MONEY DOMINATING SCHOOL’S THINKING

With the onset of global budgeting for NT schools from 2015, (NDA that has happened with all systems) money or lack of it seems to have become the number one preoccupation for school principals and administrators. This is somewhat paradoxical. In the final week of term four, school leaders should be rejoicing in the accomplishment of students and celebrating the year that has been. Instead, many seem to be focussed on coming to terms with the impact of global budgeting.

This new funding model has created a lot of angst and uncertainty among some school principals and councils. They are having difficulty reconciling the rhetoric about global budgeting with what seems to be the way it will actually impact upon school operations. Everything from program curtailment to staffing cuts seem to be looming.

On the face of it, global budgeting should be straightforward. A simple change of one allocation method to another should not create the negative reaction being generated. The concern seems to be that schools are being asked to maintain and even grow programs from a shrinking financial base. This is raising many questions and creating problems.

Training and understanding

I believe one of the issues is the change to budget accountability that has taken place within the education system. This began with devolution of management responsibility to schools in the late 1980’s and has continued since that time. In the beginning the school’s business was managed for the school, These days schools have become businesses. What used to be centralised functions have been outsourced to schools.

This has to do in part with accountability handed to schools and in part with the desires of principals and councils to take responsibility for decision making and money management. Global budgeting extends an outsourcing process that has been transitioning to schools for many years.

Managing money has become a complex and time consuming occupation. Schools have become businesses and this occupies the principal’s time. Matters of educational leadership are increasingly delegated to senior staff members. Principals and School Finance Managers are often under-trained for work in this field and battle to keep up with changing funding models. School leaders who trained to be educators are finding that bookkeeping is their major function. Many school finance managers have minimal training in this operational field. However, financial planning and full economic management is absorbing the time of both principal and finance manager. I suspect too, that the Department’s finance officers and those in schools are ‘learning together’, meaning that system help is evolving rather than being offered with full confidence. There may well be more confusion before clarity prevails because advisory staff have to learn about the new system.

Maybe it is worth looking at a model practised in Indonesia. Some schools have administrative as well as professional staffing streams. Issues of financial and budgetary management are separated from curriculum and teaching. The finance administrator and principal roles are separated, enabling both to concentrate of their specific areas of responsibility. This sharing of leadership and management may have drawbacks but it means that the principal’s focus is not totally consumed by monetary concerns.

Our system is now placing huge emphasis on business acumen and financial accountability. That has the potential to distract from educational leadership and classroom attention. Maybe the time will come when the business of schools dictates that those in charge are number crunching administrators rather than educational leaders.

SOCIAL PRESSURES DETRACT FROM EDUCATION

Matters relating to the appeal of education and schooling are often misunderstood. We also underestimate the challenges confronting today’s young people. Distractions on offer can and do take focus away from education and school.

Young people growing up today, do so in an increasingly complex world. We are constantly looking assailed with stories confirming the social challenges they face. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, SMS and other social media contexts engage them in a way that has many addicted for hours on end to ‘small screen’ sending and receiving text and picture messages. It seems few young people are seen without electronic gadgets to hand. Addiction to electronic devices disengages them from the real world.

Historically, school was often looked forward to by many children – indeed for some it was a real highlight. Social and recreational opportunities were not available as they are today. In 2020, invitations to young people that they concentrate on school and educational betterment can be seen as an offer of monotony and boredom.

Schools and staff are often criticised for the fact that schooling is not sufficiently effervescent and bubbling with excitement. The inference is that teachers have to be 100% responsible for motivating students. However the desire for deep learning has to come from within students themselves. While learning needs to be stimulating, there is more to education than tinsel and glitter. Unfortunately, the attractions of these modern times offer diversionary activities that have greater appeal than schooling routines.

Social pressures

Increasingly we read of social pressures placed on young people. Years ago smoking a cigarette behind the school shed or toilet was considered an act of bravado. Drugs as they confront today’s youth were a future issue. So too, the more liberal attitudes existing these days toward alcohol. While tobacco has become taboo, attitudes to an array of drugs and alcohol are liberal by comparison. While use of drugs within school environments is a ‘no, no’, that concern is not apparent within the wider community. I respect awareness programs offered at school. However, it seems that young people in social contexts, are ignoring educational advice and warnings.

Dunlevy’s findings

Sue Dunlevy a national health reporter, highlights the issue. She reported:

* One in three teens aged 12-17 are consuming alcohol even though illegal.

* In many cases parents were purchasing alcohol for their children.

* Principals are concerned about this major social problem ” … that could harm their children’s future and … developing brains.”

* Unsupervised parties lead to teenage drunkenness and drug use.

* The Australian Council on Drugs found this behaviour was often a fallout from cyber bullying.

* The survey found a significant amount of time is spent by teachers in the classroom trying to help students who drank on weekends catch up on their work or in dealing with disruptive behaviour while other students look on and wait.

