This was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on 30 January 2018.




Teaching is a very stressful job. A great deal of that is due to the increasing demands placed on schools and teachers.

Whenever issues of community concern are raised, schools and staff are expected to be fixers. The most recent example of this is the expectation that schools will take the issue of cyberbullying on board and immediately fix the problem.

This will add to a requirement that on the first day of every semester, principals have to inservice all staff on the subject of any inappropriate conduct they might see happening to any child they teach. All staff and those connected with schools have to sign a disclaimer that they have been inserviced and understand their responsibilities to report any and all concerns about student well-being.

These requirements add to educational expectations held for schools and teachers. Curriculum requirements are being constantly broadened and deepened. Content is regularly tweaked and modified to include changes and this also comes with the need for school staff inservice. Professional development is occupying more and more time for teachers either before or after teaching time. Periods of weekend and holiday time are increasingly taken up by compulsory professional development requirements.

A drive past most schools early on most mornings, after hours, during weekends and at holiday times confirms that many teachers and support staff seem to spend almost more time at work than at home. This may be necessary in order for staff to meet obligations, but it distorts life and work balance.

There have been significant educational developments in the Territory since self government in 1978. While some changes have been excellent, others have been insufficiently considered. One of the major and ongoing issues has been an exponential increase in workload levels for school leaders, teachers and support staff.

This overload is due to the fact that advice offered during the 1980’s was ignored. We were told by an experienced educator, Jim Spinks, that our system and schools were in danger of being overwhelmed if we simply added things into curriculum requirements and dumped on teachers. Spinks said that order to achieve educational balance, we also needed to drop some requirements off school agendas.

The school year should be one where balance is considered. If not, teacher stress and lack of wellbeing will continue to be major issues.





Students and teachers from government schools in the Northern Territory are enjoying the fourth week of their midyear school holidays in the Northern Territory for the last time. From the beginning of 2018, our holiday organisation is going to change.

The four week holiday period in the middle of the year (June, July) will be reduced to 3 weeks. The extra week will be moved into the break between term three and term four (September, October).

The decision to change school holiday structure in the Northern Territory was an outcome of surveys conducted by the CLP government during its last term in office. Parents, teachers and community members were asked their opinion of the present structure and whether they believed change was necessary.

Responses indicated that the majority of Territorians felt that a change was overdue. The decision was between the holiday model of southern states (six weeks at Christmas and two weeks at the end of each term) and the one that has been adopted.

• Six weeks at Christmas
• One week between term one and two
• Three weeks between term two and three.
• Two weeks between term three and four.

I believe the new model will be good for students and teachers. It may also help parents when it comes to childcare arrangements in the middle of the year as there will be one less week for which to provide.

A week’s holiday at the end of term one is usually sufficient. The four day Easter holiday often adds value and length to the break. As well, there are a number of public holidays during term one and two, adding to recreational time. There is only one public holiday in the second half of the year.

There is a case for shortening the mid semester holiday, adding a week to the break between terms 3 and 4. Traditionally, the second half of every school year is more intense, more mentally draining and physically exhausting than the first half. This has to do in large part with pressures around final assessments and exam preparations.

A single week between these terms does not give teachers and students a meaningful break. Hopefully the longer break will enable them to enter the last stanza of the school year feeling more ready and refreshed than has been the case.

Time will tell whether the change makes any significant difference to student and teacher wellbeing and educational outcomes.


Edited version published in NT Suns newspaper on July 18 2017






Published in the Suns NT in June 2017.  Based on the NT but could apply anywhere within Australia.




Public school education in the NT frequently comes under the microscope. There is general satisfaction with primary schools, but the same cannot be said in the case of secondary schools. Part of this has to do with the relative stability of primary education compared with secondary schools.

The NT Government accepted responsibility for our educational system during the late 1970’s, close to 50 years ago. Since that time, changes to primary education have been about developing the early years and fine tuning what is offered for middle and upper primary students. Perhaps the most major change for primary schools was making year 6 the final primary year, with year 7 students moving into the high school domain.

At that time, schools responsible for educating children from years 8 – 10 were rather demeaned by commentary being offered. These ‘middle years’ of schooling were described in forums as ‘wilderness’ and ‘waste’ years. Moving year 7 students to Middle School and having year 7 -9 schools was forecast to be of educational benefit. What did not help during the discussion period about proposed change, was labelling all year 8 and 9 students with the mediocrity tag. This did little for their self-esteem and was fundamental in causing parents to think about the benefits of private education.

Secondary school organisation has been in a state of flux from the 1980’s onwards.

• Year seven students in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Nhulunbuy were trialled in high schools, but remained in primary schools in Darwin, Palmerston and the rural area.
• Initially, Nightcliffe, Sanderson and Dripstone High Schools were for year 8 – 10 students, then year 8 -12. Following a Territory-wide review in 2004, they became ‘middle schools’ for year 7 – 9 students. Year 10 students joined senior secondary ranks, along with year 11 and 12 students in all Territory centres.
• More recently, it has been decided that Palmerston Senior Secondary College will join with Rosebery Middle School under common administration from 2018. The same thing may happen in Alice Springs by amalgamating Centralian College and Alice Springs High School.
• Meanwhile Taminmin College at Humpty Doo has been a comprehensive secondary college for all students from year 7 – 12 for this entire period.

