"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now."
We never intended to raise these issues publicly, but because the Education Department failed to even interview us in their sham investigation, we reluctantly do so.
This dog was kicked so hard by students that it died shortly after this photo was taken. Animal abuse on school grounds by school students during school hours, was common. A DET executive ordered us not to discuss the issue of dogs on school grounds for cultural reasons.
‘Floyd:’ a symbol of remote education at the dawn of the 21st century. This animal endangered student safety while our concerns were ignored by DET despite making them aware of the situation in writing. Of equal concern, the animal was physically abused by students on a daily basis.
Question: "Would the serial abuse of an animal on school grounds by groups of students during school hours—punching, slapping, poking it with sticks, hitting it with stones, broken glass, clubbing it with bottles, ramming it with garbage bins--be allowed at an urban school?"
On one occasion, a student walked up to the donkey and shoved a thumbtack into its nose, slapped it and ran off. On another occasion, a student took a sharp knife, slashing the donkey’s leg resulting in considerable bleeding. A young girl from Upper Primary even grabbed the donkey’s penis using her hand which was underneath her shirt and tried to push it into its anus as several students stood around urging her on. I am not raising this issue to simply complain – I was the one who was gotten rid of and deemed to have had behavioural management issues without being told for the first 8 months, without producing any written evidence, and without a single specific example after having over a year to do so.
Dangerous amusement: during recess students attack Floyd, then race off as he chases them around school grounds. Despite pleas to remove the animal or dispense consequences for abusing it, this sad behaviour was allowed to continue. When DET failed to act, even after 'Floyd' attacked a parent on school grounds, we filed a police report ourselves. The officer was so concerned that he threatened to have the animal shot. DET will now tell you that they have developed a new animal control policy at schools. Great – so if DET is now serious about this, why were our pleas ignored until we were forced to finally do something before someone was killed? As teachers, student safety is our number one priority – not to mention the welfare of this poor animal.
Above – student races off after stabbing Floyd with a sharp stick.
An unhygienic, everyday occurrence: dogs stand in the water troughs, licking and on at least one occasion, defecating in the bubblers.
Below: A common sight -- students exposed to a sexually aroused ‘Floyd’ at school. On one occasion, Floyd was sexually abused by a young female student as a group of students urged her on.
Alekarange School Resource room in week 3. Need I say more?
Students dig holes under the school foundation crawl space and hide from teachers – a concern given that asbestos is buried under the soil.
Upper Primary students climbing on the roof of a building adjacent to the school. Climbing on the school roof was an ongoing concern.
They don't show you this on the Teaching in the Territory website.
Is this a one-off or are conditions like these common in NT remote schools? THe NT Education Department clearly does not care about remote schools - just look at the education centre below. A picture tells a thousand words. Below is a photo of one NT Homelands school as provided by Helen Hughes.
Former principals George and Robyn Hewittson took this photo of a Homeland Learning Centre and observe that the Homeland Centre Wikipedia entry for Northern Territory HLCs is blocked on the NT DET intranet site. It simply says: "blocked deemed to be of no educational value." This picture - and DET's censorship of the site, speaks volumes.
Teaching in the TerritoryTeaching jobs in the Northern TerritoryTeach in the Territory
"Teaching jobs in the Northern Territory - Think Twice!"
Again, we had no intention of making this public, but because DET conducted a pretend investigation and refused to even interview us or see our evidence, we reluctantly present it now.
If a student showed up for a few minutes and left, they were counted as being there half a day; if a student stayed until the 10:30 recess and left, it was counted as a full day. Teaching to an urban standard was impossible as students could and would get up and leave the classroom at any time, for hours at a time, only to return later or not at all. There was rarely any consequence for students who just got up and left without permission. When I respectfully complained to DET about students up and leaving, I was told there must be something wrong with my presentation skills! At each of the seven previous schools I have taught at, I never had a problem with students leaving. They left because they were allowed to. Is it any mystery why literacy rates are low?
Indigenous students going to the toilet had to ask for and be given a roll of toilet paper. Given that hepatitis is a health issue in Ali-Curung, this was an unhealthy practice. My written objection to this practice was ignored.
Without a doubt, the school's siren was excessive by any standard and would cause hearing loss and immediate physical pain to lower primary students when it went off each day to mark the changing of classes. Every day when recess periods were about to end, I would try to reach the caged area and warn students that the siren was about to go off so plug you ears. As I noted in the Minutes of the School Staff meeting of 18 February, a “solution needs to be found to the school siren in the immediate future. The decibel level is too loud and damaging to hearing, even at short bursts.” DET will now tell you that they have disabled the siren. Great. So why was this allowed to continue long after we complained to DET?
