Dirty Data!

Well I’m now officially retired as a school principal – no really! I’m sleeping well, planning holidays and of course playing more golf. But what about my mind – it’s not ready to give up as an educator.

So I’m now consulting with schools, employed by a university to mentor trainee teachers and training to become a school reviewer.

It’s in the consulting role and supporting school communities to use evidence (data) to adjust instruction that I came across this comedy clip on dirty data. It sums up some early fears about personal and school reputations when we look at data in open ways.

Have a laugh

Posted in Assessment, school, Teaching, Uncategorized, Video Clips | Leave a comment

Songs can hold our memories!

Certain songs or voices can bring many memories flooding back to us.

It’s 1970 and the happy and even melancholic memories flood back to me when I hear Simon and Garfunkel sing their classics. Its been over 45 years since they split over “professional differences about a film” so their songs now have a haunting feel about them.

Their classic album “Bridge over troubled water” was an early record in my collection for it seemed to sum up some troubled times in the world back then (the assignations of JFK and Martin Luther King and the Vietnam war come straight to mind).

Personally I was turning 17 at the time and about to start my Matriculation having just left the Christian Brothers training college in Bundoora. I turned 18, Gough Whitlam got voted in and abolished conscripting young men into the army and Vietnam. I went off to university and lived off campus with some mates and we would often sing some of Paul Simon’s lyrics late at night when the mood was low.

Have a listen and see what memories come to your mind (if you’re of a similar age). If not what songs bring back your memories?


Posted in Community, history, politics, Video Clips | Leave a comment

Are you Humpty Dumpty waiting for a fall?

Quite often Principal’s can feel like Humpty Dumpty “just waiting for the fall”.

When you think of how many “clients” you serve (students, their parents and then the wider community) even a middle size school of 500 would add up to over 1,000 clients (including staff if you define a client as a person using the organisation). This number of clients makes it difficult at times to keep everyone moving in tune with the organisation’s goals.

Then, in Victoria at least, there are two reporting and accountability bodies for Principals, your employer (Department of Education and Training if you’re in the State Education System) and your local school board or council. It would be fair to say that these two bodies don’t always align in goals or actions so the principal as the CEO to the board and senior government officer is usually on the tightrope where its easy to fall.

Having over 20 years experience as a Principal I can say I had a few falls most of which can be bandaged with the help of colleagues, family and friends.

However when you are dealing with parents greatest hopes and deepest fears (their children) (or at times staff) it’s usually an emotionally charged decision and the damage from a fall can scar.


  • not being able to account for a child’s whereabouts when you are telephoned by the parent around 5.00 pm and the class roll hasn’t been marked after an excursion to the city,
  • or, picture a child wielding a knife or out of control in the classroom and the class teacher who is pinned near the blackboard needs your help to exit the child,
  • or, a child isn’t picked up from after school care and you have to ring the community police to arrange accommodation,
  • or, taking a parent to court (for a restraining order) for stalking you and your family,
  • or, confronting an angry parent in the school yard who has just abused the duty teacher and wants to get aggressive when you tell him the police are on the way,
  • or, you get rung up at night to be informed that one of your teachers has been attacked by her husband who later shot himself.

These incidents all happened (and more) and perhaps surprisingly they are not the incidents that cause the falls with the lasting scars. Stress Yes! A few sleepless nights and the odd bottle of wine – to be sure. These incidents are not covered in pre principalship training manuals, how could they be for yours will be different to mine but of one thing you can be certain of – they will happen.

So what incidents do cause falls that scar – well it’s generally those around specific emotions – or the capacity not to show emotions.

Let me deal with the second issue (that of not showing emotions). Despite “doing” the increasingly expected day-to-day management / leadership stuff of schools it’s having to hide one’s emotions when dealing with conflicts and quarrels that really tests us as humans beings. I can often recall going home to break open a scotch and yell “I’m mad as hell” at that but on the surface at school appear calm. The appearance of calmness generally settles the emotional tides at school. Then at night (too busy during the day) we process how to discuss that incident with the person or persons involved using facts gathered (yes its one of those tossing and turning sleepless nights again).

PS on this point: After having reading Dr Phil Riley’s latest report on Principal health and well-being I’m going to offer in my new consultancy a no agenda meeting (a key recommendation of Phil’s) for Principal’s where they can blow off the steam (in confidence) to an experienced and retired principal before or upon reaching home. More about that later on my business site: learning inquiries.com.au

Side fact: it has taken me almost 12 months since I retired to relearn how to sleep well again at night!

For me it was “betrayal” the silent, behind one’s back, sometimes publicly confronting acts and words that caused my greatest scar. Not that I could name this emotion then, you see we were doing the business of schooling at the time and also working on not showing emotions.

