Political self-immolation troppo style

Clare Martin’s NT government appears to be about to sign its very own slow-moving but certain political death warrant. Well, that might be slightly hyperbolic given that the CLP opposition here has been reduced to a rump of 4. But there are 4 or 5 Labor MLAs who unexpectedly won seats in the 2005 landslide and for whom the most polite description one could use is political deadwood. Their seats are intensely vulnerable, and once a big swing is on you can never be quite sure of its extent (as the CLP found out to its cost in 2001 and 2005).

At issue is a political timebomb called “middle schooling”, and it’s actually quite a good idea in itself. Years 8, 9 and 10 have long been dark nights of the soul in education for many kids, both in the Territory and elsewhere. Rampaging hormones make many of them almost unmanageable in class, and any academic learning they actually achieve during those years is a bonus. Experience elsewhere has suggested that it can make a really positive difference if those kids have a single consistent mentor who teaches them most of the mainstream curriculum, instead of moving from class to class and teacher to teacher 5 or 6 times every day.

Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Syd Stirling has allowed himself to be persuaded by half-smart ministerial advisers that a “crash through or crash” strategy on middle schooling is the way to go. So he’s just announced that they’re going to introduce the new middle school program throughout the Territory for the commencement of the 2007 school year (after a derisory two week public “consultation” period that is about to expire). Presumably Syd’s minders reckon that rushing it through like that will mean these huge changes will be well bedded down, with everyone affected being relaxed and comfortable about them, by the time the next Territory election rolls around in 2008.


I strongly suspect they’re making a fatal miscalculation. Certainly there hasn’t so far been the massive public outcry that recently greeted the Martin government when it mused about selling the Territory Insurance Office. This issue will be a slow burner, with parents slow to anger but even slower to forgive when they discover what Clare and Syd have done to their children’s education. They’ll be waiting quietly but determinedly with axes to decapitate at the first available electoral opportunity the party that drastically undermined their kids’ education (not entirely unlike the climate Paul Keating faced in 1996).

The problem isn’t with the inherent merit of the middle schooling concept. It’s the unholy rush to introduce it. There’s already been a lot of media and public discussion about the fact that many of the proposed “middle schools” don’t have the physical accommodation to house year 7 kids (until now high school in the NT has started at year eight), nor do the current senior colleges have room for year 10s (they currently accommodate only years 11 and 12). But the physical infrastructure is the least of the problem.

The central problem is that very few NT high school teachers are currently actually trained to teach right across the mainstream curriculum (i.e. both humanities and maths/science), but that’s what they’re going to be expected to do starting in late January next year. No doubt any competent high school teacher can be retrained to teach a broader junior high school curriculum given sufficient time. But 6 months is nowhere near enough, not when we’re talking about teachers who will only be able to undertake bridging/retraining courses in their spare time after school each day.

I reckon it will take 12-18 months at a bare minimum to get most teachers up to speed on teaching across the whole mainstream curriculum. In the meantime, current humanities teachers won’t have a clue how to teach maths and science and vice versa, while an entire cohort of Year 7, 8 and 9 kids will be missing out on key educational concepts vital to their success in senior high school and later life. If I had a child about to enter those high school years, as my partner Jen does, I’d be feeling decidedly homicidal towards the Martin government. The only reason most parents aren’t already feeling that way is that they don’t yet realise what is about to be inflicted on their teenage children by these dickheads.

Watch this space.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
19 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ron
Ron
15 years ago

“Rampaging hormones make many of them almost unmanageable in class”

There were no management problems when I was in high school in the 60s in NSW. Teachers ruled their classrooms because they were allowed to use discipline with aids like the cane, tough detentions and parents who supported the school and it’s policies. Of the 200 or so students who commenced year 7 in 1960 only a handful failed to pass the leaving certificate five years later. I don’t remember anyone leaving after gaining the mid-high school certificate.

Compulsory after-school and Saturday sports and cadets were good rampage dampeners too.

Ron
Ron
15 years ago

I have a 15yo son in year 10 who goes to a Catholic high school. His attitude, and that of his peers, to school worries me a great deal (perhaps frightens me is more appropriate).

Most of them are leaving school at the end of this year (I doubt any of them will pass the school certificate) with no job prospects or career motivation.

There is something seriously wrong somewhere when I see so many high school kids dropping out at 15 or 16 with no formal high school qualifications.

