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 item was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 19 2018


Our Northern Territory Public Education System is often disparaged. It is held to be of lesser worth than its interstate counterparts. That is an unfortunate and inaccurate conception.

One of the challenges I faced as a school principal was that of parents coming from interstate assuming that NT Government schools were inferior to those they were leaving behind. In fact, NT public education more than holds its own. School leaders and teachers deserve thanks for the job they do. They work hard in urban, town and rural settings, supporting students across all social and cultural contexts.

I think at times when enrolling children from interstate, school leaders tend to be defensive of ‘have to’ parents. Parent have to enrol their children in NT. Schools because of work transfer. They may be apprehensive about the NT and what education offers. They don’t really ‘want to’ enrol in our schools.

We don’t need to justify our system to newcomers, or apologise for what our schools offer. They are up there with the best in Australia. This needs to be communicated to parents. Children being enrolled also deserve this reassurance. Visiting the Department of Education website and those maintained by our schools, confirms the many good things happening within the public education sector.

I can visit this topic as a parent as well as being a retired NT school principal. We came to the Territory in the 1970’s with our three young children. We lived and worked (and they were schooled) in remote communities, then town schools (Alyangula and Nhululunbuy) before we transferred into Darwin. Their primary, secondary and tertiary education was largely completed within the Northern Territory. They have in no way been reduced because of this experience, going on to become significant societal and economic contributors. The positive educational outcomes experienced by our children have been reduplicated for many thousands of other Territory families.

I believe public schools are sometimes discounted because they offer ‘free’ education. Private schools place a far heavier financial burden on parents. This can be a factor in shaping the attitude that ‘private education is better because we have to pay’. Government schools and their teachers provide quality education for a diverse group of multicultural students of all ages and ability levels.

The Territory encourages parent and community participation in establishing school policy through school councils or boards. This enables members to contribute to further enhancing public education.

Our Public School educational system is up there with the best. Our educators do not deserve put downs.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 12 2018


Michael Gunner’s thoughts about Indigenous Education that could be included in a treaty worry me greatly. If a treaty were to eventuate, the Chief Minister suggests that schools in indigenous communities could be given the right to run themselves. “The Government (would provide) money for education and the community (would take) responsibility for how it is delivered locally. Locals could take control of the curriculum … control of children attending school, teachers employed and seeing even more locals becoming teachers.” (Gunner will sign treaty, Sunday Territorian, 3.6.2018) In her story, Judith Aisthorpe reported that several people in high places thought this to be a great idea.

To declare all remote area schools as ‘independent’ and being able to set their own curriculum priorities would be a step backward, not forward. If still working as an educator in remote areas, schools set up under such loose guidelines would be places where I would not want to work.

Some years ago, a Territory politican who represented remote communities, offered a counterpoint. He said that in a mainstream Australian society, English Literacy and Mathematical understanding were key skills. They were necessary for transactional purposes. They were also skills all Australians needed for communication and survival.

Mr Gunner’s suggestions run counter to advice given to me by Aboriginal people in communities where we worked. They wanted ‘proper’ education. A prominent Indigenous Leader at Angurugu in the early 1980’s put it this way. “We want our children to be educated in the same way as children in towns and cities.” That was the brief with which we were charged. There is a place for bilingualism and for education to be culturally relevant. But to deny the need for competence in literacy and numeracy would be totally wrong.

This can only happen if a curriculum emphasising key academic skills is supported by qualified teachers. It is absolutely essential that families play their part by ensuring regular school attendance.

One of the downsides for Indigenous Education (and indeed for education as a whole) is that it has become politically cluttered. Those with and those without qualification feel it necessary to add their opinion to educational debate. People working in schools are busy reacting to what comes down as directives from on high. They have little opportunity to contribute meaningfully to sharing the realities of schools and programs. To uncouple education from an approved Australian curriculum supported by qualified teachers would further weaken remote area education which is already challenged.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on June 5 2018.

While written in relation to the NT, I am sure it has relevance to needs in other Australian jurisdictions.



An article in the NT News in late 2017, pointed out that many public servants take leave which may be questionable. This issue is quite frequently raised in the media. Those taking leave are at times held to be irresponsible for taking time off.

This perception is not helped by the fact that a certain number of days each year can be used without a medical certificate being required. Medical certificates are easier to obtain than was once the case. Pharmacists as well as medical practitioners are able to issue these documents, so a trip to the doctor’s surgery and an expensive consultation fee are no longer required.

One area of leave called upon by teachers may be that of time away to look after their own unwell children. Family should come first for everyone and genuine leave for family purposes should never be questioned.