After much reflection I’m now writing a paper on this “betrayal” as I think others may identify with some or all of the surrounding details and hopefully learn to name key elements before it happens to them.

What I am interested in is starting discussions with school leaders on incidents that cause stress or falls or even scars in the hope that through sharing principals can get support. If you are interested send me an email (mark@learninginquiries.com.au)

Posted in coaching, Leadership, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

features of a wise leader

I was recently going through my email and found this from a close Scottish colleague.


  1. Holds unshakeable values which define their being;
  1. Translates their ‘way of thinking’ into the ‘way they do things’;
  1. Has moved beyond acquiring knowledge to ‘letting go’ of knowledge;
  1. Combines a vision of the future with a knowledge of the past;
  1. Understands and values their own human frailties;
  1. Sees the world with a ‘profound simplicity’;
  1. Travels without the burden of having to prove their wisdom;
  1. Balances issues towards the ‘common good’;
  1. Sees layers of connections when others see discrete issues;
  2. Engages their mind in union with their humanity.

This got me to reflecting on my own leadership past and future. For me its the connections between unshakeable values, valuing ones frailties and engaging mind with humanity that are most tested in times of great challenge.

I recall a meeting I had where I felt I had to challenge staff about believing our youth (in this case it was one class of youth). Some spoke about feeling afraid in the yard with them which was the antithesis of my experiences with these young people. I believe, in reflection, some of the staff were really afraid of what these young people might say about how they were felt they were being perceived, treated or mistreated, believed or not believed or ignored or listened to by some adults (teachers) in the organisation.

Some of these challenges were ultimately I believe exposing my leadership underbelly, so to speak, for I, the youth and the organisation needed staff belief in the hope our youth show and their active loyalty which for some proved too much.

With wisdom perhaps comes risk and a preparedness to experience hurt which is to be human.

I wonder how other people reflect on this list and their experiences?

Posted in Leadership, reflections, school | Leave a comment

Student Reports: a case for change

This is a copy of a post I wrote on my company’s website

Well its November again and on the school calendar for teachers all over Australia is the preparation of the end of year student reports. Schools become stress centres for teachers.

I’m wanting to build a case for change to student reports as I’m not sure the hours teachers spend on reports and some of the hidden consequences are worth the information parents receive or think they receive.

Firstly the case based on hours:

According to a recent newspaper column teachers work around 53 hrs per week (about 22 contact hrs). This union claim from my experience becomes a certainty around student reporting time. Those hours are usually spread over 4 1/2 days during the working week and a long session one day over the weekend. Besides the student contact hours teachers are generally expected to attend 2 meetings per week (3-5 hrs), yard supervision (1 hr), extra curricula activities like sports, music and camps averaged over a week (2-3 hrs), parent meetings – not counting school councils (1-2 hrs) and finally classroom preparation and correction time varies (15-18 hrs). While these hours don’t always add up to 53 per week they do when you add student reports.

Primary teachers on average suggest it takes between 2-4 hrs per student report. If you have an average class size of 25 then it’s between 50 and 100 hrs over a 3 week block. The only way this task can be completed is if the class preparation and extra curricula activities are heavily reduced or indeed cut out while these reports are completed. I sometimes wonder if parents really understand the cost of this minimal classroom preparation and assessment period. I did when I saw some text-book, duplicated sheet work start to appear in classrooms instead of small group interventions and conferences where student feedback was at its best but hey who sees this cost.

Then there’s the case about the real parent information.

The student reports in their current format usually consist of a grading or mark (A-E) and some summative comments. The student mark is usually averaged over several smaller assessments with the teacher making a professional judgement. I think Dylan Wiliam says it better than me on the value or otherwise of marks:

On the topic of communicating student achievement, the academic said ‘we’ve actually basically lied to parents that the information we’re giving them is useful and meaningful … these grades that we give to students, really don’t tell parents anything at all’.

He recalled a conversation with one parent during his time as a mathematics teacher in London. ‘He was pushing me to tell him what “position” his child was in the class – his “rank” in the class. I resisted and resisted, and eventually I gave in and I said “okay, he’s in the top three, but it’s the worst class I’ve ever taught. So, now what do you think you know?”

‘The point is, that parents think As and Bs and Cs and Ds are meaningful, but what we should be asking the parents is: “Now, what do you think you know about your child now that I’ve told you he’s got an A?” And the answer is “nothing”, so I think there’s been a bit of dishonesty here, because we’ve pretended to parents that these grades are meaningful, and they’re really not.’

Teacher Magazine

I read with interest that one school Nossal High School (at least) has done away with marks or grades on student reports.

