NAPLAN IN ITS 9TH YEAR

Published in May 2016

NAPLAN IN ITS NINTH YEAR

This morning, all Northern Territory students in years three, five, seven, and nine, begin three days of NAPLAN testing. Now in it’s ninth year, NAPLAN dominates Australian education during this week of May. The literacy and numeracy tests are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is a catch up day for those who may have been absent during the week. These four ‘May Day’s’ of testing have become a permanent educational fixture.

For the first time, some children will be completing tests online. This is a pilot program the Australian Government hopes to extend to all schools.

NAPLAN testing is all about compliance. Testing was made compulsory during the Rudd, Gillard years. It overrode and replaced other testing programs.

The stated intention of this compulsory exercise is to capture student performance at a particular point in time every year. In fact, it’s impact goes far deeper. For weeks and months leading to this week, students in many schools sit practice tests or undertake activities slanted toward their readiness for NAPLAN. In some schools this happens on a daily basis.

The regime is one that excellently illustrates compliance at work. The Australian Government has mandated NAPLAN and it’s compulsion underpins system and school responses. School funding and educational futures are determined by data profiles. Test results are taken into account during school reviews, principal assessment and staff evaluation exercises.

At individual school level, NAPLAN results can lead to everything from moments of euphoria to feelings of despair. While it may not be talked about openly, principals, staff members, parents and tested students feel the pressure of waiting for results. When released, statistics for each school are microscopically dissected and studied by system leaders. In like manner the data is cut, sliced and analysed in every conceivable way at school level.

Outcomes for every school in Australia can be scrutinised by the public at large on the ‘My School’ website.

Many teachers believe that Tom Chappel’s ditty on NAPLAN, particularly the line that “your score is my score” carries real weight.

Students sense tensions and feel the underlying vibe created by this program. While some may appear indifferent, others are reduced to nervous anticipation and pre-test stress. Weeks and months of preparation together with countless classroom hours spent working on preparing for this week, adds to their unease.

NAPLAN is seemingly here to stay. But questions about its need, purpose and legitimacy remain.

GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS DESPERATELY NEEDED

Published in the Suns in April 1976. This for me is the number one need in our schools, especially Primary Schools.
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GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED

There is a desperate need for guidance counsellors to be appointed as staff members in ALL our schools. Mental health and well-being issues confronting young people demand that our system look at this as a number one priority. There are counsellors in some NT secondary schools but their main role is in the area of career guidance and vocational support. Secondary schools also have school nurses to whom students can talk. However, for the most part they are more focussed on physical well-being and social issues rather than mental health matters. No counsellors are appointed as primary school staff members.

With scrutiny of school staffing numbers under constant review, it is hardly likely that the issue is going to be addressed. However ignoring the matter, is overlooking one of the deepest seated issues of student need.

With scrutiny of school staffing numbers under constant review, it is hardly likely that this going to be addressed. However ignoring the matter, is overlooking one of the deepest seated student student needs.

Needs Not Met

The issue is one that has always been problematic. In 2003, a group of principals from around the NT met with s Education Minister Syd Stirling and told him that the need for counselling support was the number one priority confronting Northern Territory schools. That assertion was based on a survey response. The department then advertised for Well Being Teachers (WBT’s) with counselling qualifications. These teachers were engaged to support each region and work with schools on a rotational basis.

Counselling priorities for some schools were partially met while other schools missed out altogether. It soon became apparent that a well being teacher with responsibility for up to 12 schools would simply tinker at the edges of student needs. There was insufficient time for personal counselling.

The well being teacher concept was temporary. Some positions never filled. Others were vacated as incumbents applied for and won other jobs and were not replaced. Within a relatively short period of time, the program became history.

Why Primary Schools?

Issues confronting children become apparentA from a very early age. Yet it is considered that counselling is not really necessary until students reach their secondary years. This position is so wrong. Problems confronting younger children can be deep seated and unsettling. To leave them untreated will impact on developing student behaviours and attitudes. Problems and concerns confronting them, becoming an ingrained part of behaviour and attitude. One in five young people are stressed and depressed and that percentage is growing all the time. It is far better that concerns are addressed and nipped in the bud before they become insurmountable. That will not happen unless and until counsellors are appointed as staff members in our schools. This need is long overdue.

GIVE SCHOOLS A BREAK

 The most unnerving factor about education is all the tooing, froing argy-barging that goes on about structure and organisation. Education is regulated to the point of inundating schools and teachers with paperwork, administrative and accountability requirements that bury good prctice and a comon sense approach. The whole process is one catatonic mess! 

The joy of teaching and the pleasures of learning have been stripped away by the grim regulatory and expectational fronts throwing up new directions and demanded priorities on an almost daily basis.

TEACHING A JAIL SENTENCE?

