This was published in the NT Sun on September 11 2018.


The issue of homework has been front and centre of the educational debate for decades. The topic continues to be a key point of discussion. It plays a part in education at all levels. There seems to be a lot of confusion about homework, but that should not be the case.

The NT Department of Education homework policy, written in 2008 and reviewed every two years, was last updated by endorsement in November 2017. The policy is one and a half pages long. It precisely, yet simply outlines departmental expectation.

The following statement is offered.

“Schools must develop and implement a school homework policy. School homework policies should be developed in consultation with the school council. School homework policies must be regularly communicated with staff, parents/carers and students.”

It is a requirement that homework policies “ … should be readily available to the school community … students and parents/carers should be advised of class specific homework expectations at the beginning of the school year.”

The overall homework policy, once agreed, becomes part of the management responsibility vested in school principals. Teachers are responsible for setting and checking homework.

The policy offers clear points to clarify homework issues.
. It should be appropriate to student and stage of schooling.
. It should help students to be independent learners.
. It should link home and school in educational partnership.
. It should be relevant.
. It should support the curriculum.

Homework should never introduce new, untaught work. It should be about practice to help children become more independent in their understanding of what has been taught at school.

Children like being able to show pride in spelling accuracy, in knowing their tables, in developing a piece of prose, in offering neat and tidy work.
These are all skills that form part of the teaching challenge. What teachers teach children at school, can be shared with parents through practice at home. It’s not for parents to complete. Rather, it offers them a chance to be aware of and encourage their children’s learning. Homework should be a part of the school – home partnership.

For that reason, maths tables, spelling words, and reading are frequently extended beyond school for extra attention and awareness at home.

Homework should always be checked and evaluated by teachers. That will confirm its value to students and parents. If this is not done, it will lead students to thinking it is pointless.

The NT Education Department policy is clear and unambiguous. If followed, there will be no confusion about homework in the NT.


This was published in the NT Sun on September 4 2018.



Poor dental attitudes are leading to significant medical problems in the NT. Last week, RDH senior health practitioner and oral surgeon Dr Mahiban Thomas stated that neglect of oral health was leading to deep seated emergency surgical needs. (ABC Radio News 22/8/2018)j

Dr Thomas’ statement could be taken to infer that little in the way of dental education and support is available for Territorians, especially children and young people. This is not the case.

One of the outstanding services providing for the well-being of children in our schools is that of dental health care. Those who are under 18 and still at school receive free dental health services in the NT. (Source: NT Government Website, ‘Dental Services’, updated August 18, 2018)

Dental care is provided as part of the student support program in urban schools. Facilities are set up to provide for regular dental checks. Children can visit any school based dental clinic from birth until they have completed year six. From year seven onward, they can attend community dental clinics and receive cost free treatment.

Parents of students attending schools without a dental clinic, can make appointments for their children at schools with these facilities. There are three school dental clinics in Alice Springs and one in Tennant Creek. Humpty Doo Primary School has a clinic. Palmerston is served by school clinics at Bakewell, Driver and Moulden Primary Schools.

There are eight school dental clinics in Darwin. They are located at Anula, Karama, Manunda Terrace, Nightcliffe, Parap, Stuart Park, Wagaman and Wanguri Primary Schools.

Community Dental Clinics are permanently located in Alice Springs, Katherine, Gove, Humpty Doo, Palmerston and Darwin. Tennant Creek is supported by a visiting service.

The needs of children in remote communities are not neglected. Visiting and mobile dental services are offered at 69 communities throughout the NT. Dental checks, education and basic corrective work is provided through all these programs.

Dental care for children is a primary responsibility of parents. All parents should be responsible for the dental care of their children.
School dental services provide excellent education for children, because they are taught about the necessity for care and maintenance of their teeth. These services are supportive of children and their parents.

Doctor Thomas’ revelation is disturbing news. It implies that the quality care offered for children in our schools is not accepted by parents. It also suggests that the care offered for children is disregarded by those growing into adulthood. The service offered by schools and dental clinics needs to be fully utilised.


NAPLAN keeps hundreds of educators in permanent jobs. Since its inception, NAPLAN has become an institution costing at least a billion dollars, maybe more.

Since being introduced in 2008, it has become a monster.

NAPLAN dominates the educational thinking in schools, their controlling systems, State, Territory and Australian Education Ministries.

It has spawned countless highly level salaried positions in curriculum departments and ACARA.