So now we are left with the summative comments. I suppose it doesn’t surprise many that most report systems have large comment banks which the teachers select from to describe student performance. Some of the comments in the bank just describe the tasks without analysing the performance. Parents are often over heard to say does the teacher really know my child.

Then there’s the teacher self-image here as well. Teachers want parents to think they have worked hard with their child so if they fill the page or section with comments to provide that impression. Despite word limits or section limits in the computerised reports I still struggled with teachers padding reports to give this impression.

So what’s the change?

I tried to flip the assessment periods in a school so that it was used to discover the next steps in learning for a child. The teacher, usually within a team, then developed the key goals for the next 5 months. These learning goals were shared with the student so it was transparent. Often these discussions were confirmations as the child shook their head and said “yer I know I don’t understand or can’t do that so that’s good”, sometimes the student even added to the goals with “can I then learn this then”.

These goals were shared with parents at interviews and on paper. Then for the next 5 months the teacher developed appropriate tasks and provided students with specific feedback on the learning intentions. Students in turn then asked many more questions.

Reports then were a summary of progress towards those specific goals – if achieved then celebrated with new goals to be set soon afterwards.

This then became transparent and meaningful for all. The cycle was then repeated for the second semester.

Now there were lost of twists and turns, challenges and setbacks in this change and it was a solution in progress. But for most it was an improvement and it took less teacher time to prepare so there were winners there as well.

If your interested to know more please contact me for a discussion.

Posted in Accountability, Assessment | 1 Comment

Resources by themselves are not sufficient to improve language learning in Victorian or for that matter Australian schools?

Once again students learning another language hits the newspaper headlines:

Interestingly it hits the headlines in the only state in Australia (Victoria) that mandates languages be taught in schools despite it being in the Australian curriculum.

So what’s the issue: insufficient teaching time per week which limits the effectiveness of language programs. There is no surprise there. The real question is why?

The answer I think is complex:

  • Purpose: what’s the purpose of learning another language when for most students they don’t speak it at home – therefore it must have future prospects? Well sure that’s obvious you say – so for Victorian and I dare suggest Australian students who live close to Asian countries that dominate our trade and economic interests which language?


It seems that’s happening in Victoria with traditional European languages now in the minority in Victorian primary schools although I would suggest it would be a different picture in lots of secondary schools that have stable workforces where its difficult to change language teachers.

At Elsternwick PS (EPS), my former school, the community choose Mandarin because of our countries closeness to Asia.

So what are the reasons

  • Competition : There is continuing competition for curriculum time with our crowded curriculum.  However I would suggest we can achieve the cultural aspects of learning another language when we integrate subjects with an Asia perspective. Again we did this to some extent at EPS with our inquiry focused units of learning that had historical or a technological or a civics streams but not to the recommended level (150 minutes a week). The graph below shows the average time in primary schools, which is somewhere around 58 minutes per week – short be 90 odd minutes. So why again?

language graphWell one of the obvious points is a shortage of government funding. There is a nominal amount set aside in Victorian locally managed public schools for language education and for EPS (a school of about 650 students with 26 classes) this was about $120,000 which is the equivalent of 1.2 experienced teachers with some teaching resources. This level of staff (1.2) equates to about one 60 minute language lesson per class with a few whole school cultural events across the year. So either additional government funding is needed to achieve this goal (another $150,000 in EPS’s case), or the school must reallocate funding from other programs or a combination of both.

Schools reallocating funds usually comes in one from three different decisions

  • increase student numbers in classes thereby reducing the number of classes
  • reduce the number of intervention teachers for students not reaching benchmarks in English and Mathematics
  • reduce the number of senior staff or administration officers for a self managing school thereby decreasing student and parent support services (e.g. cut parent newsletters, reduce parent meetings, online payments only, cut student well-being programs)

I can assure you none of these decisions would have been popular or in some cases beneficial to students needing additional support.

Well, as Principal of EPS, I was able to accumulate government money over several years by managing a changing workforce whilst still providing all of the above (low-class numbers, intervention teachers for Reading and Mathematics and student and parent services) but still didn’t manage to increase language time?

This leads me to a third point I felt we need to change a perceived mindset before could increase time spent learning a language :

  • A monolingual mindset: It’s been suggested by researchers from ACER that there is a perceived global dominance of English. When people immigrated to Australia over the last 100 years its expected that they speak and conduct their affairs in English and that a second language was really a choice people made – be it their native language or one they seek to learn because of self-interest. This idea of choice in many ways devalued the languages program a point many students were sensitive about. Language programs became a second tier subject “nice to do for while” but not at the same value of English, the global language.

