THE CHALLENGE OF JOB SECURITY

This column was published in the NT Suns in May 2017

 

THE CHALLENGE OF JOB SECURITY

The way in which staffing works in NT schools can be difficult to understand. One issue recently raised (‘Teachers in class limbo’ NT News May 11) pointed out that the number of teachers on temporary contracts in our schools appears to be growing.

Temporary status poses problems for teacher lifestyle, particularly in the area of housing. Unless educators have a steady income they find it extremely hard to negotiate home loans and this locks them out of the home purchase market.

Temporary contract employment is an outcome of Department of Education organisation. Over time, permanently employed teachers may take maternity leave, long service leave, family leave, or lengthly sick leave. Their absences create temporary vacancies in classrooms which have to be filled. However, those appointed can only be offered end-dated contracts because permanent officers are entitled to return to their positions at the end of leave periods.

This issue is one that creates uncertainty for schools, students and for teachers on short term contracts. School principals and staffing officers within the Department of Education do their best to ensure that end-dated contract teachers are offered contract opportunities in other schools. They aim to support staff about to become unemployed so there is no break in their service. This of course does not overcome the issue of teacher changes for students and schools.

The matter is exacerbated by staffing policies in rural and remote schools. Personal and family circumstances mean that many CDU graduates, relief and contract teachers are not able to accept positions in schools outside urban centres. In order to attract teachers to rural and remote schools the Education Department has to offer inducements. Two of these are the early offer of permanency and an undertaking that after a few years, efforts will be made to place these teachers in urban schools. This adds to pressures on the offering of permanent positions to contract teachers in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs.

The Education Department has periodically offered permanency to contract teachers, holding them against the system rather than schools. This goodwill gesture has meant that excellent temporary teachers have had to move on because permanent officers have appointment priority to urban schools.

The issue of staffing is vexed. There will always be winners and unfortunately some losers.

EDUCATION FUNDING SHOULD BE BALANCED

EDUCATION FUNDING SHOULD BE BALANCED

Over the years, “steady state” advancement and predictability have not been hallmarks of education. Nowhere is this better illustrated then in respect of providing physical facilities.

Prior to 2000, it was extremely difficult to obtain capital works money for major school improvements. Budgets were limited and competition for building programs quite fierce. Rejection and deferments of funding submissions were common and approvals rare. It was not unusual for a program costed at say $4 million, to be funded to a level of $2 or $3 million without the full amount being approved.

Applications for Minor New Works had no guarantee of being approved. Repairs and maintenance money carried qualifications and could not be used for everything that needed fixing. In total, the amount of money available for capital needs was strictly rationed.

This all changed when the Gillard Government introduced the ‘Building Educational Revolution’ to support and upgrade school infrastructure. From that point in time onward money has been poured at schools, but with the proviso that it be used for construction of physical facilities.

In the NT, Gonski funding came unattached to requirements that it be spent on classroom focussed programs. This allowed the NT Government to use the money for capital works. Henbury Avenue and Bellamack Special Schools were constructed using this money, while Acacia Hills (Alice Springs) was significantly upgraded.

Weekly reading of tender invitations in the ‘NT News’ confirms bountiful dollars still being found to support the extension of school infrastructure

Most recently, the Northern Territory Government has promised $300,000 to each Northern Territory school. However that money has to be used for physical upgrades and capital expansion.

There needs to be more to education expenditure then supporting the construction industry. While good physical facilities are necessary, so to are programs that best support students and staff in teaching learning situations.

It’s ironic to consider that schools have to constantly and minutely scrutinise internal budget management for the sake of teaching and learning. If the recent $300,000 per school allocation could be used to support these programs, that may have been a wise investment. It is the way in which students are educated now that will translate toward the future of our Northern Territory.

Educational expenditure needs to be balanced. Facilities are important, but teaching and learning programs are really what education is about.

TEACHING ISSUES & STUDENT SUCCESSES

Teaching Issues and Student Successes

The complexities in which we wrap educational issues leads to mediocre outcomes.

Too much focus on process and not enough on actual educartional needs.

Too much pandering to tinsel, glitter, trimmings and trapping issues and not enough to core educational matters.

Too much wanting to make education exciting and appealing and not enough focus on nitty gritty hard core learning.

Too much focus on the froth and bubble and insufficient atttentiion paid to basic, sequential learning.

Unwillingness to confirm that failing students are failing.

Too many committees, advisory panels and too many people putting their oar into educational decision making in a way that confuses and distorts intentions.

Too many people wanting personal illumination (guru status). They use education as a vehicle for personal aggrandisement rather than being there for what they can contribute to and for others.

Too much focus on teacher training options that leads to irrelevancy in classroom contexts. For example, offering pre-service teachers the chance to either learn how to create ceramics or develop an unbderstanding of early childhood teaching methodology.

Dumping the ‘tried, true and successful’ teaching approaches because sticking with one approach for too long ‘gets to be boring’ – for teachers. ‘If it is working well and is not broken, fix it anyway’, seems to apply.

Just SOME of my concerns about the way things are!

AVOID TECHNOLOGY PITFALLS IN CLASSROOMS

AVOID TECHNOLOGY PITFALLS IN CLASSROOMS

Computers were introduced to school classrooms during the 1980’s. Initially, schools set up dedicated computer rooms and classes were rostored to have one or two periods each week. Students learnt about computers and how to develop documents for print-out.