NAPLAN underpins the focus of many school staff meetings. It always influences the agendas of school principals gatherings. It occupies the system hierarchy whenever state and territory administrators and leaders meet to consider key issues. It exercises the minds of education ministers whenever they gather to consider Australia wide educational matters.

Without NAPLAN, meetings would be shorter and called far less frequently than is the case.

NAPLAN predicates the thinking of classroom teachers. “Your score is my score”, the words of Tim Chappell when singing about the subject, are ingrained into the thinking of those responsible for preparing children for these annual excursions into the study of comparative data.

NAPLAN is about more than three days of testing each May for students sitting the tests. ‘Pretesting’ programs commence in many schools weeks and even months before the tests are administered. Students practice and practice and in all honesty get to be bored stupid by all the pretesting attention that goes on. When students are asked about the tests, they confirm this to be the case.

NAPLAN is an industry. It engages thousands of people in primarily focussing their attention on its accumulation of data. Teaching and strategies are driven by the data imperative that has its base in NAPLAN.

This program in its many parts is like unto the seven headed hydra of Australian Education.

NAPLAN has come with a huge cost and through the years of its operation, has given little back.


This was published in the NT Sun on August 28, 2018.


With so much going on within schools, it is easy to discount the need for special events and activities. Teaching and learning strategies, together with data collection and analysis, are constant and almost totally preoccupying. The need for academic pursuits to be a key activity is unquestioned. It often seems that schools are so wired to testing, measurement and assessment that there is little time for anything else.

Schools become so busy responding to systemically imposed requirements and the academic imperative, that the fun part of education can be overlooked. Schools should be happy places. There is a danger that the overloaded curriculum will impose a ‘nose to the grindstone’ mentality on teachers and students alike. This is not helped by principals and school leaders feeling the need to everlastingly oversight the school academic tasks at hand.

Including special days and celebratory opportunities into school calendars is important. These activities help to build school spirit. They draw students, staff and community members together. There are many special events from which to choose. They might include the following.

* School discos. One held toward the end of each term is a way to socially celebrate school and students.

* An annual or biennial school fete brings people together and offers special fundraising opportunities.

* Celebrating anniversaries is a way of remembering school history and looking forward to the future.

* Organising events to celebrate the opening of new school facilities.

* Organising open classrooms and celebrating learning themes is positively focussing for parents and the community.

* Highlighting book week including a costume parade of students dressed in the costumes of book characters.

* Special days celebrating science, maths and the cultures of children who are members of the student community.

* Highlighting student accomplishment during school assemblies. This might include class items, celebrating success in competitions and acknowledging sporting results.

* Taking part in the Tournament of Minds, ‘Lock up Your Boss’, Principal for a Day and so on.

This is not an exhaustible list. Many more activities could be included.

Not for a minute would I downplay the academic priority of education. However, there is need for fun, enjoyment, camaraderie and days of relaxation to be mixed with more formal teaching and learning pursuits. These are the things upon which happy and memorable school days are based. They should not be forgotteN.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on August 21, 2018.

(This was the 250th column I have written and had published in the NT Sun.)


Use of the word ‘fees’ when requesting monetary support for government schools from parents or primary caregivers, was outlawed over a decade ago. Until that time schools, when requesting extra support to assist in covering costs for educational extras, did not have to be so careful when wording this request.

This change was necessary because of the connotations linked to ‘the word’. Asking for a fee was seen as a compulsory demand. Public education was promoted as being free, so using ‘the word’ when requesting extra monetary support was not appropriate. At the time, both the government and the education department went to great lengths to ensure schools did not make any reference to fees. This was so off-putting and of such concern to some school leaders, that money contributed to support programs, was refunded to parents.

The issue was eventually clarified with the following statement under ‘Fees and contributions’ on the Education Department website. “Tuition for the standard curriculum program is provided free to all students in government schools.

There are three areas where you may be requested to make a contribution:

Educational items

Optional extra items

Voluntary contributions.”

A further statement clarifies the issue of voluntary contributions. “You may be asked to make a financial contribution or donation to your child’s school for a specific purpose. You are not obliged to contribute.” (Bolding mine)

The department and schools considered the embarrassment when inability to pay arose. “If you are unable to contribute to optional extra items because of financial hardship you should arrange a confidential talk with the school principal. Confidentiality, privacy and dignity will always be maintained.”

The NT Government’s Back to School Payment Scheme of $150 per child each year, helps with defraying some of the costs parents face. In particular, the vouchers can be be used to offset the cost of book packs and school uniforms.