I believe in reflection it was this mindset that I struck as principal when I tried to establish an immediate purpose for learning a language via student and teacher relationships with a sister school. In brief when you have ongoing dialogue with people in another country on shared curriculum projects of significance then learning a language becomes a necessity if we are to mutually achieve our shared goals. There is a whole process here of establishing a sister school and building relationships over time that build cultural understanding which I’m happy to share if there is some interest but the point I’m making here is that resources by themselves won’t change the time we spend learning a language in schools.

We had the Asian language (Mandarin), a growing purpose with sister school relationships, an emerging shared curriculum, students and teachers wanting to be immersed in in-country experiences and the resources to make some of that happen and the potential to increase the time spent learning a language but unless we are intentional about changing mindsets then the things as they are will continue for many years to come.


Posted in Assessment, China, Chinese Language, curriculum, Sister School | 1 Comment

Why become a teacher? part two – my story

Some people can pinpoint a single incident or person that answers this question – for me I need to tell a story as I came to my moral purpose quite late.

I went as a young 5-year-old to Corpus Christi, a Catholic Primary School in Glenroy, from 1960 to 1966. Glenroy in those days was changing from earlier days where fairly wealthy people built large homesteads to an expanding and fairly tough neighbourhood. My father built our house in the late 1950’s at the same time the Housing Commission of Victoria developed large areas of Glenroy North (about 1,700 housing commission homes for disadvantaged families). One resident of the housing commission homes in that era Leo Wilson wrote about some of the tough times back then when mums had to knit school jumpers and boys only had one pair of shoes that dads fixed on a Sunday afternoon.

Leo recalled the milkman delivering milk in his horse and cart – one of my brothers when he was 12 or so years old got a job helping deliver milk from the local dairy early in the morning.

I recall being called a “Mick”, which was a term used to slur Catholics, by the kids from the local state school just before you were punched in the guts. This happen regularly and I got to be a good runner in those days yelling “proddy dogs” back to them (a slur term for Protestants). The golden rule was never to caught walking home alone.

It wasn’t all bad for on holidays we would all build billy carts in our court and spend weeks racing and modifying them (the ball bearing wheels made a sound as you pushed quite fast along the concrete paths).

Friday afternoon’s at school were enjoyable particularly if you made the school football side. We proudly wore our red and yellow footy jumpers for the afternoon (we were like peacocks strutting around the school yard many years before John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) and were coached by the parish priest Fr Poulsen.

Many years later in one of my university post-graduate courses I was challenged to reflect on my morale purpose. It was then that I recalled some of my woundings during my primary years.

I was made to read a reader (I know an oxymoron) in year one titled John and Betty by the nun that taught our grade. We were all scared of this nun for if we left out a word from the text or worse still couldn’t sound it out we were smacked on our hands. It was known years afterwards as the “smack and say” method of instruction. This seemed at odds with me for I enjoyed reading in bed (not “See John jump” text).

However it was two experiences in grade 6 that really stood out:

There were about 50 of us in my year 6 class with the desks in rows crammed from the back wall up to the platform where the teacher sat. We all faced the blackboard which usually contained the days work written out by Mrs Hassett, our teacher. Relief from this rigid learning was in the school yard or so I thought! It was during one lunch time where a bully named Shane stole my footy. Feeling somewhat scared of him I still gave chase. I did say I was fast – well I caught up to him only to be punched a few times with students yelling fight. The nun on yard duty dragged us both up to the principal to be strapped on the hand. I also had my prefect badge removed and felt angry at the injustice as he continued to snigger at me for weeks afterwards. He seemed quite accustomed to being strapped but I wasn’t and the pain never quite left me.

Corporal punishment was not banned in Victorian government schools for another 30 years as I was sadly to learn as a young teacher.

This incident was quickly followed by another far worse wounding of the heart. I had taken the year 7 entrance exam to gain entry to my father’s old school, Parade. The results were delivered to the school and the year 6 teacher stood at the front of the class and announced that I had failed to gain entry and I felt humiliated. Not content with that she soon afterwards walked down the narrow aisle between the rows of desks and stopped in front of me and pronounced that I really shouldn’t bother to sit any more entrance exams as I wasn’t smart enough and would only disappoint my parents even further. I remember hiding for hours after school too humiliated to tell my parents that I hadn’t got in.

Well I ended up going on to St Josephs in Pascoe Vale and in the hustle and bustle shelved those memories for many years.

It seemed to me as a young and then experienced teacher and later principal that we should learn to listen and understand one another forming trustworthy relationships and that our emotions played a significant role in learning. Yes there were some times I kept students in at lunch to complete their work (I thought that a natural consequence of not working hard enough during learning time) but I was never tempted to hurt someone to achieve my and much later I was to understand “our” goals. My imperatives were to have students as partners in learning, to use our emotional intelligence in forming trusting relationships and become assessment literate so that learning was an informed process not a judgemental one.