Public servants are often portrayed as lazy, disenchanted with their work, selfish and interested only in themselves. This may be the case for a minority, but to apply this stereotype to the hard-working and committed majority is grossly unfair.

Permanent public servants are entitled to three weeks of sick leave each year. This entitlement is pro-rated for temporary employees and those on end-dated contracts. Sick leave is accumulative and weeks not used build up year-on-year.

Many public servants approaching retirement, use large portions of accumulated leave for medically confirmed reasons. This happens in part because unused leave is not paid out as a benefit to retirees. In some cases, this amounts to the forfeiture of many weeks of accumulated entitlement.

My suggestion (which to date has fallen on non-responsive ears) is that the NT Government and its Departments consider paying out this unused leave at a 20% rate. Retiring or resigning employees would receive a day’s salary for each week of accumulated leave. Someone with a balance of 20 weeks sick leave would receive the equivalent of 20 days pay on retirement. The greater the balance, the higher the payment.

Because this entitlement is not recognised on employment cessation, to the trend of employees exhausting their benefit prior to retirement may continue. Workplace and system headaches occasioned by employee absence in these circumstances remain an issue.


This was published in the NT Sun on May 29 2018.

The subject is one very close to my heart.


The NT Government is considering the reinstatement of the School Based Policing program. That is indeed good news! Reintroduction would be proof positive governments are prepared to accept that not all policy changes have been for the best.

The axing of the school based policing program from Territory schools was one of the worst decisions ever made. Judith Aisthorpe was absolutely right in reporting that when introduced in NT Schools in the 1980’s, “the program was heralded a success and adopted worldwide … the program in its original state was beneficial as it stopped crime and anti-social behaviour before it happened”. (Back to school for cops, NT News, 28/5/2018)

The School Based Policing program, introduced in the 1980’s, was a ‘top drawer’ initiative. 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 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. Social awareness and responsibility was an element of the program that helped students recognise their social and moral obligations.

In turn, constables became aware of important community issues that might require intervention. Appreciation and respect for law and order grew from this program.

The dismantling of the School Based Policing program with the substitution of police station based ‘Youth Engagement Officers’, was tokenistic. Key school programs lapsed, along with the contribution SBC’s made to the sharing of children’s learning and development of their attitudes. The changes went against the advice Territorians offered to government when regional meetings floating proposed changes were held. Those meetings urged the retention and strengthening of the program as it existed at the time. Notwithstanding community advice, changes were made. The program became far less effective and meaningful than had been the case.

The NT School Based Constable program was studied and adopted by police jurisdictions interstate and overseas. It was instrumental in developing healthy attitudes in young people toward law and order issues. Respect for law and order and acceptance of social responsibility is now at a low point within our Territory culture. That in part is due to the discounting of what was a highly successful and effective initiative. Now is the time to revisit and reinstate what was a most successful school and extra-curricular program.


An edited version of this column  was published in the NT Sun on May 22 2018.


Recent commentary has discussed shortfalls in the accomplishments of Australian students. Our students compared poorly with their Asian peers and other overseas counterparts. More money and material resources are directed towards Australian education than in many of the countries to whom we are compared, yet our results continue to be inferior.

An issue that impacts on outcomes is that of student attitude. Googling ‘student discipline’ online brings up countless reports confirming this to be the case. The latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) survey found that “…Australia ranked 63rd out of 68 OECD countries for classroom discipline.” (Classroom behaviour the key to future pay, Weekend Australian 19 – 20 May 2018). Dr Sue Thompson from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) confirmed that “… the environment is challenging for teachers.” (ABC Australian Kids behaving badly in classrooms, 16.3.17)

The ABC Report by Alice Martin goes into the level and degree of student offending. “ Things you would find in a classroom: an entire class deciding to ignore the teacher in silent protest, chairs thrown, threats and overturned desks.
(Australian) Teachers came forward to tell the ABC about the biggest classroom disruptions they experienced. It did not stop there. One teacher had three Year 9 boys skip her class and smear their poo all over the school gymnasium walls, while others had been cursed with the full spectrum of profanities. The list went on…and on.”

While the level and degree of ill-disciplined behaviour varies, the issue is one that has a deleterious impact upon learning opportunities and academic outcomes.

Classroom behaviour (or misbehaviour) has a negative impact on what can be achieved. Although not talked about openly, the behaviour of many students at both primary and secondary levels, leaves a lot to be desired. Teachers spend as much, if not more time, on classroom management and discipline as they do on teaching. This is not fair on those who are keen to learn.