* Students who drank alcohol and used other drugs came to school late, tired and often with a poor attitude. They were also in danger of developing a pattern of non-attendance.

* Three out of four schools run drug and alcohol education programs, so the effort to create awareness is significant.

(Dunlevy, ‘Drunk and confused: Weekend drinking is hitting the performance of our teenagers in schools’, Australian March 5, 2014)

Where to

There is much on offer educationally for young people. However, if students fail to see the importance of education, preferring to overly indulge in social and recreational pursuits, educational outcomes will suffer. Decisions young people make today have implications that will last a lifetime.

CELEBRATE EDUCATION IN 2021

CELEBRATE SPECIAL DAYS

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.

A question of balance

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.

TEACHERS SHOULD NOT BE PROFESSIONALLY MALIGNED

A lot has been said and written about the need for teachers to be professionals who meet an expanding raft of the developmental needs of students. Educational expectations held for teachers seem to be constantly expanding.

Teaching is more minutely inspected by the community than any other profession. It seems greater responsibility for the bringing up and development of children is placed on teachers and schools rather than on parents and homes. It has become the done thing for some parents and primary caregivers when things go wrong for children, to vent their displeasure on teachers.

The bullying of teachers by a cohort of parents is an issue of growing concern. The Sunday Territorian (Teachers’ bullying crisis, January 27 2019) confirmed that the Australian Education Union (NT) is worried about this trend and its impact on teaching staff. Union secretary Adam Lampe said he was aware of incidents “ … where parents scream and harass teachers constantly in person and online … that can really take a toll … teachers leave their jobs, transfer and even fall into depression – it pushes people to a breaking point.”

Stories from media outlets within the Territory and around Australia are increasingly reporting on matters of teacher abuse. The way in which the personality and character of teachers can be misrepresented and maligned is extremely alarming.

Expectations held of teachers from selection and training through to their delivery of educational outcomes in the classroom, are subject to increasing scrutiny. However, respect for them in personal and professional terms seems to be diminishing.

The Department of Education is on the record as upholding the fact that “ … wellbeing and safety of all … staff is paramount. … The department takes all incidents seriously and does not condone bullying, harassment and violence of any form in schools.” (Op cit)

I believe that teachers are at times reluctant to report matters of bullying behaviour to school leaders because they may be considered as not able to manage unpleasant situations. Contract, limited tenure and relief staff particularly, may feel that raising the issue will adversely affect their future employment opportunities.

It may well be that some school principals, who are on end-dated contracts, feel the same way about reporting these matters to the department. The Teachers Union maintains that a significant number of teacher bullying incidents go unreported.

Most parents are people who develop respectful relationships with their children’s teachers. However, the actions of the minority referred to in recent reports, negatively misrepresent that majority. Bullying and abusive behaviour should be consigned to history.

AUSTRALIA IS COVID COUNTRY

Make no mistake. We are (still) well and truly in the grip of the coronavirus. There can be no let up in our vigilance simply buy turning a corner into the new year. It often seems that Australia is not on song with the message of caution.

We are having virus breakouts and clusters forming and consolidating (3/1/2021) in NSW and Victoria. Cross border infection has been an issue. Borders are closing and people and rushing hither and thither like headless chooks. (One has to ask why they left home in the first place.) The add on cases of those with the virus and those in isolation because of contact, are adding up.

It seems that we could be on the cusp of a new Covid emergence for cases of community infection are certainly ramping up. With the repatriation programs and the numbers of people coming down with Covid while in quarantine all around Australia, you have to wonder.

How long until the virus escapes quarantine and gets out into the community – as has already happened in NSW. Vaccines are still a way off and we will soon be emerging into autumn and then the prime virus strike time of winter. We are by no means out of the woods.

GOING FORWARD CAUTIOUSLY IN 2021

Thank you for the 2020 educational highlights package in the NT News (28/12). The resilience, resourcefulness, creativity and coping strategies developed and practised by school staff and students in countering this most challenging of years deserves high praise. That has been the way management has occurred all around Australia.

The 2020 year in education has been an Australian and indeed a worldwide educational year with significant difference to those of the past two or three decades. Students, staff, schools and their communities have had to cope with forced change like never before.

Some have coped better than others, but fir all there was a significance that made this year one that stood out. For the most part, the standing out was for all

the wrong environmental reasons.

And in terms of 2021, we need to consider the upcoming school year – now just three weeks into the future – in cautionary terms. COVID-19 is still a part and parcel of the Australian way of life.

The impacts it has had will continue to have an influence on our institutions, including schools.

We will need to proceed with caution; there can be no throwing our hands in the air, declaring there is no longer a need to worry. To act with a false sense of security would indeed be foolish. It would also send the wrong message to students.

HEAD LICE AN ETERNAL SCOURGE

AND OTHER HEALTH ISSUES

Invasion by head-lice is a perennial problem for children at school, with re-infection occurring regularly. There is a significant cost for the purchase of products used in treatment. That is particularly the case where two, three or more children in each family have to be treated every time an infestation breaks out.

