About pooroldhenry

BRIEF CV I was a long term territory educator, commencing my teaching career in WA in 1970. We came to the NT in July 1975 and worked in remote, town then urban communities. My tenure in the NT was at Numbulwar School (1975- 1978), Angurugu Community School on Groote Eylandt (1979-1982), Nhulunbuy Primary School (1983-1986), then Karama School (1987-1991) and lastly Leanyer School (1992 until retiring in January 2012). I filled the position of school principal from 1977 until my retirement. My major focus on and belief in education is that it develop children and students holistically, preparing them for the whole of life.Educational partnerships involving staff, students, community and department have always been important. I am a Fellow of the Council of Education Leaders, a Life Member of the Association of School Education Leaders and was awarded the Commonwealth Centenary Medal for contribution to education. I hold a number of degrees and remain actively interested in and contributive to education. A highlight of my 'recent' life has been contributing to teacher education at the Charles Darwin University, along with occasional relief teaching in schools. A recent addition has been my writing of a weekly column about educational matters for the Darwin/Palmerston /Litchfield 'Suns' Newspapers.

This column was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on October 3 2017

 

REPORTING TIMES ARE IMPORTANT MILESTONES

Reporting on student progress is a top priority. It has been traditional for schools to offer parents written reports at the end of each semester, in June and December. Most schools report orally through parent teacher interviews toward the end of terms one and three.

Change over time

In the 1970’s and into the early 80’s, reports for primary school children were standardised and handwritten. They were issued twice each year. Parent teacher interviews either did not form part of the reporting process or were in their infancy.

Since those beginnings, changes have been adopted as schools endeavoured to recognise and report to parents on current educational curriculum and reporting methods. Schools have developed their own reporting documentation, but are required to report on key areas determined by the department.

Handwritten reports are a thing of the past, computer generated reports the ‘in thing’. Preparing the twice yearly reports for printing and distribution should be easy. However, technical glitches that invariably occur can make the exercise quite nightmarish. One of the most common template glitches is that data, once entered, cannot be edited or changed. High levels of concentration are necessary and document preparation is often a fatiguing process.

Reporting priorities

A very high priority is placed on reporting by the Education Department. Reports issued at the end of each semester take many weeks to prepare and finalise. The process is very time consuming.

The reporting focus is on academic outcomes, with achievement being the main area targeted. They are often wordy, but according to many parents lacking in substance. Reports are often criticised for use of jargon and ‘eduspeak’ which make it hard for parents to interpret what is being said.
The inclusion of comments relating to student effort, attitude, conduct and character development is held to be less important than once was the case. That is unfortunate because there is much more to the development of young people than academics.

Accountability

Students need to be held accountable for their attitude and effort toward schooling. Progress and development is personal, with reports showing just how much students are doing toward their personal self development and progress.

The most effective reporting is that which focusses on conversation and understanding between students, parents and staff. Nothing is better than a partnership where responsibilities are shared, appreciation exists and positive outcomes are enjoyed. Ideally, reporting should be about celebrating student progress and achievement.

School Based Policing Needs a Revamp

 

 

 

An edited version of this comment was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on 26 September 2017.

SCHOOL BASED POLICE PROGRAM NEEDS REVAMP

The reduction and diminishment of the once strong School Based Constables (SBC) program available to NT schools is regrettable. A strong element of support was offered to urban and some rural schools over the years through this program. Attached to high schools, each School Based Constable (SBC) had a number of feeder primary schools he or she attended. Constables would visit their schools to conduct Drug and Alcohol Education (DARE) classes with children. They extended their role to include stranger danger awareness and issues such as bullying. Children used to appreciate ‘their’ constable in a way that helped them build positive feelings toward police. In turn, constables learned a lot about community matters of which they needed to be aware. Many potential problems were nipped in the bud because of advanced awareness.

Sadly and with the passing of time, this program has been redefined and significantly dismantled. School Based Police these days are known as Community and Youth Engagement Officers (CYEOS). They are no longer based in schools but visit (a lot less frequently than in the past) from suburban and town police stations. DARE programs have lapsed, along with the contribution SBC’s made to the sharing of children’s learning and the development of their attitudes.

The ‘personality’ of this program, was such that while adults may have had adverse attitudes about police, their children were developing positive attitudes about the force.

The ‘community’ aspect of their revamped role, involves CYEOS in work that has to do with the safety and security of homes. This aims at crime reduction and dealing with issues confronting householders. While necessary, these activities stretch the officers and have meant less time being available for activities in schools.

A point of alarm is that the training of police to fill this particular role has been largely discontinued. It may not be long before the program, one of Territory significance and copied by state and overseas jurisdictions, will be extinct.

