year, to be spent on goods or services helping to alleviate undue stress. This can be used to fund course attendance, spent to assist in the purchase of stress reducing equipment and so on.

There are many factors driving stress. Possibly the most major issue is that of school leaders being required to be all things to all people. They are confronted by significant challenges in trying to meld the expectations of government, the education department, community, parents, students and staff. Developing an accord between these groups that fulfils expectations is a major task.

The NT Principals Association, teachers union, and other professional groups connected with the further development of education have known of the deep stress confronting educators for many years. It now seems that the education department has agreed that the existence of undue and “over the top“ work pressures is a reality.
Minimising unnecessary stress has been recognised as a necessary adjunct to promoting the physical health and mental wellbeing needs of principals and assistant principals.

However, this will at best be palliative. The intention is to dissipate the effects of a deepening and broadening problem. It would be altogether better if unnecessary stressors were identified and removed.

A great deal of the load placed upon school leaders is about accountability and “justification“. While responsibility for educational outcomes must be taken seriously, going over the top is problematic. The need to constantly justify one’s existence takes from what the prime focus of education for school leaders should be all about.

One stress area is completely overlooked. In terms of impact, the greatest level of school staff stress is that borne by classroom teachers. Curriculum and teaching demands placed on schools by departments is generally passed down to teachers. It is at the classroom level that expectations demanded of students must be met. Teachers spend increasing amounts of time in teaching, testing, measuring and recording results. Departmental recognition of stress and the offer of tangible support should be extended to all teachers in all our schools. Allowing teachers to teach rather than inundating them under excessive data demands would be a good start.

The stress relief program goes some way toward recognising and countering the issue. However, there is still a long way to go.


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.