Until the 1980s, the impact of headlice was felt less than is now the case. Community health sisters used to come into schools, inspect heads for infestation and treat infected children. However, that practice was discontinued because the powers that be decided the head-lice issue was a “social” rather than a “medical” problem. The onus for treatment came back onto schools and parents.

Teachers and administrative staff used to check children if head-lice were suspected, notifying parents of the need for treatment. In more recent years it has been deemed inappropriate for school staff members to touch the heads of children and inspect for lice. In part that was to avoid embarrassing children. It was also felt that physical inspection of heads could be deemed a form of assault.

If head-lice are suspected, staff telephone parents, asking that children be taken home and treated, before returning to school. This may mean time off work for parents and lost learning time for children.

Head-lice continue to be the number one scourge for schools and students. It takes the inattention of only one family represented in a class of children to cause an breakout affecting them all. Schools urge parents regularly inspect children’s heads for lice or eggs, carrying out treatment if necessary. The problem however continues to manifest itself within our schools.

Illness

In a similar manner, health problems affecting one or two children can have an impact upon whole school classes. During the cold and flu season classes are quite often decimated because of children who are sick and away. Teachers are also susceptible and many become quite ill. The non-treatment or non-exclusion of one or two children in the first instance can have serious health impacts upon whole school communities.

The Demands Of Work

Parental work commitments can mean unwell children are sent to school, even though they may spend the day in the sick bay. It is not uncommon for primary school sickbays to resemble a scene from crowded house! Support staff (when signed parental permissions forms are completed) can administer prescribed medication. They also handle reluctant parental responses when ringing and requesting sick children be picked up from school.

A good deal of the contagion that spreads through school classes happens because children in poor health are at school and spreading infection.

Notification

A growing amount of administrative time is spent in notifying parents about health issues. Letters from schools to parents about head lice are sent home with monotonous regularity. With a growing percentage of parents declining immunisation for children, notification about measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, new strains of flu and other outbreaks have to be made.

Student health and well-being matters are major school issues

CHILDREN NEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

A prime focus of education is planning towards meeting the future needs of children. Preparing children and young people to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders is a key educational commission. This should be a shared responsibility involving parents on the home front and teachers in our schools. Taking advantage of learning opportunities is also a responsibility resting on the shoulders of students. Parents and teachers offer development and educational opportunities for children but cannot do the learning for them.

In a world of educational pressures and global confusion, it is important to be careful and responsible in planning learning opportunities. Part of this is to offer a stable and understandable environment. The opportunity to ‘grow through play’ and the way in which children learn to understand the wider world are both important.

Play

The importance of play and social interaction children have with each other is sometimes discounted. Abundant research confirms that children learn about the world through play. This along with other stimuli supports their social, emotional and moral/spiritual growth. Young people can be and often are exposed to the pressures of academics too early in life. Making haste slowly and ensuring these other elements are taken into account, supports the stable development of young people. Pressuring children academically might produce ‘high fliers’. However, confidence and maturity come from socialising and play, without which children can be left in isolation. Playing together is one way children begin to understand one another and the world into which they are growing.

Unease

In these troubled times children’s self confidence needs to be supported by parents and teachers. Distressing events, particularly terrorist attacks, climatic catastrophes and other disasters have an unsettling effect on everyone. This is particularly the case for children who can and do become distressed by such events. Trying to shield young people from these events or attempting to brush them off, will only heighten their anxieties. Awareness of terrifying events creates distress which “… may be shown in all sorts of ways. This can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, bed wetting, becoming … snappy or withdrawn or not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Parry and Oldfield, ‘How to talk to children about terrorism’ The Conversation, 27/5/17)

Children need the confidence and understanding that grows from play and they need reassurance about the good things in a world into which they are growing. It’s up to adults to see that both these needs are met.

IS PREFLIGHT COVID TESTING FOR REAL OR ARE WE BEING FED A LINE

A planeload of repatriated persons from Chennai in India arrived in Darwin on January 1 2021. The flight had over 150 passengers on board.

On January 2 2021, the online edition of the NT News reported that five adults and an infant had tested positive at the Howard Springs Quarantine Centre for COVID-19. The story was posted online at 3:16 pm on January 2.

We are constantly told that repatriated persons are tested before boarding flights and that if they show signs of COVID-19 positiveness, are excluded from the flight.

The people from Chennai in my opinion were NOT, repeat NOT tested before boarding their flight. In my opinion, authorities are pretending that testing prior to embarkation takes place. IT DOES NOT!

Less than a day after touchdown in Darwin, this high level of infection shows up. It has to be these people were flying infected on the plane. How many more have been infected by these six during the flight? And authorities at Howard Springs have to cope with this rash of infections, protecting others and keeping COVID-19 out of the community.

Stop with the half truths on the repatriation issue. Be open and honest with the community at large on this subject.