EDUCATION FUNDING PRIORITIES NEED REVAMP

This was published in the NT Sun on November 13, 2018.

EDUCATION FUNDING PRIORITIES NEED REVAMP

There has been a significant change in the setting of funding priorities for schools during the past ten years.

Prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, it was extraordinarily difficult to attract money for school capital works programs. Principals and school councils were often frustrated by the delays in gaining initial approval. Generally works were included in treasury’s forward estimates.

In some cases, approved works remained in abeyance for so long, they were re-announced as new initiatives before gaining final funding approval.

Minor New Works programs for infrastructure projects up to $250,000 were similarly queued for lengthy periods of time.

The GFC consigned this scenario to history. In order to stimulate building and construction, the Federal Government created the Building Education Revolution (BER).
Many billions of dollars were released to state and territory educational systems. ‘Build, build build, like there is no tomorrow’ became the order of the day. Along with all educational authorities, the NT Education Department was overwhelmed with BER money.Funds were allocated for major construction in every Northern Territory school.

A BER downside was the prescription placed on the use of money. Buildings had to be for science laboratories, school libraries, classrooms, assembly halls and physical facilities. When particular schools had higher priorities they were discounted. Timelines attached to the program required projects to be completed and funds expended by specific dates. This meant that building and construction programs had to be undertaken during term time disrupting school programs, in some cases for weeks on end.

Although the BER is now history, there has been a significant shift in funding priorities for NT schools. Compared with pre BER days, it seems that limitations on capital and minor new works funding have been relaxed.

Government tenders in the NT News each Wednesday confirms that money is being allocated for playground equipment, shade structures, irrigation upgrades and other works that were rarely funded in past times.
Previously, it had been up to school communities to fundraise for these ventures.

It is a worry that major funding for schools seems to be based on the fact that projects must support the building, construction, and infrastructure industry. There is a need for funding to recognise and support teaching and learning programs in classrooms. The ‘heart’ of the school is the teaching/learning interface. Buildings and facilities are necessary but should not be prioritised to the detriment of core learning needs.

Funding balance is important. While facilities are necessary, the support of students through classroom programs must not be compromised.

TRB IS AN IMPORTANT INSTITUTION

Published in NT Sun on October 30 2018

TRB AN IMPORTANT INSTITUTION

The NT Teachers Registration Board is an important institution playing a key role in ensuring the quality and competence of teachers in our schools.

These boards are part and parcel of the educational make up of every state and territory in Australia. It is behoven upon boards to ensure teachers appointed to our schools meet agreed standards in terms of qualification, competence and character.

Since its establishment in September 2004, the Northern Territory Teachers Registration Board has processed applications from hundreds of teachers. For the most part the board has done a most satisfactory job.

In recent times however, it has been reported that several teachers in our schools have slipped through the net and into our classrooms. That should have not happened. It only takes one or two slips like this to negatively impact on the board’s reputation.

In one case a person had a background that included quite a number of “aliases”. This would have made it difficult to accurately evaluate that person’s background and character. There have been other instances of people being registered when that was not the most appropriate option.

Systems need to safeguard our children and offer them the best possible education. While 99% of our teachers approved by the board fill the brief for appointment, no oversight can be excused.

Any failure will become general knowledge and sully the reputation of the board in the eyes of the public. What needs to be understood is that it can be extremely difficult to work around issues of alias names and identity issues of people who may be trying to hide past circumstances when seeking registration.

The fact that state and territory boards are separate entities only operating within their own boundaries, may be a weakness of the current registration system. We have a national curriculum and national testing program. Consideration should be given to nationalising teacher registration.


Unifying national registration might help overcome glitches that can occur when teachers move from one state or territory to another, requiring new registration. How thoroughly NT registration and police checks are able to explore the history of teachers seeking endorsement may be an issue. A national teacher registration board could also promote the idea of portability of teacher qualifications from one state and territory to another. This would facilitate nationwide teacher transfer.

To nationalise teacher registration would be a logical step in developing an Australia wide perspective on education. It may also help to overcome the likelihood of teachers inappropriately slipping past registration processes and into NT classrooms.