I never forgot the pleasures of “play time in the school yard” and still kick the footy with the kids in the yard.

I think the ideas of restorative justice / relational learning came easily to me rather than the crime and punishment dichotomy and similarly DataWise which uses the power of data to inform both teaching and learning.

The more I hear these stories the more I find the answers to this question quite personal yet strangely similar.

Posted in reflections, school, teacher efficacy, Teaching | 2 Comments

Why aren’t us parents seeing any benefit in smaller class sizes?

I have just responded to this post by a parent:

As a parent, the Bloomfield Public School system has sold smaller class sizes as part of their narrative. The experience of my two children has been a DECREASE in group interaction and all of the other good things that should be occurring in a classroom. Individual interaction is also on the decline.

Am I alone in this suboptimal experience?

As a Principal I was “sold” by teachers that smaller classes would achieve better results – reducing in the K-2 classes was also supported financially by the state. By reducing we mean K-2 classes from 25 to 19-20 and senior classes (3-6) from 29 wish to 25. This took a lot of resources (e.g. no special ed teacher, reducing other interventions for targeted small group support (2-4), reducing several budgets e.g. in external professional learning) and over a 5 year period didn’t produce significant academic improvements.

So I redirected some of these resources away from 2-6 grades into targeted instructional improvements that the data suggested we needed to make (e.g. spelling). The resources (increased professional learning, in class coaching provided, more teaching  resources and a new spelling program – Words their Way). Results went up both initially and over time. We measured both overall scores and students and group growth rates against state growth rates.

However to note that this wasn’t the only intervention occurring at that time (e.g. restorative practices to improve the relationships between teachers and students and students and students, targeted small group interventions in reading in year 1 and 2, professional learning in using data more formatively to adjust instruction and curriculum were just some of the other interventions). I really liked Elmore’s thinking that you need to change all 3 things (relationships, curriculum and instruction) at the same time to have an effect.

Parents saw results but I didn’t manage some of their expectations too well (e.g. why can’t you do this across all disciplines at the same time and tomorrow) but that’s another story.

PS in the spirit of being balanced I have also provided these links which explores the effect or otherwise of class size:

Class Size and Student Achievement: Research Review.

Class size

Hattie and Class Size

Posted in Instruction, Instructional Rounds, Leadership, parenting, professional learning, school structures, Teaching | 6 Comments

Why are you a teacher?

Ever had that questions posed to you?

I have and its often followed by the popular quip: “because of the holidays?”

What do the numbers say?

numbers 1

More often then not it’s the story behind the numbers or data that inspires me and I read such a story recently:

We were truly disadvantaged.

Despite this, our mum was determined to make sure that our situation would not be something that followed my brother and I throughout our lives and she saw our education as a key component of escaping the cycle of disadvantage.

On 11 July 2008, just after my Year 12 half-yearly exams, Mum suddenly passed away after an accident at home. The attitude that she had instilled in me and the resilience and skills that went alongside it immediately became more crucial than she ever could have imagined. We had to find a way to survive and I had to try and complete my Year 12 studies.

I know for a fact that the teachers at my school were deeply concerned about how I would cope for the remainder of the year, as many people were, myself included. It could have been all too easy for those teachers to lower their expectations of me. All too easy to preface every statement, grade or piece of feedback with: “He’s doing so well, considering…”. All too easy to say: “At least you tried”. But those teachers, they didn’t.

They gave me the extra support that I needed, but they never stopped pushing me, they never stopped expecting me to achieve like I had before. Their continued belief in my ability to overcome my challenges was crucial in making that achievement a reality.

High expectations from my teachers gave me the self-belief that I could do something great — not just considering my situation, but in absolute terms. They inspired me and they set me on the path out of disadvantage, to university, to work in scientific research and into the classroom.

The work those teachers did to support me during that incredibly stressful and turbulent time has had a lasting impact on my philosophy of teaching and how I carry myself within my school. They were caring and giving. They went beyond what was required and they were inspiring.

The whole story is worth reading on the Huffington Post.

I’m interested to read other people’s stories if they would care to share theirs. I’m busy working on mine now.

Posted in teacher efficacy, Teaching | 8 Comments

You start a round trying to perfect your swing and end up thinking about leadership – how does that happen?

There are times when you are blinded by a parallel scenario as I was recently playing golf.

I had played badly the previous round and wasn’t overly confident as I started on my first hole. The ball just didn’t seem to be going as far as I normally hit it. The round progressed pretty much the same way until the last hole when the ball finally split open. You see there had been a crack in the middle of the ball for some time (two rounds) and I just couldn’t see it till the very end when it split open. I had spent the best part of two rounds fiddling around with my swing technique believing it was me that was the cause of the problem not the ball. I had never had a golf ball split on me before.


