The principles and processes of collaboration are important to development in the field of education. What I have always abhorred is the fact that gurus seem to piggyback on the work of their research teams in away that allows them to takers the sole glory for positions that establish and findings that are reached. They are offered ‘single surname adulation’ for work that quite obviously has been done by others.

My background is in education. It seems that many noteworthy leaders do not really have thev times to do they work about which they are espousing because they are too busy running around the world talking and taking conference calls, to actually do the work they are upholding.

Certainly they have teams back at base (one or another institute or university) who are working on their behalf. These gurus are in essence the public face of research teams. Yet they speak and present in a way that suggests they are solely responsible for creating the theories and authoring the positions they espouse. That is just not right.

Those working behind thec scenes and well away from the microphone need to be acknowledged and appreciated for their contribution to research process and findings.


Teachers and educators are right to accept responsibility for the matters of student development that come under their jurisdiction. The trouble is that more abd more of that developmental responsibility is being hand balled by Governments and by parents, to schools and educators. Educators in turn have been rather short-sighted, in seemingly inviting more and more responsibility for the upbringing and development of children and young people. That is like saying to parents and primary caregivers, “have you another monkey (responsibility) that I can own?”

I believe in holistic education, but not in parents flick passing their parental undertakings to schools. We are foolish in loading up with more and more. That acceptance of developmental burden is less and less appreciated and more and more expected. We therefore contribute to education being a thankless and burdensome profession.

Educational partnerships between home and school should be about cooperation and balance. The scales seem to be increasingly uneven, weighted against schools and staff.


Some schools embrace support offered by retailers, while others figurativelty shudder with abhorrence.  Is there a right or wrong position to take on this issue? In the end it is generally left to each school to consider the matter.


There are pros and cons about programs such as Woolworths ‘Earn and Learn’ initiatives. Some believe these activities to be an unfair trading ploy. Others see this as no real issue, preferring to subscribe to the benefits of the program.

Schools are increasingly in need of resourcing. Funding only goes so far. It often seems more materials are needed than school budgets can afford. This adds to the appeal of programs like Woolworths ‘Earn and Learn’.

Not New

These school support programs were introduced in the late 1980’s. Coles ‘swap dockets for computers’ was one of the first. In an agreement between the retailer and Apple Computers, students were encouraged to collect shopper dockets. At the end of the promotion, these were exchanged for Apple 2E computers, printers and other hardware.

This annual promotion lasted for several years. In order to collect dockets, students did everything from foraging in rubbish bins to organising weekend car washes. Cars were cleaned in exchange for dockets.

In the years since, both Coles and Woolworths have offered sponsorship to Australia’s schools through rewarding shoppers. Coles most recent support was in the area of physical education equipment. While Coles sponsorship seems to have been discontinued, Woolworths are maintaining their ‘Earn and Learn’ program. There has been a significant change this year, with $10 of expenditure being necessary to earn each point.

Redeeming products

Redeeming points for goods throws up some revealing cost interpretations.
* An Aussie Rules senior size football costs 732 points or $7,320 worth of shopping.
* A small Aussie Rules child’s football requires 218 points, $2180 worth of shopping.
* Plastic stack chairs range in cost from 732 points ($7,320) for a 26 cm chair up to 1832 points ($18,320) for a full size chair.
* A round table and four chairs, ideal for classroom group work will set the school back 5865 points, making the cluster worth $58,650.
* One iPad shockproof case comes at 1612 points, $16,120. A set of ten cases requires 12,098 points, $120,980 of shopping at Woolworths.
* A bag of 12 tennis balls costs 548 points, or $5480 in shopping terms. That equates to 45 stickers ($456) for each ball.

Resources that can be redeemed cover the spectrum of educational needs from text books and art materials to sports equipment, but the price is high. At $5 per sticker the redemption price was steep. At $10 for each one point sticker school community expenditure will need to be astronomical if schools are to gain significant benefit. However with schools experiencing ever tightening budget controls, every bit of support helps.




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.

A question of balance

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.




These columns were published in the ‘Suns’ in April 2015



It seems that the thrust of education is toward developing opportunities for students to progress through the practise of technology supported learning . Devices from electronic smart boards to computers, iPads and other devices are front and centre. More and more schools are developing a “bring your open device” policy when it comes to technology. It seems that the children are increasingly immersed in technologically focused learning.

