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.

 

MONEY MANAGEMENT CONSUMES SCHOOL LEADERS

Published in edited form in NT Suns on August 8 2017.

MONEY MANAGEMENT CONSUMES SCHOOL LEADERS

From time to time, what appear to be mixed messages about money and its availability to schools gains traction in the media. People might be forgiven for believing that the matter of money for education means that all aspects of school programs are covered and money management is not as issue.

That is far from being the case. While global budgets gave principals and school councils greater autonomy in the way money was spent, there are obligations that mean care has to be taken with expenditure. Utility costs (power and water) and contractual needs ( cleaning and grounds maintenance) have to be met. Checks and balances have to be in place to ensure that money is on hand to meet these periodic accounts.

Without careful planning and awareness, school budgets can be prematurely drained. Allocations are received twice each year, with income having to meet accounts to be presented in the following months. Detailed planning is necessary because cost accountability is each school’s responsibility.

Global school budgets were implemented in Northern Territory Government schools in 2015 to reduce red tape and provide schools with increased autonomy. The Education Department identifies three benefits for schools.

“• increased flexibility and autonomy in decision making
• a clearer financial framework for use in planning
• greater certainty and visibility of the overall resources available to the school including staffing.” (Department of Education website)

School budgets are based on student needs. School location and the specific
needs of each child are taken into account. The following factors help determine the amount
received by each school.

• year level of students
• Indigenous status
• socio-economic status and community affluence.
• remoteness of the school.

The system aims at being fair and simple, but there are issues.

Staffing is one of the main problem areas. The salary allocation for each school is fixed, but pay rates and entitlements for teachers and support staff are variable. More experienced staff command higher salaries than those who are in their initial years of service. In order to save on salaries and spread staffing dollars, school councils may consider replacing experienced teachers with those beginning their teaching journey. While employment for permanent teachers can be guaranteed, those on contract do not have similar security of tenure.

Making sure there is sufficient money to meet every need is a challenge. Principals can become so busy with administration, they don’t have time to be the educational leaders they aim to be.

 
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TEACHERS ARE UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

 

TEACHERS ARE UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

Teaching comes under more external scrutiny than any other profession. This is quite aside from professional development and performance management requirements set by professional organisations and education departments. are also standards and expectations set by AITSL that teachers are urged to attain. This goal setting is supported by both education departments and professional organisations.

There is a great deal happening happening otherwise that adds to observation and evaluation of teachers. Included is the development of personal plans that consider the effectiveness of each staff member. Individual plans for continual growth and development derive from these meetings. Teachers and staff members are encouraged to self evaluate, measuring themselves against these plans. Everything about these processes takes account of AITSL recommendations for personal and organisational growth and development.

In an effort to build confidence in teachers and schools, parents and members of the public are encouraged to quite minutely scrutinise what is on offer within our classrooms. I believe teachers are willing to share with parents, appreciating the opportunity to converse with them about classroom programs and children’s progress. However, this needs to be done at a time appropriate to both parents and teachers. Conversations on issues with teachers at the start of the school day, while classes are in progress and immediately the school days concludes, are not possible. Teachers are preoccupied with their students and learning at these times. Conversations work best when parents make appointments through school front offices to meet with teachers. There are also programmed parent – teacher interview sessions at least twice each year.

In the interest of fairness, parents and caregivers should initially raise matters with teachers before going higher. Similarly, if the issue is one involving school leadership, the first call should be to the principal or a member of the school leadership team. If issues raised are not able to be resolved at those levels, taking the matter up at a higher level is then appropriate.

School leaders, teachers and support staff act with the best interests of students in mind. To this end, most schools are doing a commendable job.

 

Edited version published in the Suns newspaper (NT) on July 11 2017.