This was published in the NT Sun on October 2 2018


Assistant Principals, a key group within school leadership teams, celebrated their day on September 25. The day was one encouraging AP’s to leave behind their normal duties and meet for the day at the Michael Long Centre in Darwin.

NT Principals Association President Elect Britany Roestenburg invited Assistant Principals to this day of learning, refreshment and celebration. She wrote this was “an opportunity for you to connect with your colleagues and other experts to enhance your skills, explore current trends and research and celebrate your successes.” The day long event was followed by networking opportunities at the Darwin Surf Club.

The Assistant Principals in our schools are leaders-in-waiting – or should be. Many have been in the NT for years. Their experience generally includes time as classroom and Senior Teachers before they earn Assistant Principal status. We need to appreciate and value the contribution of these long term educators.

It stands to reason that some Assistant Principals may feel unappreciated and undervalued, a feeling sometimes exacerbated by the promotions system.

In order to evolve and grow, systems need a leadership mix that includes both external and internal appointments.
The percentage of external appointments to Principal positions in our schools has been at a high level in recent years. This limits promotional opportunities for Assistant Principals.

History confirms that some of those appointed as Principals from interstate are quite temporary. They leave after several years, often returning to the states from which they were recruited.

The appointment of Principals from interstate may deny leadership opportunities for those who have come up through the ranks within the NT from leadership opportunities. That dampens the morale of the homegrown Territory educational workforce.

Long term territory educators understand our educational system and people. They build up substantial relationships with parents, students and the communities within which they work. This develops trust, understanding and confidence.

When external appointments are made, Assistant Principals with aspirations to the next level of school leadership are overlooked and can become deflated.

If Assistant Principal positions are not vacated by a local promotion, career pathways available to Senior Teachers are also blocked.

Experience at each promotional level is important, but if career pathways are choked off, the teaching dream can sour.
This is especially the case when advertisements inviting young people to consider teaching in the Northern Territory suggest it is a career with opportunities for advancement.

Our schools deserve leadership that melds interstate and homegrown leaders. Selection has to be a question of balance and Assistant Principals should not be ‘the overlooked class’.


This was published in the NT Sun on September 25 2018


The 2018 school year is ‘icebreaking’. A new holiday structure is in place and operating for the first time. This has significantly changed the organisation of our school year. Under the old program, each school semester of 20 weeks was divided into two ten week terms. The mid semester break was of four weeks duration, with a week between terms three and four.

From this year, the four week holiday period in the middle of the year (June, July) was reduced to 3 weeks. The extra week has been moved into the break between term three and term four. This year’s two week break is from next Monday October 1 to Friday October 12.

The decision to change the NT school holiday schedule was made after surveys were conducted by the CLP Government during its last term in office. Education Minister Peter Chandler organised the extensive review of school holiday arrangements. Parents, teachers and community members were asked their opinion of the structure and whether they believed a change was necessary.

Responses indicated that the majority of Territorians felt 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.

There has been a mixed reaction to the new holiday schedule. However, until the full change has been experienced, it will be hard to determine the benefit or otherwise of this approach.

Traditionally, the second half of every school year is more intense, more mentally sapping and energy using than the first half. This has to do in large part with final assessments and exam preparations. There are also very few public holidays in the latter part of the year. Down time for a single week between term three and term four was judged as insufficient for students and teachers to have 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 up until now.

There have been some concerns that the change will impact on Year 12 students preparing for their TER examinations.
This should not be an issue for students who have regular and timetabled study habits

Time will tell whether the change makes any significant difference to the NT education year. The new schedule should be in place for several years before comparisons are made.


The Tournament of Minds (ToMs) is an annual event. It engages participating schools and students in the Territory and around Australia. In more recent times, overseas countries have joined, giving TOM’s an increasingly international flavour.


“Tournament of Minds is an opportunity for students with a passion for learning and problem solving to demonstrate their skills and talents in an exciting, vibrant and public way.” (TOM’s website)

TOM’s encourages teamwork and sharing of responsibility. Teams are required to work together on a Long Term Challenge for six weeks prior to the finals without assistance from teachers, parents or peers

The 2018 NT Tournament of Minds (TOM’s)major Regional Final was held at Charles Darwin University on September 1. Seventy four (74) teams from 27 primary and secondary schools participated. Teams of up to seven students, tackled open-ended challenges in Language Literature, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), The Arts and Social Sciences. An earlier final was held for schools in the Katherine Region.

On the day of the final, students present their solution, the product of their long term challenge to a panel of judges and an audience of parents and visitors. They have ten minutes in which to present. They are offered feedback by the judges and scored against assessment criteria.

The teams also participate in an unseen Spontaneous Challenge. Teams have four minutes to discuss a problem read to them when entering the room. They then have ten minutes to construct and present their solution.

This year’s school winners and runner up honours follow.

Primary Language Literature:

Winner: Nakara Primary Team 3. Honours: Parap Primary (More Than Words)

Secondary Language Literature:
Winner: Essington Middle (The Magoos). Honours: Darwin Middle (Courts White)

Primary STEM:
Winner: Parap Primary (Gelida Impexis). Honours: Leanyer Primary (Marine Mega Minds)

Secondary STEM:
Winner: Essington Middle (Molardapoid). Honours: Darwin Middle (Rebecca Pan)

Primary Arts:
Winner: Parap Primary (Fusion). Honours: Essington Primary (7 Mads)

Secondary Arts:
Winner: Essington Middle (Time Warp). Honours: Good Shepherd Lutheran (Shruggers of Time)

Primary Social Sciences:
Winner: Anula Primary (Snappaturtlesoures!!!). Honours: Nakara Primary (Team 2)

Secondary Social Sciences:
Winner: Darwin Middle (Erin Shannon). Honours: Essington (Roths Moths)

St Paul’s Catholic School earned the ‘Spirit of Tournament’ Award.

The 2018 International TOM’s Final is being hosted by the NT. It will be held in Darwin at the CDU on 12 and 13 October. Teams from around Australia will be joined by those coming from New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.

This will be an outstanding event.

Published in the NT Sun in September 2018


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.