There is a place for technology in our schools. However if devices replace teachers it will be to the detriment of education. The best learning outcomes are achieved through direct interaction. When using computers and iPads, children can easily log out of learning and go onto some amusement or games application.

Approach to lessons and learning needs to be based on time and organisation. There needs to be a patterned and ordered approach to learning. Taking teachers out of the equation and replacing them with computer controlled programs, detracts from education.

The emphasis in the NT is toward Direct Instruction (DI). Concern about poor educational outcomes has lead to a revival of this instructional method. “The Direct instruction strategy is highly teacher-directed and is among the most commonly used. This strategy is effective for providing information or developing step-by-step skills. It also works well for introducing other teaching methods, or actively involving students in knowledge construction.” (Instructional strategies online, Saskatoon Public Schools)

Explicit teaching, lectures, drills, specific questioning, demonstration and the guiding of listening, reading, viewing and thinking are direct instructional practices. DI is about close interaction of teachers with students to enhance teaching and learning opportunities. Computers and iPads by their very nature can put distance between students and teachers. If their use is not carefully managed they can become a distraction.

A very important part of teaching and learning is the way body language and facial expression impact on classroom outcomes. Teachers can sense confidence about what if being taught through student responses. Similarly, students can sense how their teachers feel about work being completed. Shared personal contact within classrooms is a very important part of learning. Computer based education does not allow students or teachers to appreciate body language or facial expressions.

Technology has its place in education as a support to learning. However classroom focus should be about interaction between teachers and students. Replacing teachers with computers will impact negatively on the quality of learning and educational outcomes.



Quality education is influenced by the relationships that develop between students, teachers and parents. There are two other groups who make great contributions to education within schools.
* School support staff who add value within administrative and classroom contexts.
* Volunteer people who give their time in support of schools.

The contribution made to their schools by volunteers can be easily overlooked. Parents and caregivers who are able to spare an hour or two here and there can be of great help in a number of ways. They might hear children read, help with changing readers, or be support people when teachers take classes on short excursions. One school last year had parents and school supporters come in to help with an oral reading program that took place each day.

There are many ways in which volunteers support their schools.
* Assistance in school libraries with cataloguing, shelving and covering books.
* Assisting schools with supervision on sports days or extended outings.
* Assistance with extended Territory and Interstate excursions and camps.
* Sewing programs to help with making costumes, making library bags, art/craft aprons and so on.
* Volunteering time to support fundraising ventures.
* Offering as volunteer school crossing monitors.
* Supporting school canteens through cooking or being on the serving roster.
These are a few of the ways in which parents and community members can support schools.

Where are the Volunteers?

Parental work commitments has reduced the potential pool of school volunteers. However, having parents give a little time to their school on rostered days off happens in some schools. Advertising for volunteers in newsletters or on websites may generate a positive response. Personally inviting parents to volunteer time or approaching residents in senior villages may help build a volunteer list.

Those who volunteer need to be cleared by a police check and also have to obtain an Ochre Card confirming their suitability to work with children. School councils sometimes elect to pay the costs of obtaining these clearances. People are able to support schools through volunteer service once these matters have been finalised.

Volunteers should not be taken for granted. Acknowledging them with certificates of appreciation, sponsored morning teas and other periodic tokens of recognition will help cement their relationships with schools. Invitations to school assemblies and concerts may help them feel included within schools. Those who give of their time and share their talents with schools are a valued group. Without their contribution, schools would be the poorer.


Students are an integral and essential part of schooling. They are the focus of what education should be about. This is often overlooked. Too often we talk of, and about, students. Frequently this conversation takes place between teachers. Sometimes parents are involved. Rarely are primary school students included in negotiations that focus on their school and schooling.

In a modern educational context, it is inappropriate to overlook or ignore student input into school leadership and management issues. Equally, and at primary school level, it may be overly ambitious to suggest that students should be elected to positions on school councils.

Price (1991:84) reminds educators that ‘the world in which students of today live and are educated is vastly different from that in which their parents and teachers lived when they attended school. Schools have an undeniable responsibility to develop in students the skills, knowledge and attitudes which will prepare them to be critically aware participants in the world’.

An element of critical awareness is that of developing in young people the decision-making and leadership skills they will need as adults.