Well whats the parallel I hear you say – well when the club’s golf professional Simon explained that the ball cracks from the inside and the driver cannot see the damage till it finally split I thought of leadership crack

I wondered if many leaders had experienced similar cracks in their organisation and not seen them till they exploded. You see leaders are all busy with the busyness of leadership (I wrote about the conspiracy of busyness in a earlier post) and yes some of us routinely ask for feedback and try an enact improvements – BUT – what if the core is cracked (e.g. disbelief in the values and strategic directions of the school) and no amount of swing or leadership behaviour technique alterations would make a difference?

Yes I know this is a simply analogue not to be overdone for in golf you simply change the ball. It’s not that simple in organisations – or is it?

I think the point I’m trying to make is that we must often confirm that the core beliefs and plans are being driven by our key people and if not listen and then offer feedback but always be ready to challenge and change (the ball) or in organisations (key people) if we continue not getting the effects we want or need.

Posted in Leadership, school, Teaching, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Politics aside we need some truths to accept the challenges we face as a nation. That’s the election message we are sending!

ballot box

Well its election time here in Australia and we may have a tie. I don’t normally stray into politics but the situation calls for some commentary.

For my overseas readers we have 3 levels of government (Federal, States and local councils). Federal elections, which cover all of Australia are important for a number of reasons primarily as they most directly affect the economy, the environment, government services (although this is a shared responsibility between the federal and state governments in say education and health), trade agreements and a few other services and areas.

We have two major parties across Australia: a Liberal/National Coalition established around 1944 which is generally seen as right of centre and a Labour Party, which is the oldest party and seen and to be left of centre. Over the years we have seen some smaller parties come and go with the Greens now seen as a third-party. We also have the rise of the independent representatives which I believe is a growing phenomenon across the globe.

I watched my regular talk shown on our ABC television called Q&A where politicians and other commentators answered the public’s questions naturally enough on the unknown election results. There were lots of claims made as usual and I thought a quick fact check and comment worth noting.

Before I do there are many calls being made for our Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull to resign as the results of the election, whatever they are, are disappointing for the current Liberal/National Coalition Government. Calls are being made by his own parties far right conservative faction and their public commentators like Andrew Bolt much to the excitement of those with a left viewpoint. Well whatever the result I don’t agree with that call for in my view those far right conservatives in many ways tied Turnbull’s hands together with the public viewing his back-downs on earlier views poorly.

However to some points raised:


  • the economy is in deficit (true – $37 billion in 2016) and this is bad. Well that’s a viewpoint not shared by reliable independent sources but what is agreed is that if we let this continue and grow it will be bad. I think bad is defined as living beyond our current means and leaving a sizeable debt for future generations to pay off that will affect their quality of life.
  • Our net debt ($326 billion), which is lower than many of the worlds leading economies, can be reduced by successive budget surpluses (differing promises made by both major parties). Many people, including myself, doubt the effectiveness of these promises.
  • The major sources of annual government income ($411 billion) are from tax e.g. personal income tax ($216 billion) and company tax (68 billion).
  • The major sources of annual expenditure ($450 billion) include in order: pensions ($61 million), medicare ($45 million), family tax benefits ($22 million), public hospitals ($20 million), disabilities income support ($18 million) and a host of other services around $10 million including residential care, pharmaceutical benefits, non-government schools.
  • Source: Treasury Pre-election Forecasts 

Firstly as a voting Australian I like to be told the some simple facts (apparently this is hard although not so as I found out above) and not facts influenced by party values and beliefs. There are two ways to improve the budget deficit improve revenue and decrease expenditure and its usually a combination of both that political parties use to achieve their goals (e.g.reduce government debt.).

Revenue is expected to increase (2.5%) but that’s not enough so we have to cut some expenditure and here is where the hurt is and there’s little believable narrative from either side that’s balanced enough to believe. No-one wants to be hurt by cuts but I would like to think if its shared around a little its more palatable.

The voting Australian public, if told the simple facts (some are presented above) I think would accept a combination of fair and just strategies to make a declining budget deficit and pay back our debt over time.

