PAY OUT ON SICK LEAVE

This paper was published in the NT Suns in May 2017

UNBROKEN SERVICE DESERVES RECOGNITION

Public servants in the NT have a number of benefits attached to their employment. Included are superannuation and leave entitlements. Teachers and those working in schools often commence as supply or relief staff. In most instances superannuation and leave needs are recognised and built into the terms and conditions of their employment. Because of portability, these benefits transfer with them as they move from one school to another.

Over time, those involved with education are usually offered permanent status. Each year, three weeks of sick leave are added to the entitlement of each staff member. This leave accumulates year on year.

Health and family issues (for instance illness of family members) mean that some people need to quite regularly access their leave entitlements. However, there are many who use very little of their leave. It is not unusual for those who have been working for many years to have accumulations of up to 100 weeks of sick leave, that can be used if necessary.

When retiring or resigning from the public service, accumulated annual leave is cashed out to those who are departing. Long service leave that has built up, is generally included in the employee’s final pay package. Depending on circumstances which include the employee’s age, superannuation is either preserved or paid out.

For government employees, unused sick leave is not included in this package. I know of people who have retired or left employment with up to and over 100 weeks of sick leave credits. When they retire this entitlement is forfeited.

Because this leave provision will be lost upon retirement people may think about taking leave they would not usually consider. This would reduce sick leave benefits before employees leave the work force. It would force schools to employ relief staff or short term contract teachers. That would impact on school budgets and children in some classes, the latter because of teacher change.

It may be time to change the way in which sick leave provisions are treated. Paying a percentage of accumulated leave on a pro-rata basis would be fair and equitable. It would also reward those who have judiciously managed their sick leave.
The payment of a day’s salary for every week of accumulated sick leave would be my suggestion. A retiree with 60 weeks of leave would receive a payment equivalent to 60 days of final salary.

This would offer fair and equitable recognition to all those who have been prudent in managing sick leave.

MONEY SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD

Column published in NT Suns in April 2017.  Note rthat publisged columns are sometimes edited for the sake of space.  Posting of Suns columns on my blog are unedited.

MONEY SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD

Over time, there have been many changes in education. Some have been brought about through the growth of technology. A prime example is the replacement of handwriting with computer and iPad keyboards.

In spite of ongoing change there are things that should be retained and reinforced. One of these is teaching children about the value and importance of money. This experience ought not to be deferred until students reach the middle and upper primary grades. Research at the University of Cambridge was commissioned by the United Kingdom Money Advice Service. The research revealed that children’s habits and attitudes about money are formed by the time they turn seven years of age.

Many children have little chance to learn about and understand money. Household living costs are looked after by the adults. When shopping with parents, many children will not see notes or coins being used to settle accounts. Credit cards, PayWay and mobile phone applications are used to pay for goods. This makes money an illusion rather than a reality for many children.

There are ways at both home and school that can help children when it comes to handling and understanding money.

• A weekly or fortnightly payment of pocket money can aid young people in understanding currency. Encouraging children to spend and save from this allowance helps them understand and apply the principle ‘save it, you have it, spend it, its gone’.

• Encouraging children to handle coins, appreciating their size, weight and value encourages familiarisation with currency. Extending this to include appreciation of the value of notes is wise.

• Talking with children and answering their questions about money is part of their home and school education.

• School banking programs encourage children to establish the saving habit. This is important because so much advertising focus encourages people to spend everything and save nothing.

• Allowing students to shop at the school canteen can help with understanding money including item costs and change given on purchases.

• Understanding the use and purpose of money can be supported by classroom activities. Having a classroom shop with shopkeepers and purchasers learning about buying and selling through drama is one approach. Another is understanding through maths problems that are about money matters.

As young people grow up, learning about credit, credit traps and the ease with which debt can be incurred need to be included.

Money is a part and parcel of everyday life. It’s understanding and use should not be foreign to young people.

SCHOOLS ARE PLACES OF HUMAN NEED

 

This column, published in the NT Suns in March 2017, focuses on the NT.  However, in my opinion, there is a NEED FORV THE APPOINTMENT OF A COUNSELLOR to the staff of every school.