Student empowerment
Maurice Balson makes some relevant points on the issue of student empowerment. He states that traditionally autocratic society reflected in schools of yesteryear, has been replaced by a democratic social system, with an emphasis on social equality (1992: 1-3). He wrote that while there ‘is no suggestion that students are as wise, experienced or knowledgeable as their teachers . . . they do have a right to self-determination’ (op cit: 3).
He added that relationships challenges within schools are accentuated ‘because teachers are not skilled in democratic relationships’ (op cit: 7).

If respect for students is shown, then their commitment to the school will be enhanced. With staff and parents, they can join the school community partnership. A partnership exclusive of students may be tantamount to deliberate deprivation. Student frustration may be the result and the school and its parent community could be disadvantaged.

Student participation in schools
Roger Holdsworth is known as a leader in the field of student participation in schools. He maintains that:’students have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives . . . student participation leads to more effective decision-making and learning: better decisions are made when participants share in making those decisions. Student participation provides challenges for schools. The active participation of students can be reflected in the organisational structure and health of the school . . . [engaging] students in real initiatives with productive outcomes’ (1995: pp.2, 3).

Involving students in their own education should be a paramount consideration. Allowing and encouraging students to participate in direction setting confirms the importance children as participants in decision making. Caring, sharing, problem solving and celebration then become mutually inclusive experiences.

Primary students have a lot to offer
It is not good enough that teachers and parents make decisions for students: we ought to take decisions with students. Doing things better should involve all parties as partners. To deny meaningful participative access to students is to lock out the lateral and creative thinking students bring to consideration of issues.

Do adults always know best?
‘Adults know best’ is not a wise statement. It presupposes that age equates to wisdom. What it really infers is the inability and ineligibility of young people to participate in school governance. That’s illegitimate, in my view – it’s a denial of equal opportunity and ignores basic human rights.

No need to be frightened of including children
‘Student participation would, or should, build on the present two-dimensional partnership between schools and their parent communities. A new paradigm widens or redraws frameworks but rarely demolishes what existed before; it simply incorporates those elements into a more embracing perceptual frame’ (Beare and Slaughter 1993:73).
This precept goes to the heart of collaborative leadership and shared decision-making. It is inclusive of input from all parties with a stake in educational outcomes.

Dysfunctional consequences
It can enhance functions and outcomes deriving from organisational process and structure. Denying a group with legitimate claim from entering decision-making partnerships can have dysfunctional consequences.

Partnerships need to be the outcome of genuine, honest and sincere relationships. No party to shared leadership and participative decision- making should be offered inclusion for tokenistic reasons. To Beare ‘the school can be thought of as a company of learners. If that is literally so, then those who want to learn (or their authorised agents) literally own and control the school’ (op cit: 211). In this context, a student representative council would, or should, act for all students in the same way as an elected parent council acts for the wider parent community.’

‘Children . . . are thinking, rational individuals’ (James & Prout, 1990 in Pollard and Tann, 1994:32)

Don’t underestimate children’s potential
We tend to underestimate the potential children have, their ability to think, rationalise, synthesise information and develop an action plan in relation to projects and initiatives. These words from children encapsulate the capacity, too often unrealised, they have to contribute.

‘When we think about what living in a democracy means to us, we realise how important it is that we grow up in an atmosphere where we learn to express our views and listen to those of others.

To be a good citizen is to understand that we can share in making decisions, that we want to work with others in decision-making, and that we are all valuable in making and implementing decisions’ (LaTrobe District Junior Council Network, 1996: 6).

A student council growing up: Karama Primary School, 1987 to 1991
Karama School students came from a middle and lower class socioeconomic background. Over 60% of school students were from ethnic backgrounds, many having migrated to Australia with their parents.

Notwithstanding differences between Karama and Nhulunbuy (a town on the Northern Territory, Australia), the concept of student involvement in school partnerships easily transferred to, and was readily understood by, the Karama School community. The school community, in both adult and student domains, accepted the concept of management through partnership.

It was both challenging and rewarding to work with broad visioned, creative and confident student leaders. They most ably represented the student body. Their capacity to identify problems, focus on the issues and develop solutions was enlightening to older minds. Students worked to make Karama School ‘their school’. Corporate pride and collective ownership became a trademark that evolved and developed during, and beyond, my tenure as Karama’s school principal. With that development came articulate, considered, confident, vibrant and student-focused leadership.