A police sponsored program, the Blue Light Disco, has been reduced in urban areas. The program was also been rationalised for schools within our remote communities. The emphasis on Blue Light Discos is a sad loss.
Not only has this program filled an important place in the lives of young people but in social and recreational terms, has given them an enjoyable, supervised outing. I believe in recent times there has been a rescheduling of some Blue Light discos.

The reinstatement of School Based Policing as it was previously organised would be a step in the right direction.

‘NEW’ IS NOT NEW

 

This paper was published in edited form in the ‘NT Suns’ on September 19 2017.

 

  NEW IS NOT NEW

Educational ideas and changes are often presented to the public as being innovative and new. This is often not the case. Proposed changes are in fact there to have a great article re-introduction of old practices, previously discarded.

Within education at both schools and system levels of management, there is a fairly constant movement of staff. Those new to education in the NT, may introduce ‘new’ practices without being aware of their past use and history. This happens because there is little in the way of written and recorded NT educational history.

From time to time, those earning degrees, may study aspects of our Territory’s educational past. However, their dissertations and theses at best, find their way into the university’s library archive, often never seeing the light of day after they have been assessed and filed. This means they benefit no-one. The research devoted to their preparation and what they reveal is largely wasted.

When appointed CEO of Education in 2009, Gary Barnes observed to a meeting of school leaders that his job as incoming leader was not helped by the fact that we had no recorded and readily available history of education in the NT. He suggested that to understand educational history would help leaders in planning the way forward.

Any hope there might be some changes to overcome this deficiency have never occurred. Consequently, many educators who come to the NT remain blind to educational history. They make decisions and introduce policies without realising how much of their ‘new’ content is old hat. The following are a few of the policies that have been re-run:

• Regionalisation of educational management which has been on, off and on again several times since the late 1970’s.

• Introduction of Aboriginal languages into schools. Over time, bilingual education and other approaches have been embraced, rejected and re-endorsed.

• Developing programs for the study of languages other than English (LOTE) in both primary and secondary schools has had the same on again, off again, now on again history.

• Teacher training methodologies have been re-modelled so many times, that confusion has resulted.

• TAFE, VET and life education approaches are in a constant state of flux, posing huge challenges for schools, training institutions and students.

Innovation and change are important to grow educational systems and the schools they support. However, so too is consistency and predictability. Introducing, dropping, reinstating and changing focus by habit, is not wise. For the sake of stability we need to reflect on our educational history.

 

 

 

 

EXCURSIONS PROVIDE FOR KEY LEARNING

An edited version of this column was published in the NT Suns on September 12 2017

 

EXCURSIONS PROVIDE FOR KEY LEARNING

While most formal education takes place in classrooms, learning opportunities beyond the ‘four walls’ can add to student development. The part excursions play in furthering awareness should be appreciated.

Excursions extend normal teaching and learning contexts and are planned to support development and knowledge of the world beyond school boundaries.

In primary school, the child’s first extended educational experience may be an overnight camp at school. By the time children are in year 3 or 4, excursions often extend to provide for overnights of one or two days at places away from home. Berry Springs Wildlife Park is a top end example of where children camp and learn about animals, birds and nature.

Children in upper primary years may spend up to a week at the Batchelor Outdoor Education Centre, Outbound Adventure at Wallaroo (on the Arnhem Highway) or at similar places. These programs build confidence, introduce students to new skills and allow them to develop a sense of living that goes beyond the home. Sometimes exchanges between schools take place, with students being able to learn about other places in the Territory, for example Katherine, Jabiru and other Territory towns and communities.

Extending knowledge

In recent years, senior primary students have travelled interstate on extended excursion programs. One of the most popular destinations is Canberra where the War Museum, Parliament House, the National Art Gallery and other places of significance are visited. Education officers working in each place offer key learning and understanding opportunities. Some school groups, while down south, also visit Australia’s snow fields.

Destinations for some primary and secondary school excursion groups include overseas countries as near as Indonesia and as far away as Japan.

‘Living’ learning

Excursions add value to learning, enabling students to extend their knowledge and understanding. After reading, visualising or being told about elements of the curriculum studied, they get to ‘live’ in these environments beyond home and school.

Learning outside the classroom enables students and staff to build on positive relationships. Often those participating come back to school with added appreciation and respect for each other. Excursions are exercises in team building. They certainly help those taking part to understand and know each other as people. They come at a cost to parents and often engage schools in fundraising. However, the value added to student learning outcomes makes the preparation and expenditure fully worthwhile.