A lot of teachers and principals can and do enjoy their vocation and calling. However
many teachers and those working within our schools feel that being ‘sentenced to teach’ is somehow akin to a jail sentence. A sentence that can last for years and years and from which there is no parole prior to retirement. They are locked in because there is no career alternative. They cannot resign because of financial circumstances. And the profession is like a custodial sentence because of the way education has evolved to become an institution requiring compliance, accountability and justification. The joy has gone and changing parameters leave a bitter taste.

On the day of retirement, their last day, people walk. It’s bitter sweet. They resolve never to look back until they are far away from the years that have been.

How sad.

CAREFULLY CONSIDER E-MAIL USAGE

In today’s world, emailing has become possibly the most common form of written communication. Most people have email accounts and use emails prolifically. Schools and teachers have email accounts, often displayed on the school’s website.

Communication by email is encouraged, including contact between parents and teachers. Notwithstanding the ease with which email communication can be used, it is important consider a cautionary approach to its use. This is because emails are written documents and can be held against writers for years and years to come.

* If parents seek information about homework assignments and work due,
excursion information or similar, response is fine.

* If parents want information on school policy or are confused about particular
whole school policies or school matters, refer them to a member of the
leadership team and forward email sent and you reply to your senior.

* Under no circumstances offer parent value judgements about a child’s
character by email. Written statements can come back in future times to haunt
the writer.

* Be aware of the fact that emails can be used as documentation supporting
actions in courts, including custody battles between parents. To that end avoid
sending emails that ‘take sides’ or can be interpreted as supporting one parent
viewpoint or the other.

* Never promise by email that a child ‘will’ make certain progress by a particular
time or ‘will’ achieve particular outcomes. ‘Will’ is an absolute and confirms
that a particular attainment will be the result. Use ‘can’ or ‘could’ or similar
non-committing words. The onus is then on the child and not on the teacher to
take prime ownership of possible outcomes.

* It is wise to keep copies of emails sent too parents in a designated folder.
Trashing can be tempting but if a communications issue is raised to the
teacher at some future time, not having a record can be very unhelpful.

The above dot points could be extended and others added. Suffice it to say that the use of emails can be fraught with danger, a situation that all too many people find to their eternal sorrow. Stick to material issues and don’t enter into the realm of value judgements and character comment. Parents may send emails of this nature, asking to you comment on their perceptions. That invitation should be avoided because response means they may quote you and tie you to what is really their position.

Never ever write and send emails in the hear of the moment, while over-tired or while less inhibited than usual because of the use of alcohol. The reasons for this advice should be obvious.

If in doubt on the subject of email correspondence, check with a senior staff member. It is always better to be sure than sorry when dealing with email traffic.

KEEP A CLIPPINGS FILE

There is deep and abiding interest in matters of an educational nature. Increasingly print, radio, and television coverage refer to educational issues. Some people pay little attention to what is being reported about education because they feel it to be inconsequential. There is also a belief that what is reported, misconstrues facts. That to some extent may be the case; however it is important to be aware of the way education is trending within the community.

Retaining information about education can be useful. There are various ways and means of doing this, but it works best if collation is organised regularly (almost on a daily basis).

Newspaper items can be clipped and pasted in a loose leaf file, indexed book, or similar. Indexation is important as it allows you to quickly refer to things you may need to recall.

Photographing news clippings using an iPhone or iPad, saving them to your pictures file, then creating an album for clippings is another method that works well.

Scanning clippings and saving them onto USB stick is a method that works well. Again, indexing the USB file helps. It may be that you choose categories to index under, rather than an “A” to “Z”approach.

Clippings files can be backed up on iCloud or otherwise saved onto computer or USB.

From experience, the use of newspaper clippings when it comes to social and cultural education, cruising for general knowledge, for stimulating discussion in class, are but three ways in which they can be of use. Clippings can also be used to stimulate the content of debates, the writing of persuasive arguments for older students and so on.

Awareness of issues can stimulate professional discourse including helping to shape the way in which members of staff develop collaborative programming to support teaching in schools.

I believe teachers would find a study of media and the establishment of a clippings file useful and worthwhile.

MAKE 2016 A YEAR OF ‘COMMON SENSE’ EDUCATION

hope that 2016 can be the ‘Year of Common Sense’ for education. Research is important, so too are new initiatives. We ought also appreciate and continue to develop approaches and strategies that work well.

A worry for me is that too often, things that are working well, are tossed out simply because they have been around for a long time, AND WORKING WELL. I suspect there care times where teachers and school leaders who want something new because what they have is old hat and boring – no matter that what is in place works well and for the betterment of students. Is tossing aside proven my practice, really a common sense approach? Or is there a certain giddiness and excitement about new ideas that causes us to supplant practice without regard for the fact that this may work against the best interests of students?

May ‘common sense’ prevail in educational pursuits during 2016.