Operational charter
Two student councillors from Karama School, Mark Clifton (now an electrical tradesman) and Alex Smith (a tertiary education student) drew up an excellent guide to Student Council responsibilities. They determined with their council cohort that the SRC should accept responsibility in the following areas:

helping make school rules
meeting visitors to the school
answering the phones at recess and lunch time
helping run school assemblies
raising money for charities and school improvements
Many other important things.
Mark Clifton and Alex Smith stated: ‘boys and girls who are elected have an important job to do . . . they must be the best of our students’.

The following were seen as essential qualities in youthful leaders by young people themselves:

honesty and trustworthiness
friendliness and helpfulness
good manners and clear speech
good standard of school dress, usually school uniform
fairness to all
preparedness to assist younger children
pride in the school
a willingness to give some of his or her own time for SRC duties
an ability to work with other members of the SRC sensibly and productively.
Leanyer student council: ‘we’ over ‘I’
When I first arrived at Leanyer School, in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, several things perturbed me about an otherwise good school. One issue, impossible to pinpoint on the first day, had to do with student attitudes. After some months, the penny dropped. Students were, consciously and unconsciously, putting themselves ahead of their peers in importance terms. The needs of individual students seemed to be paramount.

At the time, the unspoken Leanyer ethos was ‘me first, others next’. However, once elected, the student council worked on turning student attitudes around, with students elected to the council seeing themselves as people doing things with others, and for others.

It was at Leanyer that I became convinced that student opinion and ability, in the area of problem solving and identification, is too often undervalued. This, in part, was shaped by demonstration that students who had placed ‘self’ ahead of ‘others’ in their thinking were willing to change their focus and consider the collective, both spontaneously and willingly, when an alternative organisational direction was presented and demonstrated.

My experience at Karama School demonstrated that successful schools focus on groups and the collective awareness that is a part of ‘groupship’. Leanyer students confirmed that attitude realignment was essential and could be an outcome of student council energies focusing on the ‘us’ of ‘our’ school.

How student councils can work: status and recognition
Traditionally, educational partnerships have rarely extended beyond the staff and parents of school communities. This is especially the case at the primary school level. Involving students in educational partnerships in three school communities has convinced me of the value and worth of student contribution. I suspect that many of my principal colleagues, if asked to comment, would respond that primary school student empowerment is, at best, fanciful. In other words, they see it as impractical.

‘Breaking down the barriers’ was a term coined to challenge the distance between schools and communities in the period prior to establishment of teacher and parent partnerships through school councils. Yet what was considered impossible has come to pass. Now, the same barrier is confronted when considering participation by students in an extension of the partnership model.

Danger of minimisation
There is a danger that school principals, as organisational leaders, may choose to minimise, trivialise or ‘channel and direct’ SRC function. Such ‘minimisation’ might be offering little to the SRC beyond an election, with the role of councillors meaning very little at all.

Trivialisation, that is, having a student representative council in name only, results in the withering of student interest, distrust in, and disrespect, for the principal and possibly staff. Ultimately, student attitudes become cynical and counterproductive. The manipulation of the SRC agenda, especially by exerting undue pressure on participants, is a most destructive strategy.

A concept gaining momentum
Recognition of primary school children as student councillors elected to a formally recognised representative organisation is a developing and not quite the rare concept of a few years ago. Notwithstanding, principals, staff and parents considering the concept of student representative councils would be well advised to ‘make haste slowly’.

The development of students as leaders should be a moulding process. You don’t just drop people into untried waters and expect them to instantly know how to swim. You provide chances for them to test the water and familiarise themselves with the new environment.

Learning about leadership should be an educative process, enabling students to ‘step forward with confidence’ (Grant Christie, in conversation with me on 6 January 1997).

