This was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on July 31 2018


Recently Bridget McKenzie the Deputy Leader of the National Party, called for physical education to become a compulsory curriculum component in all schools. Ms McKenzie decries the fact that in her opinion, physical education is not given the time and attention that it should be offered.

There will be many educators around Australia who respond with the thought of “where can we fit this into an already overcrowded curriculum“.

Ms McKenzie would appear to be commenting without understanding the way in which physical education fits into the Northern Territory schools curriculum. Nor has she studied our history. She does not know how long physical education has been part of NT school programs.

There would be few if any schools in the Northern Territory not paying attention to physical education and the important part it plays in student development. PE has been an area of focus in our schools for decades.

Sensory motor programs to develop skills and dexterity have been a part of early childhood programs for decades.

Many of our schools, both primary and secondary, have qualified Physical Education teachers on staff. They teach skills, agilities, games awareness and participation to all students.

Physical Education in NT schools is supported by sporting clubs in both urban and rural areas. Clubs offer after hours development and engage young people in sports competitions.

Development officers employed by sports groups spend time in our schools supporting PE programs.

The Northern Territory Government plays a very important part in furthering Physical Education programs for students. Every year vouchers are offered to parents to help offset costs associated with student sport. These can be processed through schools to help defray costs for those participating in organised sporting programs.

The government also provides vouchers to offset the cost of swimming programs organised through schools.

More informally, children are encouraged during recess and lunch breaks to go out and play in the wide open spaces of school yards. Many schools have large undercover areas and shaded playgrounds protecting students from the weather while they play.

Our Education Department and NT Schools are doing a fine job when it comes to providing what Ms McKenzie refers to as “Physical Literacy“.The call she makes for awareness in this domain, is in ignorance of what is happening in the NT.

When it comes to Physical Education, the NT Education Department and Government, often in association with sporting organisations, have already hit a home run!


This column was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on July 27 2018.  Although descriptive of the Northern Territory situation, I believe it paints a picture of the priorities surrounding the issue of new school construction in other parts of Australia.


Planning for and construction of schools in the newer Darwin and Palmerston suburbs is long overdue.

When suburbs for Darwin and Palmerston were being planned in the 1970s and early 1980s, the provision of schooling was one of the first priorities taken into account.

In Darwin, schools were built in Karama and Leanyer as soon as suburbs were gazetted. The residential areas developed around their new schools. The same applied in Palmerston. Gray and Driver had Neighbourhood Centres which included schools and childcare facilities available as residents purchased blocks and built their nearby homes.

This policy reassured residents that schooling would be available for children.
Guaranteed local schooling encouraged people to buy property and settle in these new suburbs.

Over time, this policy has changed. Rather than schools (and other necessary community facilities) being among the first constructions, provision is left until all residential blocks are purchased and homes built. Lyons and Muirhead in Darwin are overdue for schools. Hundreds of families have to transport their children to schools at distance from where they live.

This has resulted in Nakara, Wanguri and Leanyer primary schools being oversupplied with students who are living outside their catchment areas.

This policy change has also impacted upon Palmerston. People living in Johnson, Zuccoli and other developing residential areas have to take their children to distant schools. In Palmerston , this has resulted in huge numbers being enrolled at Bakewell and Roseberry Primary Schools. Many of the students are being enrolled from out of these schools catchment areas.

Undoubtably, economics have driven this change. Developers are in a hurry to sell land and construct housing. However it leaves people with limited options for their children.

When families have children being enrolled in schools out of area, their attention and focus is elsewhere. They are not able to contribute to the development of their suburb’s character.

The present policy is leading to our suburban schools, particularly primary schools, becoming larger and larger. Historically, school planning was done with the expectation that schools would grow to a population of 300 to possibly 350. In the schools mentioned, these numbers are being substantially exceeded.

It would be in the interests of community for government and developers to revisit the benefits of making schools one of the first facilities constructed in new residential subdivisions. Leaving schools until the absolute last is socially and culturally depriving for those living in our newest suburbs.


This piece was published in the NT Sun on July 17 2018

SUNS 26 2018 245


The policy of three-year-old children attending preschool full time should fill people with concern. The notion is one of which children of very tender years, having only “just“ arrived in the world, being rushed into formal education. Colin Wicking’s cartoon (Northern Territory News 24/6/18) encapsulates the situation. Two toddlers are heading off to preschool and one says to the other “it only seems like yesterday that I was a fetus“!

If that’s the way preschool education is going, we have a grossly misaligned education system.

Educational justification for early entry into preschool is to get children academically ready for literacy and numeracy competence at increasingly younger ages. This is totally at odds with common sense. Young children need the nurture, empathy and love of parents in developing life skills. Their initial listening and speaking abilities along with the love of life should grow from family interactions.

The modern tendency of children at younger and younger ages spending more time in ‘formal’ preschool education is beyond comprehension.

In 2009 the Melbourne Declaration agreed by all education ministers stated that social, emotional and moral/spiritual development of children are essential. In years since, the need for rounded development has been largely disregarded. The focus seems to be academic competency alone. New policy suggests the sooner this education begins after birth, the better.

Parents wanting their 3-year-olds permanently in preschool is based on misplaced logic. However, costs associated with childcare are continuing to escalate and helps explain why they are plumping for the preschool option. A recent survey of parents (Our kids pushed to school too early, Sunday Territorian 24/6/18) confirms their motivation. “Aussie kids are being pushed into school early because their parents are desperate to escape the rising costs of childcare. … More than 65 per cent of parents are paying between $200 and $799 out of pocket (after government rebate) on childcare each week. … This compares to 44 per cent who pay between $1 and $199 once their child is in preschool.”