There has always been some angst about educational costs.

Populist thinking is that in government schools, everything should be provided, with education being totally free for parents. Without parental contributions, many of the extra programs that add to extending educational opportunity would not happen.

Explaining how voluntary contributions will be used and what extras they will provide always helps. Some schools produce an information statement for parents, explaining how contributions will support these extra programs.

This helps counter misunderstandings about the way donated money is used. Without doubt, the provision of quality education is enhanced by these contributions.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on August 7 2018.  Without doubt, media plays a part and a big part in influencing the thinking and the actions of young people.


From time to time the issue of media influence on shaping the values of young people comes up for discussion.

It is often asserted that what young people see, hear and experience has no influence on the shaping of their attitudes and values. People are scoffed at if they suggest otherwise. Researchers and others connected with empirical study assert that young people know that games are for amusement. Therefore, playing these games will have no impact upon their lives.

I believe that to be totally wrong. Many young people immerse themselves for hours on end, day after day, week after week in playing these games. Common sense suggests this has to impact on their thinking and attitudes.

Young people may become so totally absorbed in this “escape from reality“ that it becomes their reality.

While some of these amusements are quite benign, many of the more popular ones are about murder, massacre, slaughter, and macabre behaviours. It stands to reason that young people (and those who are not so young) who become totally immersed in these activities will be influenced by their addiction.

The fact that so many young people these days are “I“ and “me” people who do not think about others, may well be a result of exposure to online gaming. Lack of manners, slack, disrespectful speech, the inability to focus on real life tasks in school and elsewhere, disinclination toward real life activities all point toward cyberspace influence. The key characters in online games generally behave in a way that promotes heroism through bullying, harassment and other negative behaviour. Can we wonder at this bravado and these attitudes rubbing off on the impressionable minds of youthful gamers?

Common sense suggests that the antisocial behaviour of many young people has its genesis in their indulgent online activities. When cyberspace completely absorbs the minds and the attention of users, something has to give!

One of the most recent games is “fortnite”, which focuses on extremely negative social behaviour. Game changes and modifications always seem to focus on negatives, rather than social decency.

I believe it imperative for parents to be aware of the online games their children are playing. They would be wise to monitor the classification of these activities and the length of time spent in online indulgence.

Without doubt, the games children play impacts on their thinking, attitudes and behaviour. That can have negative consequences. It may result in them making poor decisions that impact upon their lives and their futures.


This column was published in the NT Sun on August 7 2018. While school leadership (and staff) stress is written about in terms of the Northern Territory, the issue is one with Australia-wide implications for school leaders, teachers and all school staff.



The Northern Territory Government and Education Department have finally recognised an issue that has been dogging Principals and Assistant Principals for many years. Our school leaders are very stressed people.

This year it was agreed that Principals and Assistant Principals should be entitled to an allowance of $600 per year, to be spent on goods or services helping to alleviate undue stress. This can be used to fund course attendance, spent to assist in the purchase of stress reducing equipment and so on.

There are many factors driving stress. Possibly the most major issue is that of school leaders being required to be all things to all people. They are confronted by significant challenges in trying to meld the expectations of government, the education department, community, parents, students and staff. Developing an accord between these groups that fulfils expectations is a major task.

The NT Principals Association, teachers union, and other professional groups connected with the further development of education have known of the deep stress confronting educators for many years. It now seems that the education department has agreed that the existence of undue and “over the top“ work pressures is a reality.
Minimising unnecessary stress has been recognised as a necessary adjunct to promoting the physical health and mental wellbeing needs of principals and assistant principals.

However, this will at best be palliative. The intention is to dissipate the effects of a deepening and broadening problem. It would be altogether better if unnecessary stressors were identified and removed.

A great deal of the load placed upon school leaders is about accountability and “justification“. While responsibility for educational outcomes must be taken seriously, going over the top is problematic. The need to constantly justify one’s existence takes from what the prime focus of education for school leaders should be all about.

One stress area is completely overlooked. In terms of impact, the greatest level of school staff stress is that borne by classroom teachers. Curriculum and teaching demands placed on schools by departments is generally passed down to teachers. It is at the classroom level that expectations demanded of students must be met. Teachers spend increasing amounts of time in teaching, testing, measuring and recording results. Departmental recognition of stress and the offer of tangible support should be extended to all teachers in all our schools. Allowing teachers to teach rather than inundating them under excessive data demands would be a good start.

The stress relief program goes some way toward recognising and countering the issue. However, there is still a long way to go.