As for old fogies like you, me and Jen: what was wrong with prefects standing at ths school gates checking sock colours, hair length and cleanliness of shoes (at my wife’s school they checked the colour of the girl’s panties which was probably going too far)? Those lessons, and others, proved valuable when I finally went into the workforce.

Things may have been too tough and perhaps over the top in 50s and 60s schools but they have gone too far the other way these days.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

Ron and Ken,

I think there’s a crisis of authority in our entire society, particualrly regarding the rearing of children. But (in my experience) one doesn’t need to hit kids to assert authority over them. And one certainly doesn’t need to authorise others to do it.

Ron
Ron
15 years ago

No, I wouldn’t want the cane returned: I have too many memories of bloodied underpants and swollen fingers unable to hold a pen for days.

In all but the top private schools, sport is low on the agenda or does not exist at all. Unfortunately ‘privatised sport’ with local clubs etc., rather than schools, is too expensive for many parents in my area. I am not a ‘sporty’ person myself but I can see the value in it for teenagers.

I loved the cadets (ATC RAAF) and it was not a glorification of war. I spent weeks at training camps, rose through the ranks to Cadet Under Officer, with lifelong lessons learnt which have had great personal benefits. One of my regrets when I left school (the only one?) was having to leave cadets although I did join the CMF for six years (I had no choice because I didn’t want to go to Vietnam) and the RAAF Reserve for twenty seven years.

And I’m going to stop this reminisce before I bore the pants of everyone and I regret the overflow of personal information!

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

What a load of crap, Ron and Ken. On any objective indicator far more kids are completing school now than in the 1960s, and (critically) literacy levels have been continuously *rising* since. As I’ve noted elsewhere, functional illiteracy is overwhelmingly a problem of *older* Australians (ie those educated in earlier times).

And I never saw the cuts improve any kid, just alienate them further. What it and similar authoriatarian techniques often did was instil a fascist outlook on life – ie “might is right”. And I well remember one or two genuinely sadistic teachers for whom “education” was about hitting people who were not in a position to fight back.

Oh, and school sports left me with a lifelong hatred of contact sports. Clearly, Ron, you were not the smallest, slowest, clumsiest kid in your class. I hope you weren’t the jock who enjoyed bullying the nerds, but I fear your enjoyment of the pretend-military makes it likely that you were – my apologies if I’m wrong.

Ron
Ron
15 years ago

I wasn’t a jock, DD, actually a gay nerd, and that wasn’t a good combination. I did say above I wasn’t a sports person.

Perhaps my enjoyment of cadets came from the dressing up!

I’m not sure how you define ‘functional illiteracy’ (does it mean barely literate which describes many kids today?), DD, but as one who has interviewed and employed many school leavers over the last thirty years, I can assure you I had no trouble picking out people ‘educated’ under the NSW Wyndham scheme.

I realise it’s not fashionable for children today to be able to spell, punctuate, use grammar or read and enjoy literature but I am certainly glad, as an older Australian, that I have, at least, some proficiency in those things.

My experience with my children and their peers, in both the private and state system, is that schools work for the self-motivated kids but if they fall behind lose interest, their schooling is effectively finished because most teachers don’t care and are not interested in putting in the extra effort required.

Roy Wood
Roy Wood
15 years ago

I agree that the Martin Government has got it totally wrong. Moving students around is not the answer. Credible qualifications and a well-structured curriculum is the answer. The new middle schooling model leaves year 10 with no curriculum at all.
It is laughingly suggested they can do year 11 courses. In that case lets eliminate year 10 altogether and have them all finish one year early saving loadsamoney.

To be serious the Martin Government have gone with Ramsey’s right wing agenda because they paid a million bucks for it and will lose face if they admit it is a croc of shit.

Syd Stirling is a bully and an idiot and we will all pay for his pigheadedness.

liam
15 years ago

Uh, yeah, what Derrida Derider said. I thought that much should have been obvious to all.
And add to that the fact that today the Australian military, which presumably would be the institution doing the disciplining, requires a minimum of good passes in School Certificate Maths and English, and prefers a good year 12 qualification, even for entry.
They don’t do cannon fodder anymore.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

I think that Derrida Derider is wrong when he claims that levels of literacy have been rising. Rather, it seems to be the case that standards used for assessing literacy levels have been falling.

ENGLISH school students in Western Australia could pass their final-year exam without reading a book or being able to spell, punctuate or use correct grammar.