Here are some of my thoughts based on the current suite of policies:

  • tax cuts to small business only (up to 5% as they are the major employer across Australia – 46% of employment in the private sector or 4.6 million according to Treasury ) however lets define small business (currently it’s under $2 million turnover). In effect that’s a saving of approximately $50,000 a year on a $2 million dollar business which I dare say will keep some in business and allow other businesses to perhaps expand a little – not quite employ a full-time person. I say stay in business firstly for those small companies with no employees (61% of companies) are the ones most likely to fold. Of the companies that had employees 28% had 1-4, 9% had 5-19, 2% had 20-199, and less than 1% had 200 or more. The L/C government wants small businesses defined as under $10 million as I gather that’s where the 37% of companies that have employees are situated. These tax cuts over time will also include their capital infrastructure which boosts productivity and hopefully wages. No problems here and I would suggest no problems with most voters however its the all or large businesses tax cuts that most people object to (the 3% of companies) as it won’t stop the large multi-nationals shifting their profits to overseas places with lower tax rates. I think the profit-sharing argument for tax cuts to big business is not yet proven to the voter or sustainable in our economy.
  • Increase some taxes (e.g. tobacco, super over $250,000) and improve tax avoidance as proposed by both parties.
  • the labour proposal of changing negative gearing bears some consideration. I’m informed over 2/3’s of the people who do this earn around $80,000 annually (I know one) and I gather this is their superannuation at work. However the 1/3 of people (I know a few) must own considerable property and there comes a point where one must ask whether our economy can continue this tax advantage for them. Tax incentives to invest in new property is a compromise I think. This is a big item.



I was always going to comment on this one. As I understand it “Gonski” was affordable until a Labour Prime Minister said no school would be worse off. This promise made it difficult to fund “Gonski” but was politically more acceptable.

We have a real issue in the under performance of many lower socio-economic communities (some independent schools are located in these communities particularly the low-cost Catholic schools) and this is an economic as well as a social justice issue. We cannot afford as a community to continue to have large sections of our community under perform at school and lower their life opportunities (employment) which often leads to increased healthcare costs as well. If we are to cut government services costs over time we must address some of the core divers and this is the biggest.

The answers on what to spend the additional school revenue on I think are clear: improving teacher effect (both social and academic outcomes) class by class is the biggie and reducing the effects of disadvantage. A simply example of this is to give a wider range of experiences and relationships for students in lower socio-economic communities in a bid to improve their limited vocabulary development and improve self-esteem and resilience. Simply put learning is both exciting and frustrating at the same time and requires real perseverance to be successful. That’s hard for some students who have a closed mindset where feedback/failure/error is not welcomed or acted upon.

One of the issues schools in all sectors face particularly those in well off communities is the ever-increasing expectations placed on schools by parents and this includes the best of the best facilities some of our schools seem to need. Taxpayers as well as parents are paying for these expectations and we need to reign in these expectations and costs for all concerned. Maybe then we can afford to spread the tax dollar a little further and cut educational disadvantage, one of the main drivers for people to improve. That’s a hurt for some as I said earlier.

This seems to be a rant but what I am saying tell us some facts and how your policies address these facts and not slogans and then we might not get hung parliaments which are really in no-ones best interests.


Posted in Community, Leadership, politics, Teaching, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Don’t take yourself too seriously!

Each year the students set the school leadership a dare challenge if they raised significant funds for the school in the annual walkathon. I was reminded of this when I stumbled on the photo of one challenge they set me – to dress up as Katie Perry and sing her song fireworks at assembly.


Well they raised the funds and I sang the song – needless to say the kids loved it – some called me Katie for years afterwards.

Message: Don’t take yourself that seriously that you cannot have fun (at your own expense) – it endears you in the students eyes for years to come.

Posted in Leadership, school, school administration | 16 Comments

Choosing Schools


Parents choosing schools based on the ‘vibe’ and community rather than test scores and fancy facilities

This newspaper article attracted my attention over the weekend as it resonated with my experience as both a parent and school leader.

In my last school as principal I conducted at least 150 sixty minute group tours for parents interested in enrolling their children. Groups ranged in size from 2 to 40 parents with an average size of about 12 parents. This means that at least 2,000 parents spoke to me over the years about choosing schools. This number of parents provides me with some perspective on what they are looking for when choosing a school.

Typically questions asked on school tour included:

  • school numbers, average class size and number of composite classes
  • best things about the school and what we were trying to improve on
  • teachers: retention, quality, number of new graduates (professional learning)
  • point of difference between schools
  • parent and community involvement
  • size of schools grounds and where children played
  • child safety (includes bullying)
  • homework
  • computers
  • curriculum depending upon what was hitting the newspapers at the time: e.g. do we teach phonics, times tables etc…
  • what are the extra curricula activities offered
  • child readiness to start school

Rarely was I asked about academic standards or school fees (being a public school we didn’t charge much (e.g. books, excursions, camps, sports, computer lease) and depending upon the extra curricula activities (e.g. instrumental music lessons) it rarely exceeded $1,000 per year.

Our tours were conducted during school time and we visited classrooms, specialist teacher areas (Art, Music, Physical Education), library and outdoor areas included the school orchard, playgrounds and the Chinese Gatehouse.