Note: Extended excursions are often referred to as ‘camps’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCHOOL STAFFING A 40 YEAR OLD YO-YO

 

Edited version published in the NT Suns on September 5 2017

 

SCHOOL STAFFING A 40 YEAR OLD YO-YO

It’s on again! For the past 40 plus years, the issue of class sizes has occupied the minds of educators. The subject is one that has dominated the thinking of parents, classroom teachers, principals and system administrators. Documenting the changes that have taken place in both primary and secondary schools, urban and rural over the years, would fill the pages of a large book.

The argument about class sizes grows from educational theory and classroom practice. It includes issues of student age and ability. It differentiates between desk based learning and more practical lessons requiring the engagement of specialist teachers and equipment.

The current Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) between the Department of Education and teachers is due to expire in October. Among changes being sought by the Australian Education Union (NT) is for Territory class sizes to be reduced from 27 to 25.

The NT Government became responsible for administering Territory Education in 1979. During the 38 years since, there have been innumerable expansions and contractions in class sizes. These changes have been endorsed as part of the process attached to policy management and shifts in educational priorities.

The staffing formula once used to determine teacher entitlement took one side of an A4 page. In recent years, that has changed. Calculating exact teacher numbers for schools is no longer a simple process. It is one that has been made more complex by the fact that student classification (including special teaching needs and behaviour management) is taken into account when determining staff entitlements for each school. What was a simple process is now a complex issue.

Practical matters also cloud staffing considerations. When teachers are absent, it is not always possible to employ relief staff to cover classes. There are generally more positions in schools to be filled than relief teachers available for employment. Relief teachers will not always accept employment because of travel difficulties and other problems.

When causal teachers are not available, groups may have to be split, with students adding to the numbers in other classes. For primary, middle and senior schools, teachers may have to forego release time.
Assigning specialist teachers to general classroom teaching duties is another ‘solution’, that while necessary, is certainly not desirable. It can mean program changes and students missing out on art, music, physical education and other specialised subjects.

It is one thing to develop a formula for class sizes and another altogether to make it work.

 

Edited version published in NT Suns on August 22 2017

 

ABSENCE MAY BE UNAVOIDABLE

 

The issue of school attendance in both remote and urban school situations is one continuing to attract attention. That has been so for the past 40 years. Solutions are proposed but often not followed up by authorities.

In 2009 the enrolment of school age children became compulsory. However, there are still many school aged children in the Territory who have never been enrolled.

For children in urban schools, absence for a host of reasons occurs during term time . A major factor is that of families taking holidays during school terms when airfares and accomodation are cheaper. Attendance can be a problem for all schools.

Lead from the front

Principals, school leadership teams and school councils need to be proactive when dealing with attendance issues. One strategy that works, is to encourage students on term time holidays, to develop a travelogue covering their experiences. This helps reinforce the learning children do while on family travels. Using media (photos and videos) to embellish adventures, adds to the written word. Trip diaries can be shared with classes and may even attract commendation and awards from classroom teachers and principals.

With a little imagination and by recognising travel as providing learning opportunities, these times away from school can become significant learning journeys for children.

While some parents request holiday assignments and worksheets, these are often not completed. That does not justify the time and effort taken by staff setting up these individual programs.

More than legislation needed

Legislating to solve attendance problems can be pretentious. The Tasmanian Government has decreed that from the beginning of 2018, no family holidays during term time will be allowed. Families will be liable for penalties of up to $2000 if they fail to follow this attendance directive.

Tasmania could have learned from the NT. We have legislation about school attendance, but when tested in court it has had very limited success. Further, the many steps that have to be actioned prior to any court hearing, are both lengthy and onerous.

There needs to be some follow up for all students on this issue, including recognition of children with outstanding attendance records. Mention in school newsletters and the presentation of merit certificates are two ways of acknowledging conscientious attenders. However, absences which result from family circumstances ought not be punitively treated. Encouraging children toward educational enrichment through their travels is a better option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

200th ANNIVERSARY!

WRITING FOR THE SUNS

A little over four years ago, I was invited to write a weekly education column for the Suns, a community newspaper published each Tuesday as an insert in the Northern Territory News.

The Suns has gone through a number of changes over time, and I am outlining distribution as it happens in 2017. The Suns is also published as a stand alone paper which people can pick up for free.

Along with other NT News products it is also available online.

This week was my 200th column for the Suns, my first being published on July 2, 2013. I have enjoyed developing the column and can confirm that educational topics are never-ending.

My columns are necessarily edited for inclusion in the paper. Unedited versions are published on my blog at
https://lnkd.in/gse2g-g

I have enjoyed giving back and giving to the community through my column. Many people comment to me and generally in terms of appreciation. It is a nice and personally rewarding way of engaging with the community in a volunteer context.

And I wanted to share my 200th celebration on my blog.

Regards.

Henry Gray