MORE THAN UNI, POST SCHOOL

This was published in  the NT Sun on October 16 2018

 

MORE THAN UNI, POST SCHOOL

We are approaching that time in the year when senior students will begin to earnestly consider their futures beyond school.

The focus for senior students seems to be on what degree courses they will need to support their chosen occupation. Much emphasis is placed on academic studies and careers requiring bachelor, masters or even pH D level certification. To this end, students are placed under stress to do well with year 12 examinations.

By comparison very little emphasis is placed on apprenticeships or training for a trade. There seems to be an inference that these courses are for students who cannot succeed academically. Students are almost discouraged from considering occupational alternatives.

There are an array of trades in desperate need of bolstering by qualified people. While a handiperson’s skill can suffice at times, a qualified trades person is often needed for a safe, efficient and lasting job finish.

We have such a critical shortage of qualified tradespeople in the Northern Territory and many other parts of Australia. To fill the gap, overseas recruiting is often done in order to bring people in on visas to fill trades gaps for major projects being undertaken.

It’s time for trades training and study to be presented in a more optimistic, positive light. Students need encouragement to consider these alternatives for they are not “second rate” or inferior. Incomes that can be earned by qualified tradespeople are right up there alongside the earning potential of white collar, degree holding employees.

Stephen Billett Professor of Adult and Vocational Education at Griffith University wrote that “we need to change negative views of the jobs VET serves to make it a good post school option.” (The Conversation, October 4 2018) Billett maintains that there needs to be three key actions to transform present perceptions.

1 A public education campaign is necessary to inform the community (particularly parents) that VET is a viable and worthy post-school option. Industry should support this government sponsored program.
2. Schools should better promote VET as a post school option to students including “…entrance into VET is an important performance indicator.”
3. Governments and industry should ensure that VET options are “… organised, ordered and resources (to provide) students with appropriate educational experiences” (op cit).

Vocational education is overlooked too often as a viable post school option. This is contributing to the NT’s desperate shortage of qualified tradespeople. For the good of our community and the future of our economy, this situation must be reversed.

NT EDUCATION MUST NOT BE SEGMENTED

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

NT EDUCATION MUST NOT BE SEGMENTED

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 column was published in the NT Sun on April 17 2018

 

CONSIDER WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE

It often seems those who have been involved with educational developments and direction in the Northern Territory are completely discounted. What has happened in past years has either been completely overlooked or altogether forgotten. In relation to facilities, curriculum emphasis, staff and student development, community engagement, and other key areas, it seems that education is always in the “planning“ stage.

It is common for ideas to be raised as “new initiatives“ when in fact they are revisitations to what has been tried (and often discarded) in the past.

In part this has to do with the fact that the history of education in the Territory has been so poorly recorded. There are some records scattered in various libraries and archives but they are not readily available to current decision-makers. In 2009 when becoming the CEO of Education in the NT, Gary Barnes commented upon the fact that he was coming in “blind”. There was very little documented history he could access in order to familiarise himself about the system he was inheriting. At the time there was hope something might be done to rectify the situation. There was a proposition developed by some within Education’s Executive Group suggesting resources be given to documenting history. However, that thought faded very quickly.

In 2014 the Education Department planned on developing a visual display that focused on the contribution of CEOs from 1978 when the NT accepted responsibility for education from the Australian Government. Time, energy, effort and money was put into this development but it was subsequently shelved because of a change in government and Education’s CEO.

The Department of Education has a detailed website. It would be great if “history“ and “past development“ could be included, with people invited to read and contribute to an understanding about educational development in the NT. While this site would need to be periodically monitored and moderated, an invaluable history could be established in a relatively short period of time. This suggestion has been raised in the past without ever going anywhere!

The paradox is that many people with rich experience, are not able to share these for the benefit of the Territory nor for the awareness of incoming educators. With the passing of time, those with knowledge either leave the Northern Territory or pass on. Sadly the knowledge and understanding they could contribute, departs with them. I hope this might be corrected but don’t imagine that will happen any time soon.

