This paper was published in the NT Suns in May 2017


Public servants in the NT have a number of benefits attached to their employment. Included are superannuation and leave entitlements. Teachers and those working in schools often commence as supply or relief staff. In most instances superannuation and leave needs are recognised and built into the terms and conditions of their employment. Because of portability, these benefits transfer with them as they move from one school to another.

Over time, those involved with education are usually offered permanent status. Each year, three weeks of sick leave are added to the entitlement of each staff member. This leave accumulates year on year.

Health and family issues (for instance illness of family members) mean that some people need to quite regularly access their leave entitlements. However, there are many who use very little of their leave. It is not unusual for those who have been working for many years to have accumulations of up to 100 weeks of sick leave, that can be used if necessary.

When retiring or resigning from the public service, accumulated annual leave is cashed out to those who are departing. Long service leave that has built up, is generally included in the employee’s final pay package. Depending on circumstances which include the employee’s age, superannuation is either preserved or paid out.

For government employees, unused sick leave is not included in this package. I know of people who have retired or left employment with up to and over 100 weeks of sick leave credits. When they retire this entitlement is forfeited.

Because this leave provision will be lost upon retirement people may think about taking leave they would not usually consider. This would reduce sick leave benefits before employees leave the work force. It would force schools to employ relief staff or short term contract teachers. That would impact on school budgets and children in some classes, the latter because of teacher change.

It may be time to change the way in which sick leave provisions are treated. Paying a percentage of accumulated leave on a pro-rata basis would be fair and equitable. It would also reward those who have judiciously managed their sick leave.
The payment of a day’s salary for every week of accumulated sick leave would be my suggestion. A retiree with 60 weeks of leave would receive a payment equivalent to 60 days of final salary.

This would offer fair and equitable recognition to all those who have been prudent in managing sick leave.


Published in NT Suns in April 2017


Anzac Day remembrances taking place in our schools this week are particularly poignant. Many of our students have parents or relations serving in Australia’s Defence Forces. For them, Anzac Day is more than a recall of historical valour; it emphasises the fact that they and their loved ones are part of today’s defence cohort. Anzac Day is very much a reminder of their present situation.

Anzac Day remembrances are very close to the homes and hearts of these students. That is especially the case in Darwin and Palmerston. Our schools and communities have enrolled large cohorts of defence children. They are members of families who have to live their lives around the requirements of Australia’s defence leaders. Family rotations and parental assignments are part of their life.

Contemplating these issues can result in children feeling both unsettled and worried about the future. For defence families the issues of peace and conflict and the way they can impact on home life are very real.

Defence School Transition Aides (DSTA’s) have been appointed to schools with significant numbers of services children. They help both students and families settle into new schools. They also support those about to leave on family rotation. Rotations mean that children will sever friendships they have built during their time at the school. Included is help offered children who may have learning difficulties caused by leaving one educational jurisdiction and entering another. Tutorial support is available to these students and can be accessed with DSTA support. This extra help is available at no cost to parents. DSTA’s help defence families and students come to terms with these and other issues arising because of relocation.


The nature of our multicultural society needs to be interwoven sensitively into Anzac remembrances. There are formalities including flag raising, the Ode of Remembrance, the Last Post and Reveille that form part of school ceremonies. They add both dignity and solemnity to the occasion. Delivery of the Anzac Message could be hurtful if it had a ‘them’ and ‘us’ theme. The theme should be about a desire for the betterment of all people. There are no winners and losers in conflict situations, rather a loss for everyone.

Anzac Day remembers the valour of those who have given their all for others. If the remembrance can build oneness and unity, strengthening the resolve of our young people toward living good lives, it will have achieved its purpose.


Column published in NT Suns in April 2017.  Note rthat publisged columns are sometimes edited for the sake of space.  Posting of Suns columns on my blog are unedited.


Over time, there have been many changes in education. Some have been brought about through the growth of technology. A prime example is the replacement of handwriting with computer and iPad keyboards.

In spite of ongoing change there are things that should be retained and reinforced. One of these is teaching children about the value and importance of money. This experience ought not to be deferred until students reach the middle and upper primary grades. Research at the University of Cambridge was commissioned by the United Kingdom Money Advice Service. The research revealed that children’s habits and attitudes about money are formed by the time they turn seven years of age.

Many children have little chance to learn about and understand money. Household living costs are looked after by the adults. When shopping with parents, many children will not see notes or coins being used to settle accounts. Credit cards, PayWay and mobile phone applications are used to pay for goods. This makes money an illusion rather than a reality for many children.

There are ways at both home and school that can help children when it comes to handling and understanding money.

• A weekly or fortnightly payment of pocket money can aid young people in understanding currency. Encouraging children to spend and save from this allowance helps them understand and apply the principle ‘save it, you have it, spend it, its gone’.

• Encouraging children to handle coins, appreciating their size, weight and value encourages familiarisation with currency. Extending this to include appreciation of the value of notes is wise.

• Talking with children and answering their questions about money is part of their home and school education.

• School banking programs encourage children to establish the saving habit. This is important because so much advertising focus encourages people to spend everything and save nothing.

• Allowing students to shop at the school canteen can help with understanding money including item costs and change given on purchases.