The new Year 12 English exam instead asks students to compare posters for the films Spider-Man 2 and Gandhi, and to analyse a piece of their own writing rather than accepted greats such as Shakespeare or George Orwell.

The sample exam for the new general English course just released for the West Australian Certificate of Education says students can draw answers and are not required to use grammatically correct sentences.

“Student responses can also be given in dot-point format, diagrams or other suitable alternatives to continuous prose,” the marking key says.

“Student responses should not be penalised for poor spelling, punctuation, grammar or handwriting, unless these are elements … specifically being assessed.”

Robert Merkel
15 years ago

Back on the merits of the policy at hand for the moment, one theoretical issue I see with the middle school concept is that gifted teachers will inevitably drift to the senior schools. If you had a choice, would you prefer to teach 17 and 18-year-olds, or 13-year-olds for whom your lessons are lost in a whirl of rampaging homones? Has this happened in states where the middle school concept has been introduced?

As to training teachers to teach the broad curriculum, I would personally have severe concerns about the quality of maths and science teaching your average English or Arts teacher could provide, particularly for the more gifted students, and particularly in mathematics. If you have a look at this Victorian curriculum for year 9 students, how do you think the typical middle-aged English teacher who’s forgotten most of his mathematics is going to go? Ken’s right that it can’t be done in a year; I suspect for much of the existing cohort of teachers it can’t be done in three or four.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Sorry, Ken, I realise my responses are not pertinent to your post, but they are pertinent to your and Ron’s comments. If those are not about the quality of modern education versus older methods, what are they about?

Evil Pundit and Ron, I invite you to take a good long browse through these tables, especially this one. You’ll find, as I said, that both illiteracy (measured on a constant scale) and abbreviated education are more prevalent amongst those educated a long time ago. Ron clearly does not test the literacy of working-class older Australians in those job interviews.

Anna Winter
Anna Winter
15 years ago

EP, I have no idea what a link to an article about changes that haven’t happened yet has to do with the current level of literacy.

Furthermore, this is about separating writing/ spelling/ grammar etc, from comprehension skills, which is why mistakes of the former variety won’t result in a reduced mark in tests of comprehension. You may not agree with the concepts

jen
jen
15 years ago

furthermore it’s really about me and every other parent in Darwin who has a child in year 6. I don’t know whether my daughter will stay at her current school or be booted out in January next year to a school that has never schooled year sevens before. 2 weeks community consultation and whammo! What the F?

observa
observa
15 years ago

Ron,
When Master O turned 15 in Sept, he told mum he didn’t have to go to school the next year and would get a job. MrsO was beside herself and wanted me to make him see sense in staying at school. ‘You tell him he’s got to go to school’ was the line. Truth is, if he didn’t want to you couldn’t make him, as he could simply muck up and they’d expel him. Mission accomplished for any 15 yr old boy.

I was having none of this schoolboy antics and daydreaming and essentially called his bluff. Unlike mum I came over all enthusiastic about him leaving school and joining the workforce just like dad. ‘Great to have you contributing like a man now son!’ I said if he was quitting school at the end of the year he could do all the chores and housework around home until he found a job. He looked aghast at that and when he started protesting I said if he didn’t like it there was the gate, because no son of mine was going to loll about home doing nothing, or on the dole or such like. At the start of the school hols I teed him up with a job with a couple of chippies on the building site and he lasted all of 2 days before he decided school wasn’t such a bad place after all. Have you any idea what an 8 hour day at work feels like to a green 15 year old? Bloody interminable!. That’s the rub really Ron. Just get him an 8 hour job anywhere (even offer an employer or tradey that you’ll pay his wages if they’ll take him for free to teach him a lesson in life) Cured MasterO and he finished Yr12, although he didn’t qualify for uni. He did get mum and I up to Guv House with Marg for a cuppa, as he got a 20/20 for Cadd and Graphics in Yr12. He’s just out of his time as an electrician now and is subbing on his own right now. It’s all up to you to take control of this sort of situation dads. It’s what we’re good at when the mums go to water.

Ron
Ron
15 years ago

That seems to be the way to go, Observa.

The boy has now been told that if he leaves school we will no longer financially support him except for essentials such as train fares for job interviews. All clothing, entertainment, mobile phone, driving lessons etc will be his responsibility.

He has now spent more time at his desk at night this week than he has since year 6. Fingers crossed.