I spoke about a range of topics (that included these sorts of questions) but I think it was the classroom visits where children’s work and thinking was displayed, their interactions viewed, parents seen helping around the school (e.g. in classrooms, in the school uniform shop or the library)  and the relationship between students and myself and their teachers that carried the “vibe”. This was the generally unspoken information that parents sought and felt. It was a feeling that their child would be known, cared for and mattered that counted.

I always ended tours talking about the importance of community in which they would be members of and the necessity to look at a few schools before making their choice. No school would offer everything I would say (in our case that included religious education, drama – although there was a senior years musical) but if you chose our school we would see each other a few times before the start of your child’s first day of attendance.

School tours were supplemented with Open Days, Information Evenings and Kindergarten talks.

My hope is that most parents had similar experiences in choosing schools (e.g. a school tour), had their questions answered in a forthright and informative way, felt the school vibe and were empowered to make an informed decision.


If you are going to ask about academic standards ask about “growth rates” being similar to or above state average growth rates – that’s the standard that counts.

What a school displays it values.


Always check out your local school – you’ll generally be happy.

Posted in Family, Leadership, parenting, school, school structures | 8 Comments

A School Farewell

This week I was very humbled to attend my farewell assembly at school. There were students, teachers, parents and some returning parents of former students, former and current colleagues, representatives from the Department of Education and my family.

Farewell’s are a mixed bag of emotions and I imagine people will feel different things but for me it was an opportunity to say goodbye to the students and community and wish them peace, happiness and a life full of opportunities.

There were a number of speeches (including one made by myself) and some nice acknowledgements made about my tenure at the school as principal. Some of those sentiments are best expressed by the children themselves in the short clip below.

school farewell from Mark Walker on Vimeo.

Lots was made of the difficult and complex role of the school principal and yes that’s true in many ways however as I leave my position and move into my consultancy company many of the memories I cherish are the funny ones or ones that seem funny now.

In my farewell speech I thanked a number of groups and people who have both supported and forgiven me through those 42 years of service. These groups included the Department for their faith in my capacity, encouraging my professional learning both here in Australia and overseas and an understanding when I needed some time to recoup. My assistant principals for their service and loyalty, my staff and my family for their love and tolerance over the many years.

Lastly its the kids I will remember the most – their names fade over the years but their smiles, their enthusiasm and their trust stays with me. I enjoyed the many high fives the children wanted as I exited the gym that morning.

My passion continues, hence the willingness to offer what support I can to schools through my consultancy company. I still intend posting to this blog.

Posted in Leadership, reflections, school, Video Clips | 29 Comments

Small classes are still being sold as the “golden” goose!

I’ve just finished cooking omelettes for breakfast and I open the daily paper (Age) and stumble across the Independent Schools Guide. It’s a 16 page full colour advertising features that doesn’t appear online.

The last thing I’m wanting to do is start a private versus public education for in many ways a similar debate exists within the public education sector when it comes to preferred schools however the slogans or ” buy-in” lines are fascinating to say the least:

The list goes on. There are few of these slogans we would not want to be true for any school.

However one of the slogans fired me up a little:


The advertisement nor the schools website seem to define what small means. There are some advantages to small classes, which from my experience I’m going to define as 20 or below (teacher workload being one of them) however it’s what the teacher does with the reduced number that makes the difference. Richard Buford in a recent online post “Does class size matter?” says it really simply

If professional practice is poor, the number of students in a classroom may not matter too much, as the teacher is likely to struggle and get mediocre outcomes with 15 students just as much as working with 20.

He quotes a new report which says:

Students selected to move from smaller classrooms into bigger ones with more effective teachers would see the biggest gains, according to the simulation. Kids who remained in the downsized classrooms also would see a slight benefit as their weaker teacher’s performance improved with a smaller student load.

So my advice to parents when considering selecting a school is to ask what is the school doing to make sure the teachers are supported to improve their professional practice? Check out Hattie’s research on this matter.

The second thing that irked me when reading the advertisement was a recent claim by a Federal education minister that Australia has the largest concentration of private or independent schools in the world (hence we need to support them?). A recent fact check by the ABC does not support this – we are fourth behind Chile, Belgium and Spain and fifth when it comes to secondary schools behind the United Kingdom. Still its fair to say that even 4th or 5th means at least 30% of parents are paying considerable sums of money for their children to be educated in these schools, some as much as $34,000 per year. The debate on whether a child gets a superior education (better exam results) at one of these schools is dubious according to newspaper reports as well. This political in my opinion was more on about supporting his political parties school funding policy which is pro independent schools.

So when we read advertisements lets treat them as such and not statements of fact.

Posted in school, Teaching, Uncategorized | 10 Comments