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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NT – SCHOOL HOLIDAYS CHANGING

 

SCHOOL HOLIDAYS – CHANGE ON THE WAY

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

SECONDARY SCHOOL STRUCTURE NEEDS STABILITY

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

 

SECONDARY SCHOOL STRUCTURE NEEDS STABILITY

 

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.

 

NURTURE BY PARENTS THE BEST CARE

Published in the NT Suns in April 2017.

NURTURE BY PARENTS THE BEST CARE

The best love and care that children can have, is that which is offered by parents. Too often this is overlooked. Some believe that early learning educators, teachers and after school carers can stand in the place of parents. A recent Sunday Territorian article (April 2) touched what might be a raw nerve. ‘Hands on parenting is what helps children’ is so true. A study conducted by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) focussed on this truth.

Study authors Stacey Fox and Anna Olsen from the Australian National University found that ” reaching out to children, talking with them and helping them with their homework matters more than income or background.”

In these modern times, the need for parents to work, too often distances them from their children. Before and after school care have become a way of life for children whose parents leave early and arrive home late. They are often placed in vacation care during school holidays because their parents are at work. Many parents are both preoccupied with and made tired by work, making quality time with their children during the week a rarity. While family catch-up may happen on the weekend, there is a need to attend to domestic chores and get ready for the working week ahead. In these contexts it can become easy for children to become somewhat overlooked. They may also be misunderstood by parents.

According to Fox and Olsen, “children … benefit when their parents provide a positive environment for homework and play a role in school activities.” They want their parents around, wishing to identify with them in school settings. Parents attending assemblies, participating in parent teacher nights, and supporting their children’s extra-curricular school activities is a part of what their children want.

According to the study, children really welcome and greatly value the first hand connection of parents with their educational development. In terms of hands on parenting, “the aspects which appear to matter most include high expectations and aspirations for children, shared reading between children and parents and family conversation.”

Children need room to move and develop as independent human beings. ‘Helicopter parents’ who constantly hover around children can be very stifling. They suffocate the independence and dampen the decision making potential of their offspring. However, when parents are there for children, engaging with them, nurture and love are to the fore. And it is these attributes in parents that their children want and need.

‘BACK TO SCHOOL’ HELPS

 

  BACK TO SCHOOL POINTERS THAT MIGHT BE USEFUL FOR PARENTS

1. Be confident, not hesitantly or ‘worried’ in conversation with or around children. Doubts rub off.

2. Label possessions – clothes, lunch boxes, – clearly and indelibly.

3. Choose lunch boxes small enough to fit into school fridges. Oversize boxes are often full of emptiness and take up unnecessary refrigerated space.

4. Be aware of healthy food policy for your school. Don’t pack poor quality food.

5. Be aware of school nut policies that are often in place.

6. Cut fruit, sandwiches and other food into manageable portions. Younger children do not get on with whole pieces of fruit.

7. Defence Force children enrol from interstate at this time of year. Know about the support that can be offered through Regional Education Liaison Officer’s (REDLO’s) for primary schools and Defence School Transition mentored (DSTM’s) for secondary schools.

8. Be aware of tutorial support programs for defence children arriving from interstate.

9. Be trustful and avoid being helicopter parents.

10. If parents need to have in depth conversation with teachers, make an appointment at school office for these meeting. Don’t shoehorn in and at Teachers who are trying to introduce children to the year and settle them down.

11 . At home time, let teachers dismiss children to pack their bags including getting lunch boxes from fridge without doing it for them. Children have to learn these strategies.

12. Don’t crowd into classrooms and around doors at the start of the day or at home time. ‘Crowding’ leads to chaos. Wait at a respectful distance for children to emerge.

13. For Middle and senior school enrolments, discuss courses and study options with school coordinators within the first few weeks.

14. Most schools have parent/teacher information evenings within the first weeks of school. Plan to attend and ask question about school processes and directions.

15. Most schools have websites. Look them up on Google and read about your school.

16. LET GO OF YOUR CHILDREN FOR THE SCHOOL DAY AND BE TRUSTFUL.

17. Be aware that all teachers establish classroom rules with children. Learn from your children what they’re rules are, so parents and teachers can be together on the same expectational wavelength.

18. Become aware of school homework policy. Read handbooks.

19. If nearby when bringing or collecting children, avoid what can be disruptive conversations in loud voices with other parent. This talk can be off-putting to teachers and distracting for children.

20. Make sure vaccination and immunisation records are up to date and bring these records so they can be copied onto student enrolment data.

21. Ensure that a contact phone number is available to the school and always kept up to date.

22. Where applicable, know the cyclone policy applying to your school. Keeping a copy of this and essential data on the fridge or home notice board is not a bad idea.