SCHOOLS ARE PLACES OF HUMAN NEED

With the frenetic pace of educational issues and priorities, we tend to overlook the fact that schools are about people. Students with aims, ambitions, positive and negative feelings, commit each day to their schools. This relationship begins when children commence preschool or attendance at early learning centres. It continues through primary and middle school years. Schools are centres of important educational, social and developmental opportunities.

Along the way, there are personal challenges and setbacks. Some are of a fairly minor nature, while others have a far greater and deeper impact upon students, staff and the school community. However, it seems the need for counselling support is on the increase. It is at such times that the human face of education is of critical importance. The most recent NT tragedy was the untimely deaths of two students from Darwin High School. Their passing is having an impact upon school students and staff that is being recognised through counselling and other support services. While the essence of education is about student academics and personal development, our department is there to support those in need during times of sorrow. Counsellors offer emotional and moral support. They never quite know when counselling support will be required, so readiness to offer assistance is important.

In a wider Territory context the Department of Education at central and regional level supports those in schools impacted by death, injury or mishap of students and staff. The need for this support may be within our city schools, and those in larger towns or smaller and more remote communities.

There are a number of circumstances within schools that can cause deep distress for students, staff and in some cases parents of school children. One of the most common is bullying in its various forms. Online bullying with harsh verbals and embarrassing photographs is the most insidious and least understood method of causing hurt. It is important that these circumstances come to light, with perpetrators being called to account and victims being given support.

The need for school based counselling is on the increase. Education departments may need to consider the appointment of support counsellors in schools on a one to one basis. Counselling needs are growing; support needs to be timely and immediate.

TEACHING CAN BE TOO CHALLENGING

Written for the Suns Newspaper column in  August 2016.  While this fits to the Northern Territory, the tenet of this column has wide applicability.

 

TEACHING CAN BE TOO CHALLENGING
Teacher turnover and short term teaching appointments are regularly raised as issues in the Northern Territory. Northern Territory education is seen as being far more fluid and mobile than elsewhere in Australia.

While dissatisfaction plays a part in teacher resignation everywhere, there are local factors that come into contention. Chief among these is the considerable number of teachers who have been recruited to the Northern Territory on short-term contracts. This was seen as necessary to fill vacancies in remote and “difficult the staff” schools.

Just a few years ago, advertisements placed in the newspapers invited teachers to come to the Northern Territory to “try the place out”. Generous relocation expenses were offered, with paid southern return guaranteed after a relatively short period of time. Such offers created the impression that teachers are doing our system a favour by being here. The idea that minimal teaching effort would be good enough, became an issue.

Fortunately, this recruitment methodology appears to have been curtailed. However, there is heavy reliance on interstate and overseas teachers taking up vacancies in “out of town” areas. Part of this has to do with the lack of remote area appeal for those who undertake teacher training at the Charles Darwin University. Many preservice teachers are mature age persons with family commitments precluding them from working outside urban areas. Others are distance education trainees, preparing to teach in their home states. Unless and until we are able to reach a point of training a higher percentage of Territory grown teachers, turnover will continue to be an issue.

Training opportunities for Indigenous teachers are provided through the Batchelor Institute attached to the CDU. There have been many initiatives over the years aimed at graduating fully qualified Indigenous teachers. However self-sufficiency in teaching terms is still a work in progress.

A factor contributing to short term teaching careers is that of disappointment with what graduation offers. Many graduates are put off by system priorities . The requirement that they teach in a way that is so focussed on formal testing and assessment outcomes is off-putting. Their wish to teach holistically, seems to be at odds with prescribed system realities. The need to spend significant amounts of time on matters ranging from discipline to paperwork accountability are also disincentives. Both graduate and experienced teachers become disenchanted. That can and does lead them to resignation and the seeking of alternative careers.

Knowing about short term teaching issues is one thing. Fixing them, is another.

SPECIAL EDUCATION IN NT – THE BEST IN AUSTRALIA

SPECIAL SCHOOLS CLEAR TERRITORY WINNERS

Special Education in the NT has been boosted by the opening of the new Henbury Avenue School. This upgraded facility adds to educational and developmental opportunities for students with special learning needs.

Henbury Avenue began its life as ‘Coconut Grove Special School’ in the 1970’s. It was a school of two or three transportable rooms. There was a photo in the NT news of that time showing then Principal Charlie Carter pulling a wheelchair bound student up flagged concrete steps into one of the buildings. Henbury Avenue in particularly and special education in general has come a long way since that time.