Whether children are socially, emotionally and sufficiently mature for entry into preschool, appears to be unimportant. “More than 52 per cent of parents ranked (their children) being toilet trained and feeding themselves as their lowest considerations when deciding when to send their kids to preschool.” (Op cit) While a barrage of educational reasons might be given, the primary reason is one of financial consideration.

It seems the new and innovative three year olds at preschool. is more about cheap childcare than education.



This ‘Student Choice Positive Initiative’ is a great development. For me, it extends dimensionally on what has been a focus of schools in the NT (and elsewhere) for the past three decades. In increasing numbers, both primary and secondary schools have supported student voice through school student councils and other instruments. The challenge for some has been to enable students to have a voice and an input that is not controlled or vetted to the point of being irrelevant.

Student summits and developmental opportunities have been around, supported and grown by schools for a long time. School student councils have been in existence for even longer. The Bakewell Initiative further grows and develops the concept.

There is, as the program suggested, a tendency to mark all students as ‘negative’ because of the stain placed upon youth character by the aberrant and dysfunctional element in their midst. It is true to say that the vast majority of young people are very decent, well disposed persons, who do not deserve to be characterised in the way that happens.

It is also true to say that young people who have both positive family as well as school support are well placed to make very positive contributions to life’s world.



I am not a researcher but an observer and a long time educational practitioner. The communications skills of young (and not so young people) have diminished over time. Far too many have gotten to the point of aural challenge and oral illiteracy. They do not know how to listen or speak.

Their writing and reading skills, but particularly writiing skills have diminished.

No, I am not a researcher but an educator who for over 40 years watched (and am still aware) of this diminishment of skill.

The iPhone is a device but finger manipulation skills and online language and abbreviation do not replace young people being able to look you in the eye during conversation, speaking clearly, confidently and with grammatical accuracy

This is a drawback for them in dealing with potential employers.

Tertiary institutions do not help. They are prepared to accept assignments and papers that are altogether mediocre by comparasion to past standards.

Not good.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 26 2018.


The importance of adult example is often discounted. Parents, teachers, politicians, church leaders and sports club coaches are among those who offer advice to young people about behaviour, deportment and expectation. The way this advice is shared needs to be carefully considered.

Children are very perceptive. Their awareness of the world around them is often discounted by adults.

Parents and teachers dealing with children should consider the importance of how they speak. It often happens that conversation is directed ‘to’ or ‘at’ young people. This method of communication can be very off-putting because it discourages them from responding. Genuine two-way conversation is inclusive. It encourages children to express their opinions and offer viewpoints on matters being considered.

‘Talking down’ to young people is an unfortunate habit that can be too easily embraced by adults. It discourages a response and can cause young people to feel resentful. It can lead to directives being given without an explanation of why they are necessary. This method of communication can become learned behaviour on the part of those to whom it is directed. In time it will become part of the way they speak to others.

Adults generally stress the need for children to be well mannered, polite and considerate of others. Part of this may include the way they speak to each other. The need for appropriate language is stressed. Speech should not include vulgar or racist expressions and should not be hurtful.

It is unfortunate that these ambitions held toward the development of young people, are often poorly modelled by adults. ‘Do as I say but not as I do’ seems to be the thinking of far too many people who should be setting a better example to young people. Crass speech, bad manners and poor behaviour are too often on display. This has to be confusing for those growing up to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders.

News bulletins are full of stories reporting the dark side of life. Verbal jousting, argument and acrimonious situations are shared on television, radio, print and social media. Manifestations of verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse abound.

Young people come to understand that these social negatives, both historical and contemporary, are condoned by adults. Yet they are urged to change the way things are by an adult population who fail to show a better way through the lives they lead themselves.

Today’s adults must model the behaviours they want to see in our upcoming generation.


This item was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 19 2018


Our Northern Territory Public Education System is often disparaged. It is held to be of lesser worth than its interstate counterparts. That is an unfortunate and inaccurate conception.

One of the challenges I faced as a school principal was that of parents coming from interstate assuming that NT Government schools were inferior to those they were leaving behind. In fact, NT public education more than holds its own. School leaders and teachers deserve thanks for the job they do. They work hard in urban, town and rural settings, supporting students across all social and cultural contexts.

I think at times when enrolling children from interstate, school leaders tend to be defensive of ‘have to’ parents. Parent have to enrol their children in NT. Schools because of work transfer. They may be apprehensive about the NT and what education offers. They don’t really ‘want to’ enrol in our schools.

We don’t need to justify our system to newcomers, or apologise for what our schools offer. They are up there with the best in Australia. This needs to be communicated to parents. Children being enrolled also deserve this reassurance. Visiting the Department of Education website and those maintained by our schools, confirms the many good things happening within the public education sector.

I can visit this topic as a parent as well as being a retired NT school principal. We came to the Territory in the 1970’s with our three young children. We lived and worked (and they were schooled) in remote communities, then town schools (Alyangula and Nhululunbuy) before we transferred into Darwin. Their primary, secondary and tertiary education was largely completed within the Northern Territory. They have in no way been reduced because of this experience, going on to become significant societal and economic contributors. The positive educational outcomes experienced by our children have been reduplicated for many thousands of other Territory families.

I believe public schools are sometimes discounted because they offer ‘free’ education. Private schools place a far heavier financial burden on parents. This can be a factor in shaping the attitude that ‘private education is better because we have to pay’. Government schools and their teachers provide quality education for a diverse group of multicultural students of all ages and ability levels.

The Territory encourages parent and community participation in establishing school policy through school councils or boards. This enables members to contribute to further enhancing public education.

Our Public School educational system is up there with the best. Our educators do not deserve put downs.