 

NATIONALISATION WOULD ENHANCE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION

This piece was published in the NT Sun on February 27 2018

NATIONALISATION WOULD ENHANCE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION

In some respects, education in Australia has been about the cart being put before the horse. That has occurred in part because the predominate focus of Australian Primary and Secondary education has been at State and Territory level. It is only in comparatively recent times that education has taken on a more national look.

History contributed to Australian Education becoming fractured and developing along state and territory lines.
In a vast country challenged until comparatively recently by communication and distance issues, this organisation was the only real possibility. But there have also been parochial constraints. In the mid 1980’s, attempts to develop a national curriculum were thwarted by State and Territory authorities who did not want to pass educational control to a national body.

For education to take on a truly national outlook, there are three requirements. In the first instance, there needs to be a curriculum framework that embraces the whole of Australia. Secondly, teacher education should lead to national teacher registration. This would allow portability for teachers wanting to move schools across state and territory boundaries. Finally, a national curriculum should be nationally assessed.

The order in which these priorities have been considered is not logical. The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was introduced in 2008. NAPLAN assesses all Australian students in Years 3,5,7, and 9 for literacy and numeracy competence. Yet it was introduced as a nationwide measure of accountability, while States and Territories still held responsibly for their own curriculum delivery. Having a national curriculum prior to national assessment would have made more sense.

While we are now a fair way down the road toward universal curriculum, State and Territory authorities seem reluctant to fully embrace the concept. We contrast interestingly with many countries which have had a national curriculum for decades. It could well be that tested competencies in Australia are below comparative international standards because our curriculum has been so divided. Although State and Territory education authorities are coming together on the issue, national curriculum in many respects has a long way to go.

A third consideration ought to be the introduction of a National Teacher Registration Authority. At the moment Teacher Registration Boards (TRB’s) have State and Territory jurisdiction. A teacher wanting to move interstate has to be approved by that state’s registration board. A national board would streamline this process.

State and Territory boundaries limit educational effectiveness and are a barrier to Australia-wide outcomes. Nationalisation would introduce efficiencies and promote quality outcomes.

A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

This article was published in the NT Sun on February 2018.

 

A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

Caring for school environments is the duty of all users. If care is not taken, classrooms, walkways, toilets and school yards can quickly become littered and grubby. Most schools emphasise the need for students to properly dispose of rubbish. There are rubbish bins inside classrooms and buildings and strategically located around school, in toilets as well as communal areas.

It can be extraordinarily difficult for schools to maintain a clean, litter free appearance. A drive past some schools, particularly late in the afternoon, reveals a scatter of paper, plastic cups and other rubbish. A proliferation of rubbish detracts from the grounds appearance, giving the impression that all students are litterers. That is true only of of a minority.

Awareness of the need for classroom organisation and tidiness should be part of student development. In many classrooms there is a roster, assigning students to specific tasks. They might include the following:
• Cleaning whiteboards
• Delivering and collecting notes from the office
• Taking lunch orders to the canteen
• Collecting lunch orders from the canteen
• Tidying shelves and classroom storage areas
• Giving out and collecting work books
• Collecting recyclable materials.

All students take responsibility for:

• Tidy desks and personal storage areas
• Stacking their chairs at the end of the day
• Disposing of food scraps and their own rubbish into bins
• Putting litter into outside bins
• Personal hygiene including toilet flushing and hand washing
• Using classroom bins rather than floors for pencil shavings and scraps of paper.

Some would argue that attitudes of cleanliness and tidiness should be automatic. However, recognising effort and rewarding enterprise can help reinforce personal and civic attitudes. Recognition of class responsibility for care and maintenance of school appearance might include the following:

• The awarding at assembly of a mascot that ‘visits’ the tidiest classroom until the next assembly.
• Recognition of the class that looks after the verandahs and public areas adjacent.
• Giving small rewards to children caught ‘doing something good’ when it comes to  environmental care.
• Presenting class or principal’s certificates to classes and children who always do the right thing when it comes to school and classroom appearance.

Schools have cleaning contracts. Contractors attend to daily and weekly cleaning together with a ‘spring clean’ during each long holiday period. However, it is up to students and those using the school to look after and take pride in their facilities. Along the way, habits of cleanliness and tidiness that should last a lifetime, are reinforced.