ARE SCHOOLS REPLACING PARENTS?

Published in the ‘NT Suns’ on 28 November 2017.

 

ARE SCHOOLS REPLACING PARENTS?

In our modern times schools, especially primary schools, are supposed to be all things to all people. Parents are increasingly engaged with work commitments extending from early in the morning until quite late in the afternoon. It is small wonder that an increasing number of children spend time before and after school in care programs. Many children are at school by 7.00 o’clock in the morning and do not leave care programs until well after 5.00 o’clock each afternoon. Most school councils accept responsibility for Outside School Hours Care (OSHC), providing after school support for children. The number of before school care programs for children are increasing. Children are spending almost as many hours each day in school and care programs than at home.

They are also enrolled in care programs during school holiday periods.

Preschool now commences for most children at the age of three, with timetables providing for full day rather than half day programs. This has been designed to fit in with working parents.

These key structural and organisational changes have contributed to redefining educational priorities. Pre and primary schools are as much about child care as education. This is added to by the fact that community expectation seems to be that children will be brought up by the combined efforts of parents, teachers and child care workers. That used to be the sole responsibility of families.

If schools organise pupil free days for professional development, the response from many parents is one of concern because child care for that day changes. Children either stay at home (with work implications for parents) or are booked into all day care.

In these modern times, family responsibilities have in large part been outsourced to secondary caregivers. Governments have reacted to community pressures and endorse institutionalised nurture and care as being a good substitute for parental time and attention. The justification is that parents are so busy working to boost the economy and sustain the home front, that key parenting responsibilities have to be outsourced. The community expects schools and teachers to be involved with the bringing up of children.

Schools and staff play an important part in the development of children. However they can never take the place of parents. Without doubt, parents are THE primary caregivers for their children. That responsibility should never be hand-balled to secondary providers and government agencies. Schools can do their bit. However, if parents and families fail in their obligations, children will be the losers.

 

EDUCATIONAL DISAFFECTION A REAL ISSUE

 

Published in NT Suns on October 17 2017

 

EDUCATIONAL DISAFFECTION A REAL ISSUE

Rather than being straightforward, education these days has become a kaleidoscope of confusion. Many graduate teachers are quickly disappointed by the realities of a teaching profession that fails to meet their preconceptions.

Rather than finding that teaching is about “teaching”, they discover there is a huge emphasis placed on testing, measurement, assessment and evaluation, often of areas outside their teaching fields. It seems the children are forever being monitored and confronted by batteries of tests.

It quickly becomes obvious to teachers that education is being driven by data. Teaching and teaching methods are dictated by data requirements.

Academic competence is important. However holistic education (the social, emotional and moral/spiritual elements) seem to be given scant attention. Graduate teachers have a strong desire to work as developers of children. Many are quickly disillusioned because education seems to be about a fairly narrow band of academic outcomes.

For many graduate teachers, the gloss of teaching soon wears off. They find themselves unable to cope with the ‘teaching for test’ dimension that now underpins education. The brief years they spend in classrooms are disillusioning. In turn, they may share their perceptions of the teaching profession with others, negatively influencing their thoughts and opinions.

The discounting of their observations is a hard reality for classroom practitioners to accept. Unless verified by formal testing, teacher evaluations are considered to be be invalid.

Preoccupation with the formalities testing and examination are not always priorities generated by schools. Rather, requirements are set by departmental administrators and schools have to comply. In turn, these priorities are not necessarily what administrators want, but are a compulsory response to the demands of politicans.

Sadly, Australian education is deeply rooted in the art of comparing results at primary, secondary and tertiary level with those achieved by students in overseas systems. Often those students are from countries totally unlike Australia, but that is not taken into account. The fact that educational objectives are dictated by comparison to overseas systems is an undoing of Australian education.

Education should be about the needs of children and not influenced by the desire of political leaders and top educationists to brag about how good Australia education is, compared to other systems. Many graduate teachers find themselves caught up as players in this approach, quickly wise up, and quit the profession. Our students are the losers and perceptions of education are sadly discoloured.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NAPLAN DETRACTS FROM EDUCATION

An edited version of vthis paper was published in the NT Suns on August 15, 2017  

 

NAPLAN DETRACTS FROM EDUCATION

NAPLAN outcomes and results are again in the spotlight. Media is involved in reporting and commentating on state, territory and overall Australian results. As usual, the NT is shown as being on the bottom rung of the performance ladder.

School Educators in the NT are made to spend far too much time dealing with the issues of NAPLAN preparation and fallout. Preparation for the May tests in reading, writing and mathematics is on from the first day of every school year. While the key focus is on children in years three, five, seven and nine, whole schools and their communities are affected by preparation for NAPLAN as the number one priority on Australia’s educational calendar. It seems at times that little else matters.

There is a lot more to student development than these tests, yet NAPLAN envelopes the annual educational calendar. System leaders talk of the importance of teaching methodologies and strategies that lead to enhanced student results and data improvement in tested fields. The agendas of staff meetings in many schools are dominated by a preoccupation with data outcomes. Meetings of principals and school leaders have, for many years, had the issues of NAPLAN and data very high on discussion agendas.

After ten years and the expenditure of billions of dollars on NAPLAN, very little has changed. In terms of comparison with the rest of the world, Australian student performance is at best, mediocre to poor. A few schools here and there celebrate. Most of these are in green belts that boast community stability and family affluence.

Comparasion specialists seem to get a great deal of satisfaction from pointing the finger at the NT because of our coverall results that place us last on any comparative table. This negative approach goes all the way back to the ‘seas of red’ (school underperformance) that used to attract a double page spread in the NT News.

Few people ever stop to think about how students feel about this testing regime. Without doubt, children are pressured by constant talk of testing, particularly when so much of the conversation is about negative outcomes. They must also become both frustrated and bored by the constant practice commencing many months prior to May’s testing week.

There should be much, much more to education than an annual reporting regime, magnified beyond its real worth.