Schools then moved to a number of units in each classroom and more time was devoted to student use of these tools. With the advent of iPads many schools encouraged each student to have their own personal device. In 2017, we would be hard pressed to find a school without computers or iPads. When electronic smart-boards and other supports are added, schools almost drown in technology.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining hardware has increased, becoming a major cost item for schools. As well, items purchased are often outmoded within months of being bought.

Additional costs are significant. Software is not cheap and neither are licences needed to authorise multiple users. When maintenance needs are added to purchase costs, schools are faced with significant and ongoing budget commitments.

There are classroom pitfalls that need to be avoided.

Students tend to digress from what they should be doing with computer and iPads, drifting from learning to entertainment sites. It is imperative that students sign agreements about use of search engines, with teachers monitoring that commitment. Engaging with inappropriate sites can lead to big problems.
Games sites need to reinforce and extend student learning and need to have an educational purpose. Entertainment programs without educational merit distract students and waste learning time.

*Children sometimes play with networks that have been set, causing programs to crash or corrupt.

Misuse of technology by students can lead to cyber bullying and other inappropriate online conduct. Cyber bullying has reached epidemic proportions.

Students working on topics can be lulled into thinking that googling the topic, then cutting, uploading and pasting segments from existing sources into the text they are developing is fine. It isn’t! It is important that students think about and own their work, in order to understand topics. There is a distinct danger they could become plagiarists, taking the ideas of others and using them without acknowledging their sources.

Spell-checking and grammatical correctness are automated tools in many software packages. It is entirely possible for students to create and edit text, without understanding what they have written.

Computers, iPads and other devices can help support learning. However, they should always be used with care by students, under teacher oversight.
There is every chance that gadgets can become relied on to the point of detracting from genuine student learning.

‘BALKANISATION’ – AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

Balkanisation, that is working in seclusion and isolation from others is anathema. Education, of all the professions, is one in which caring and sharing count. Synergy, collective energy grows and flows from those who works together is a sharing context. This is a process that is enriching the for educators. It is one where the benefits flow through to students in our classes.

In a nutshell:

* Collaboration with like minded professionals is valuable and enriching.

* From collaboration grows synergy, the collective energy that is enhancing. It uplifts those who are working together in occupational fields.

* Those working in isolation can be left behind because collaboration is increasingly a strategy whereby we work to develop our professional ethos.

Those who become balkanised, become trapped in professional isolation. Avoid ‘balkanisation’ like the plague.

NAPLAN NEEDS A RETHINK

THINK AGAIN ABOUT NAPLAN

With the release of the 2016 NAPLAN results, education again enters a lengthy period of self-examination and study of outcomes. With results released a prolonged period of data analysis now commences. Australian, State and Territory level results will be dissected, followed by a examination of individual student performance at school level. Everything else about education may mark time, allowing this exercise to be pursued without interruption.

Every year, States and Territories are offered plaudits or brickbats depending on results. School results are minutely analysed with the publication of results online at the “My Schools” website.

By the beginning of 2017 this year’s study will be exhausted. Then it will be time to prepare for the May tests. Students in the testing years (three, five, seven and nine) will be subjected to trial testing programs aimed at getting them ready for the tests in May.

Of course schools are advised not to go overboard when it comes to readiness for testing. However, with so much attaching to NAPLAN outcomes, this advice is rarely heeded. In actual fact, systems want their schools to do well so they compare favourably with their intra-territory and interstate counterparts. Systems also seek and value kudos based on test results.

The costs of saturating Australia’s educational system with NAPLAN must be mind-boggling. It’s probably not an overstatement to suggest that since 2008, when universal testing was introduced, hundred of millions of dollars have been poured into the program.

A major flaw is the interpretation of NAPLAN’s importance. The tests measure narrowly defined academic competencies of four student groups, at the same time each year. The rest of the year and the successes of all students seem to count for little. This testing with its academic focus seems to imply that holistic education is of little consequence. Teacher quality is spoken of in terms of teachers having the ability to prepare children for these tests. There should be more to quality education than fixation on testing regimes.

What of the students

I don’t know if anybody has thought to ask students what they think about this program. If they were to be asked, there might be some interesting, enlightening and eye-opening responses. I believe there would be little appreciation of the weeks and months of pre-test preparation many of them have to endure. A student forum on this program is well worth considering. Whether notice would be taken of their viewpoint is altogether another matter.

TAXES AND SCHOOL FEES

I fully understand the notion of fees being charged for the education of children. At times there is controversy over whether government’s should fund private schools in any way or whether their contribution should be for public schools alone.

My personal feeling is that a percentage of the public purse being contributed to private schools is fine. After all, most parents are taxpayers and have a right of school choice. That being so, the benefit of educational dollars should be holistically and not sectionally shared.

However, the notion of fees charged on top of government contribution by schools needs consideration. If fees are ‘over the top exorbitant ‘ then schools have it wrong/

I think that charging fees to huge excess of need is a miscarriage of what should be about the serious education of young people. Certainly, schools have to have enough in the way of assets to carry contingencies and overcome shortfalls. However, if they are primarily in the game to make money for sponsors unknown or to boost fat bank accounts, then that is wrong. If they practice undue leverage on parents in order to accumulate funds for ‘boasting’ capital works that are more about image than need, that is also wrong.