I would offer the following recommendations:

that the benefits of including students in educational partnerships within primary school communities be explored
that further study be undertaken to gauge student, staff and parent interest in this extension
that student representative councils be considered as student focus groups, rather than being labelled as a student committee. This will enhance the positive connotation of such a group to staff, parents and the school community at large
that student councils be supported by empathetic adult advisory staff (principals, teachers, or both) who avoid the possibility of adult influence dominating the organisation
that any pilot program (refer recommendation four) be supported by attempts to establish reading or reference list on the subject of primary school student empowerment
that participating schools be encouraged to make contact with schools or groups piloting primary student empowerment programs elsewhere, for instance, Roger Holdsworth, coordinator of theConnect magazine, and the La Trobe Junior School Council Network
that documents explaining the purpose and function of student representative councils be prepared and circulated to all stakeholders (students, staff, parents and supporters) within the school community. Informational statements should be couched in appropriate language and provide history and background on the SRC for new families joining the school community.
that student representative council members network carefully at the start of each year, to ensure that continuing students are reminded, and new students are informed, about the Student Representative Council. This could be done by a combination of assembly presentations, class visits, small group and one-to-one discussions
that feedback on process, procedure and function be sought and considered by the Student Council, to enhance its organisational dynamic and growth
that candidates seeking election to Student Representative Councils be fully conversant with the roles and responsibilities of those elected
that both the honour and the obligation of election be elaborated to those intending to seek nomination
that those seeking, or being asked, to nominate have the chance to discuss the matter fully with their parents. This will enable parents to be fully aware of their child’s intentions. It will provide parents with a chance to discuss with their child the advisability or otherwise of seeking election on the basis of school responsibilities and extra-curricular activities
that ‘key’ days be advertised in a way that magnifies them as steps leading to SRC elections
that intending candidates have a full chance to discuss their nomination with peers and parents
that letters and information statement be sent to parents and re-visited to candidates
that candidates have the opportunity to present to their peers through speech giving (a part of the preparation should be coaching toward presentation by students of themselves and their policy platforms)
that the polling day procedures be child-focused, so students identify the day as one they ‘own’, and not one in which they participate at the behest of adults
that unsuccessful candidates be encouraged, not forgotten
that successful candidates be welcomed to the student representative council through a formal and dignified ceremony
that members of the student representative discuss who they would prefer as their advisory teachers, then contact those teachers to seek their support and involvement’
that student representative councils be elected in accordance with agreed procedure that follows on a year-by-year or period-by period basis for the sake of consistency. This will enhance the status of student representative organisation
that all students, parents, staff and members of the SRC accept and accord with a charter that encompasses the following (or similar) objectives and functions.

honesty and trustworthiness
friendliness and helpfulness
good manners and clear speech
a good standard of dress, usually school uniform
fairness to all
preparedness to assist younger children
pride in school and community
willingness to give personal time to SRC responsibilities
ability to work productively as a focus group member
ability to represent the interests of a student collective
Objectives and responsibilities

helping to develop a school code of conduct
meeting visitors to the school
answering telephones at recess and lunch time
helping to run school assemblies
raising money for charity and school improvements
establishing quality leadership at student level
raising the profile of the school to its community and the public
Student representative councils: forums of honest intent and outcome
I am firmly convinced that student councils can ‘lead from the front’, setting appropriate and realistic goals and commitments with, and for, students. This includes discussion of educational issues and meaningful contribution to school policy. To facilitate this process, the student council must be kept informed of issues and systemic educational directions.

Within my heart I know that primary student involvement in school governance is the way to go. Nineteen years and three schools later, I am a school principal on the right track through involving students in our schools. Staff and parents have been active participants in group-focused management and direction-setting processes.

Multiplying the benefits
Student councils can work for the benefit of the school and the development of its members. Traditionalism has turned – or is turning – and there is a far more positive focus on students than there used to be. Parents, as well as their children, have to be convinced that this is the case, meaning that public relations are essential in demonstrating attitudinal change on the part of school educators.

While it is possible to show children that their input and interaction is both sought and valued, there may be some scepticism on the part of parents about the validity of this position because of their own unfortunate school experiences.

Changing the culture
Education and appeal to parents is essential if a history that distanced parents and students from teachers and principals is to be overcome. It is also essential that teachers and principals become aware of the value of student voice. Children themselves will need to be convinced about the validity of the partnership invitation. These processes take time and haste should be made slowly. The three-way partnership needs to be solidly founded and carefully built.

Student representative councils are indispensable organisations. Experience suggests that, without them, school communities would have been minus an important leadership and management dimension. I doubt that many primary school principal colleagues would share this perception so enthusiastically, but most haven’t experienced the extended shared leadership model outlined in this study. There is a lot of educating to do!

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Mr Henry Gray was at the time of writing, Principal of Leanyer School, in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, Australia. He has been involves in schools level educational leadership in Western Australia and the Northern Territory since 1971.

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