These columns were published in the Suns during October and November 2014. Please feel free to quote or use but in so doing please acknowledge the Suns Newspapers as publishers.

SUN 69


There is a perception that teachers in our schools are all permanently employed. This is far from being the case. When teachers who are permanent go on maternity leave, long service leave or leave without pay, their positions are backfilled on a temporary basis. Replacement teachers are on short term contracts, which end when those on leave return to duty. There are few schools without contract teachers.

Contract teachers often move from one school to another, filling a succession of temporary vacancies on short term contracts. When permanently held positions are vacated due to resignation or retirement, contract teachers may be eligible for permanent appointment.

This process can be slow, with the period of time individual teachers spend on contract sometimes extending for years. While temporary teachers are glad to find work, there are downsides to not being permanent. It is very difficult for teachers who are on contract to negotiate home loans, meaning they are likely to be locked into the rental market. From a professional viewpoint it can be difficult for teachers to operate as they would if permanent staff members.

When temporary teachers move on, students often feel disappointment because they have come to know, appreciate and respect ‘their’ teacher. Disappointment means that re-entry for teachers returning from leave can be challenging.

There are no easy answers to this situation. While it might be nice to offer permanency to all teachers, this would rapidly result in teacher over-supply. The department cannot permanently employ more teachers than there are positions to fill within the Territory. A number of years ago, the majority of contract teachers were offered permanency all at once. It quickly became apparent this was a wrong move because there were more teachers than positions to fill.

Making teachers permanent to the NT Educational system rather than to particular schools in which they are working has also been trialled. This reassures teachers because they have permanent positions. However, it gives no guarantee that they will be placed in the school of their choice.

Remote Apprehension

If teachers were willing to accept appointment to the Territory’s regional and remote areas, the tenure issue would quickly dissipate. However the majority of teachers seeking permanent positions have little desire to move from urban areas to more distant locations. Some believe that accepting remote appointments means they will be locked out of positions in Darwin, Palmerston or Alice Springs. Many are mature age graduates with family commitments which preclude them from teaching in remote locations.

‘Difficult to staff’ schools force the Education Department to recruit from interstate. In time, some of these teachers become entitled to transfers into our cities. This adds to pressures faced by teachers on short term contracts. While empathising with these teachers, it is hard to see their appointment opportunities changing any time soon.
Contract employment for temporary teachers may be here to stay.

SUN 70


Several thousand Northern Territory Year 12 students have reached the pinnacle of their primary and secondary educational careers. Some have completed their publicly assessed examinations and begin the wait for exam results. By Christmas time they will have their results and can begin planning the next stage of their lives. Other students will have opted for school assessed subjects and will consider vocationally oriented careers. For some students, there will be disappointment but the majority will experience the joy that comes with success.

‘Schoolies Week’ is upon our Year 12 cohort. Many students will let their hair down and chill out, possibly in Bali or at some other recreational resort. Celebration is fine and will be without incident if the cautions offered by parents and authorities are observed. In past years there have been too many mishaps that have occurred because of celebrations gone wrong. Sense and sensibility need to prevail.

The question of ‘what next’ will follow the release of results in a few short weeks. Apprenticeships and further trade training will be on the horizon for some. Contemplation of university entrance to Charles Darwin or interstate universities will be considered by others.

Gap Year

In recent years it has become the practice for many graduating Year 12 students to take a ‘gap year’. This period of time away from study is used by some for travelling and others for work.

Those who take a gap year are able to secure university places for tertiary entrance in 2016 providing their Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE ) mark is sufficient for them to be offered a place in their chosen course. Having twelve months away from the books after thirteen years of primary schooling and secondary study can be refreshing. It also offers students the chance to think and reflect on their achievements and ponder opportunities that might lie ahead.

A further advantage of taking a gap year is that it gives students the chance to more fully consider career alternatives. Many students who have opted for a tertiary program while still at school have upon reflection changed their minds and chosen alternative career pathways. To go straight to university from Year 12 can mean commencing a course that is really not the most suitable. The options are changing courses midstream or continuing with a program that ultimately may not lead to a satisfying career. While jobs available may not be those of first choice, the chance to earn money and meet people builds confidence and helps develop independence for young people.

Those choosing to work for twelve months know their earnings can go a long way toward accruing funds to help to offset HECS costs and other tertiary study expenses. Degrees do not come cheaply and will shortly become more expensive as Federal Government initiatives impacting on university funding become reality. Accumulated HECS debts are burdensome and can take years to pay back.

To complete Year 12 is an achievement and congratulations are in order. I am sure we all wish our graduates well as they contemplate and prepare for the next stage of life.