Preschool-Transition-Early Childhood play area. The ‘air raid’ siren was located about three meters from is cage. It was not until after filing a complaint with the Ombudsman that the siren has finally been disconnected.
Shared Responsibility Agreement: School Obligations Not Met
During Term One 2008, the Alekarenge School was not making a serious effort to live up to its part of the Ali-Curung Shared Responsibility Agreement. According to this agreement which was signed on 15 May 2007, under Community Priority #3, it states: “Improve school attendance and engage post primary students.” Towards this end, it was agreed that:
“Families will commit to children being enrolled in school and attending each and every day for the entire length of the school day” (SRA, 2007, p. 15).
My remark: DET did not support this and undermined it by condoning fraudulent attendance-keeping. That is, if a student showed up for a few minutes and left, they were counted as being there half a day; if a student stayed until the 10:30 recess and left, it was counted as a full day.
The Community will: “provide end of term rewards for children who attend school regularly.”
My remark: as you had some students attending for half an hour in total and being marked as having attended for a full day, such a system is destined to create resentment by those students who attend regularly for most or all of the school day.
A major performance indicator as to whether the SRA is working will be a “Percentage increase of student attendance” using a baseline of 60% and as determined by a “Project Officer assisted by School Principal” (SRA, 2007, p. 15) to be done on a quarterly basis.
My remark: this is flawed because the attendance was inflated.
“Individuals will volunteer their time to assist with cultural/traditional learning” (SRA, 2007, p. 15).
My remark: I placed signs at the shop and the Council office asking for residents to come to my class and share their knowledge/traditional stories. Most refused noting that behaviour management was out of control at the school. When I asked the community’s penultimate Elder Mr Joe Bird to address my class, he declined, saying that when he had come to school the previous term, the students were disrespectful and he could not effectively teach. Sadly, I could not reassure Mr Bird that this would not recur given the behavioural management crisis at the school. DET will now tell you that there is no longer a behavioural management crisis at the school because they implemented a new behavioural management program. That program was implemented at my insistence after our written pleas were ignored by the Education Department. We applaud our Group Principal, Peter jenkins, for doing this.
In 2008, the Centre for Appropriate Technology conducted a detailed review of the Ali-Curung SRA. Among the recommendations:
“The SRA stakeholders, particularly those signatory departments, need to immediately address the actions under health, school attendance and post primary engagement priorities of the SRA” (Wright and Elvin, 2008, p. 7).
My remarks: As a teacher with a duty of care for the health and safety of Alekarenge students, and a responsibility to serve as role models for honesty in the community, these are the very issues that I attempted to address but was not supported by DET. These were serious and potentially life-threatening issues (e.g., asbestos exposure without timely and adequate answers; dishonest attendance-keeping, etc.).
Another serious criticism by the review:
“Moreover, indicators have only been identified on the demand or community side obligations but there are no opportunities to evaluate the government obligations" (Wright and Elvin, 2008, p. 35).
My remark: Indeed. When I tried to make the school accountable for maintaining something as basic as accurate attendance, and health and safety, my concerns were ignored. This includes:
- a timely, accurate assessment of the asbestos risk to students and staff and being kept informed;
- a timely response to illness threats from dogs licking the bubblers and urinating/defecating;
- removal of a dangerous animal threatening student and staff safety (e.g., the donkey);
- putting a stop to serial animal abuse on school grounds such as striking dogs and throwing them off the school roof;
- violence and bullying of teachers and students on school grounds.
Chief Minister Paul Henderson and former Education Minister Marion Scrymgour have been critical of Indigenous parents/guardians in remote communities for not being vigilant in sending their children to school. But in this instance, it was the school system which was not living up to the agreement they signed. In the past Marion Scrymgour has deflected criticism of problems at individual remote schools by claiming it was an isolated instance. In this instance, there is no defence: we contacted top DET administrators, the CEO and the Education Minister about our health, safety and blacklisting concerns. They failed to properly look onto our claims, and in the case of Marion Scrymgour, she refused to even meet with us. What stands out is that when responsible teachers tried to enforce basic duty of care obligations – in a quiet, professional manner – we were not only ignored, there was a systematic effort by the NT Education Department to expunge us from the system without our knowledge (See 'Blacklisted').