• Understanding the use and purpose of money can be supported by classroom activities. Having a classroom shop with shopkeepers and purchasers learning about buying and selling through drama is one approach. Another is understanding through maths problems that are about money matters.

As young people grow up, learning about credit, credit traps and the ease with which debt can be incurred need to be included.

Money is a part and parcel of everyday life. It’s understanding and use should not be foreign to young people.


Published in the NT Suns in April 2017.


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.

Vaccination is a MUST

This episode was published in the NT Suns on March 31 2017

Historically, schools children faced diseases which should no longer be considered a threat to health and well-being. Until the 1950’s, there were no vaccination programs in place for anything at all. Then came the immunisation opportunity to ward off smallpox and tuberculosis.

During the 1950’s, polio was a real threat. Schools were identified as places where this scourge could be passed from one student to another. Children were often cautioned on the subject by parents. Many were held back from going to community based activities and into social situations, for fear they would be infected. Then came the Salk vaccine. with immunisation against polio provided by children being given a sugar cube impregnated with the vaccine. Prevention of polio became a reality.

Since then, the development of vaccinations has virtually eliminated chicken pox, measles, mumps and whooping cough. They are among the diseases now under vaccine control.

The opportunity for vaccination against what were debilitating and life threatening diseases, has considerably eased what was a burden of anxiety.

In recent years the percentage of babies and young children being vaccinated has declined. It was for this reason that the Federal Government introduced a ‘no jab, no pay’ program. This discontinued government supported child payments for parents of non-immunised children. What followed was a significant increase in the number of children being vaccinated. This meant that many parents had overlooked having their children immunised.

This year, the government extended it’s watching brief over community health. Children who have not been immunised will be excluded from child care centres and kindergartens (preschools). This restriction has been added in the interests of non-vaccinated children. While this might be seen as arbitrary, it is important that children who are not immunised are protected from possible infection. At stake is their future health and well-being.

In schools if cases of measles, chicken pox and other communicable disease occur, the community is immediately notified. This enables parents to withdraw non immunised children to from school until the crisis is over. This is a better option than children facing the possibility of being infected, having to spend time recuperating, and possibly suffering side effects from having caught the disease.

Medical issues may mean a minute fraction of children cannot be immunised. However, if non-immunisation is a parental decision alone, their children may be placed in vulnerable positions during periods of disease outbreak. Jeopardising the health prospects of young people should be avoided.



Published in NT Suns in March 2017



Sometimes educational ideas appear to lack common sense. Thoughts about change are based on whims and the sudden revelation of ‘good ideas’. When these utterances are made by important people and key decision makers, they cannot really be ignored. In my opinion, an example of policy being made on the run is Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham having decided that it’s important for all Australian preschool children to learn Japanese.

Pronouncing Japanese as ‘the’ language to be learned ignores the fact that some schools have chosen to learn an indigenous dialect or to prioritise Indonesian, Mandarin or some other language.

This initiative overlooks an important language need. Our children must become well-versed in the understanding and use of English. Superimposing other languages, particularly in early schooling years can detract from this “homegrown” language need. The time and attention that is devoted to studying a foreign language is the time and attention that should be given to mastery of our mother tongue.

The English Language involves more than just speaking. There is listening, interpretation, comprehension and understanding, along with reading and writing. The way in which Australian young people understand and use our basic language, suggests that these elements are often lacking. NAPLAN tests certainly confirm these deficits.

There is no guarantee of any permanent and ongoing immersion of children in the study of Japanese or other foreign languages. Spur of the moment initiatives often fade quickly. This new alternative language approach is likely to be dropped as suddenly as it was introduced. This often leaves language learners in limbo because there is no follow-through. In turn, this could give rise to cynical attitudes toward a study of languages other than English alternative language study.

For Japanese to succeed as a second language, study opportunity would need to be continued through primary and into secondary school. That would need to happen around the Territory and Australia. There is little likelihood that this will happen.

Many employers are concerned about language and literacy deficits among young people. They say that young people have very poor communication skills, cannot write, cannot hold an intelligent conversation and often don’t understand what’s going on because of poor literacy.

Surely, this fix needs to come from within the educational system. The earlier children begin to have a sound understanding and working knowledge of the English language and its use, the better. Putting that off and substituting a language other than English may be unwise.


Children HAVE to be educated to eat and to regard meal times as they should be appreciated.  Too often, it is as follows.



Feeding one’s kids
It seems like a sin
You go out and buy
Food for the bin.

Chips, yes please!
And chicken too
On a plate the brow pluckers
Tears tumble, boo hoo.

Plates pushed away
Is it a sin
To transfer good food
From the shop to the bin?

“Sit there and eat it”!!
Kinds whinge and whine
But refuse like mules
For eons of time.

Minutes drag by
Like hours it seems
Food stays untouched
What happens are screams.

“Take it away”
Steadfast to the last
They refuse like real martyrs
To break their long fast.

The fast lasts as long
As the food on the plate
But once in the bin
Young voices grate ..

“We’re hungry, we’re starving
Feed us real quick
Our tummies are empty
With hunger we’re sick”!

What do you do?
(This you’ll regret)
Give lollies and sweet things
Then peace you will get –

It’s only a breather
Until the next meal
Then it starts all over
The next squawk and squeal.