Classrooms and students in many of our Territory schools are not quarantined from this sad reality.


The issue is one that has its genesis in the bringing up of children. Parents as primary caregivers are responsible for the initial shaping of the values and attitudes of their offspring. Proverbs 22.6 suggests “Teach your children right from wrong and when they are grown they will still do right.” (Bible, Contemporary English Version)

If Australian students are to attain the levels achieved by their overseas counterparts, this issue needs to be recognised and corrected.


This piece was published in the NT Suns on May 15 2018.


Last week, students in all Australian Schools were involved with the 11th NAPLAN testing program. Those in year three, five, seven and nine were tested for competence in literacy and numeracy.

NAPLAN is one of the most enduring testing regimes in Australian education. Very few “initiatives“ have lasted as long. However, rarely has a year gone by without a huge amount of conversation on the value of this program.

In his recent (Gonski 2.0) set of recommendations on educational futures David Gonski suggested NAPLAN should be replaced by more specialised individual learning instruction. The New South Wales Minister for Education Tom Stokes, was quick to suggest that NAPLAN had passed its use by date and was no longer relevant. His contention was that this testing program has become an instrument to compare schools with each other, rather than primarily focussing on student outcomes .

When introduced, the idea of NAPLAN was to test students in terms of competencies important to their future development. The intention was that it would enable schools to identify areas of strength and need for students. Programs could then be developed to extend students in strength areas while offering further learning in areas that needed ongoing attention.

It’s true to say that this testing program has become one of comparing schools with schools. Schools are either elated or deflated on the basis of data outcomes. NAPLAN has become an instrument used by schools in a competitive sense. As the program time approaches each year, children in the grades to be tested often undergo extensive NAPLAN testing preparation to a point where they must become totally frustrated.

When data comes out each year, school leaders and teachers devote a huge amount of time to meetings dissecting results. Without doubt, NAPLAN has become both a fixation and preoccupation. In addition, it is hugely expensive and over time has absorbed hundreds of millions of educational dollars.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham is keen to hang onto NAPLAN. His viewpoint being tentatively supported by other ministers at state and territory level. A significant review would be timely. The question “has NAPLAN helped in lifting levels of student competency in Australian settings”, should be examined. Australian students were recently compared with their peers in 41 comparable countries. Our students in competency terms placed in 39th position. It is apparent that during the past decade (the time NAPLAN has been an Australian Educational priority) student competence has headed south! It’s time to discover reasons for this alarming decline.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on May 8 2018


The recommendations of Gonski 2.0 will take obligations expected of schools, their principals and teachers a step too far. I hope that sense and sensibility prevail, rather than these latest recommendations being accepted carte blanc and foisted on schools.

There is some wonderment for me in the fact that Mr Gonski, a businessman of renown, is now regarded as an educational guru. He had a great deal to do with the ‘School Funding Model’ developed during the Rudd/Gillard years. That was about Australia-wide school funding focussed on opportunity and equity within education. However, he is now being revered for his thoughts on what should be the curriculum focus in classrooms.

The most recent Gonski recommendations were developed by a committee he heads, so he is not the sole author of proposed new directions. However, they are attributed to him as committee chairperson, possibly authenticated by the fact he is Chancellor of the University of NSW.

Individualised learning plans for each child in every class would be the straw breaking the camel’s back for teachers. Teachers struggle to provide for children in classes under present operational schemes and do well to meet diversified learning needs under present system requirements.

Further individualisation could reduce classrooms to places where teachers transfer material from their computers onto each student’s iPad or learning device. Progress would be monitored, assignments marked on completion and tasks revisited or extended through further exercises. Data about each child’s progress would be uploaded on a daily basis onto each child’s electronic file.

This approach might satisfy data exponents but would destroy the human contact between teachers and their students. Classrooms would become sterile and soulless, doing little to motivate students.

In advocating a changed focus, Mr Gonski suggests that NAPLAN has outlived its usefulness and should be discontinued. However, the preoccupation of education ministers and departmental CEO’s with test generated statistical analysis and data, means that it is not going to happen anytime soon.

The individualised approach to teaching being recommended by Gonski would simply add to the burdens that NAPLAN already places on students and schools.

In statistical terms, it has been confirmed that none of the changes, reforms and initiatives of the past decade or so, have enhanced educational outcomes for students in our schools. We have slipped to be 39th out of 41 high and middle income countries measured for student competence in maths, literacy and science. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15.6.17). Quite obviously, Australian educational planning is not being translated into enhanced student outcomes.