Priority

NT Governments of both political persuasions and the Department of Education have placed a high priority on special educational needs. Darwin students are excellently supported by both Nemarluk and Henbury Special Schools. Both are new, upgraded schools. Students with enrolment eligibility are provided for in terms of their primary and secondary education. Integration of students into mainstream programs offered by nearby schools has overcome segregation for special school students. This allows them the opportunity to develop educational and social links with peers outside the parameters of their main school.

Palmerston has a special education unit incorporated into Rosebery Middle School. A special unit to meet primary students need operates as an annex to Woodroffe Primary. Integration into mainstream classes is an organisational focus.

Students with learning challenges who do not qualify for entry into Special Schools are supported in primary and secondary schools. Qualified staff support classroom teachers. Special Education Support Assistants are employed as budgets allow, to offer extra assistance to children experiencing learning difficulties in mainstream classes. Individualised educational plan are developed to identify both learning needs and specific teaching strategies for these pupils. Regular in-school reviews involving parents, support staff and teachers take place. This helps keep awareness of student needs and progress to the fore.

Stigma

There is a belief that to enrol children in other than mainstream schools is belittling. That is not true. Parents whose children are eligible to enrol at Nemarluk, Henbury, Acacia Hills in Alice Springs (where $6.5 million is being spent on upgrades) or special schools in regional centres, should arrange a visit. As parents generally discover, the benefits children gain from enrolment in special schools, far outweigh any negatives.

The issue of enrolment should not be coloured by misconceptions. Our special education schools, their annexes and our support programs for children with special needs are the best in Australia.

DO SCHOOLS HAVE THE RIGHT FOCUS

Here in the NT (Australia) schools are all about ‘business’, ‘budget management’ and worry about the principles of management are in my opinion detracting from educational leadership. From what I read, this is an issue that engages schools and systems around the world.

We need to consider two strands of operational function within schools, the educational leadership and the administrative streams. Educational leadership should attract the Principal salary, the administrative stream should be paid at a salary level commensurate with that of a Vice-Principal. I recently published a paper at henrygrayblog.wordpress.com on the subject (11 December 2014 ‘Schools Preoccupied with Money’. Educational disconnect with teaching and learning because of business priority is a real worry.

SCHOOLS NEED ‘JOY SEASONS’

JOY SEASON [IN THE NT]

The last weeks of Semesters offer students, teachers and school communities the chance to enjoy activities that can be overlooked. For many schools these weeks allow celebrations that go beyond academics. NAPLAN tests are over. Primary and secondary school students are about to enter a four week holiday break. This is a period that allows for some quiet reflection on the year to date. It provides a chance for students and staff to participate in some of the more non-academic but vital pursuits associated with school experiences. Activities that help build school spirit and camaraderie can include the following.

Major assemblies featuring class performances.
Dry season concerts, often held outside at night.
End of semester school discos.
Overseas exchanges with sister schools.
Intra school athletics carnivals .
Shared sporting and cultural activities between schools.
School community breakfasts.
Open days and school fetes.

The focus on academics and assessment programs, poses a danger that these respite times and activities can be put on the back-burner or overlooked altogether. Including these activities provides balance for students. They should be included in school calendars.

The social and emotional aspects of student development are supported by these and similar activities. They offer children a chance to relax and recognise non classroom abilities in each other.

Not wasted time

Some would reason there is no place in our schools for activities of this nature. Their argument is that each minute of every school day should be devoted to the academic aspects of school life. However, children and teachers are human. They need and deserve the chance to associate though activities designed to build school spirit. The importance of these shared opportunities cannot be overstated.

Building tone, harmony and atmosphere within schools is an enormous challenge. Visitors gain instant impressions about how the school feels. The spirit that exists within schools, grows from the synergy or collective energy developed within and between students and staff. It’s the association that comes from sharing happy times that builds toward the tone and atmosphere sensed by visitors and others. In turn, the reputation of schools is either positively or negatively judged by this feeling of comfort.

It is sharing collective times together that helps in building these perceptions. The “joy times” help create an everlastingly good impression about schools. That is appreciated by those within and appreciated by the community at large.

Note: While written for Norrthern territory conditions, this paper has applicability, through adaptation, to fit all scghools everywhere.