Territory wide consultation and reports from researchers have underpinned and justified structural changes. However, secondary level education in the NT is still very unsettled. That is probably a key reason attracting students and their parents toward private schooling alternatives.



Published in the NT Suns in June 2017. This is the unedited text.



School principals and staff members are increasingly confronted by the issue of recognising and celebrating special days on our Australian calendar. Christmas and New Year coincide with school holiday periods and do not impact during term times. Others, including Australia Day, Easter, Anzac Day, Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day take place during the school year. They are acknowledged in classroom programs and by schools.

Historically, there was no problem with celebrating these occasions. As a matter of course, classroom teachers covered them as days of significance. Australia Day, coming at the start of the school year, was a day recognising a period of changing direction in Australia’s history. Acknowledging and appreciating contemporary Australians and their contribution to society became part of the celebration. Easter cards, letters and cards for mothers and fathers and ANZAC commemorations were regarded as thanks and appreciation opportunities. Easter was about Jesus’ character of sacrifice and forgiveness. ANZAC recognition focussed on our defence force, their families and their selflessness in upholding peace and security. Mothers and Fathers days are timely reminders of the important part parents play in the upbringing of children.

In recent years, community resistance to celebrating these days has been rising to the surface. Some people see Australia Day as having negative connotations for Aboriginal Australians. Easter, in recognising our traditional religious base, could be embarrassing to migrants and others who have alternative belief systems. Others may use ANZAC Day as a chance to comment negatively on the roles played by governments in denying entry to some who would like to call Australia home. Finally, the celebration of mothers and fathers is seen by some as failing to recognise single parent families and families of same sex parents.

The character of Australia’s population has changed. We now have a truly multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population. The definition of ‘family’ is changing. Our evolving society has become more empathetic and aware of the role filled by Aboriginal Australians which was misunderstood for a long time.

While some modifications may be wise, there is no way our special days of celebration should be vacated. Abrogation would be very unfair on people and their need to rejoice as Australians in the country we call home.  Part of this is recognising values, beliefs and people who contribute as family and societal members, to the growth, progress and well being of our country. Broadening the scope of celebrated days to incorporate our diversity would be a wise option.



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!



During school holiday periods, our community worries as to how young people are going to spend their time during their time away from the classroom.

The police gear up for an expected increase in everything from misdemeanour to property crime. These activities attract a small minority of young people. City and town councils prepare an array of activities that might be appealing to children and adolescents.

Cartoonists offer a humorous take on the reluctant acceptance of school holidays by parents. Media stories also cover the issue of challenges they face in having to have to find extra time for their children during holiday periods. Much is made of their difficulty in having to juggle work commitments with care for their offspring.

Employment and family priorities juxtapose on parents, who want to do the right thing at home and work.

Work is a major issue. Several decades ago with only one parent working, children were more ably provided for at home during holiday periods. Changing family circumstances has lead to reliance on organisational and agency support to provide holiday care.

While closed for regular lessons, there is pressure on schools to provide meaningful activities for children during these weeks. Expectations range from duty of care, to providing parents with child minding alternatives. Many schools provide outside school hours care during the school year, extending their programs to include vacation care. These programs are fully subscribed almost as soon as applications for holiday care are invited.

During holiday periods, some sporting groups offer extended activities for young people. Community based organisations including the YMCA design programs likely to appeal.


Generation X and Y adults, when children, could play outdoors without supervision in a relatively safe and secure environment. During holidays, they would go for long walks, bike rides or enjoy extended hours of play in parks and public places. This included unaccompanied visits to shops and cinemas.

Safety and security issues have changed this free and easy approach to outdoor and independent activities. Because of these concerns, parents and society no longer condone unsupervised activities. Independence for children and young people has been curtailed.

The holiday weeks are always welcomed by students. But there have been significant changes to the way they can spend time away from school. Those changes are more about necessity than desire.


It often seems that educationists are always looking to the future. It’s all about pushing, changing, re-aligning, re-defining, re-prioritising, planning, implementing, evaluating and so on. It is always about looking forward, usually impatiently.

No-one it seems, wants to pause and reflect. Few consider school or system development in terms of where we have come from to be where we are at the present moment.

This futurist bent means that that the far, far away tomorrow’s are the days that count. There is today, there was yesterday. Before that, to all intents and purposes, there was nothing. Historically, we peer into the rear vision mirror of schools and systems at what is essentially a blank page.

We need to reflect upon aned appreciate our history. Our present and future needs to be informed and shaped by past priorities and lessons learned.

Our schools and systems educators and support staff need to record educational history. They wrong the present and possibly distort the future by failing in this task.