xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: June 2016

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Donnybrook Revisited.

I am the first to admit that I am not the world’s greatest gardener. Some people plant seeds, I bury them! Despite my failings as a gardener I feel I rate quite highly when it comes to pruning trees and overgrown vegetation, especially when in I am in possession of a chain saw.

My greatest, or most infamous, bout of pruning occurred when we were living in Donnybrook, a beautiful spot about 230 kilometeres south-west of Perth. Armed with only a common old garden saw, I started pruning one Saturday afternoon as Lesley set off happily for the tennis club. When she was leaving she saw me enthusiastically attacking the three small decorative poplar trees that grew in the garden in from of our house and advised me not to cut too much off.

Well, as I cut away and cut away I got carried away and cut away some more. The result was that when Lesley arrived home at about half past six, the three trees were severely denuded of their leaves and most of their branches. They stood there shyly in embarrassed denudation.

Too say that Lesley was not happy would be understating the situation. Not only had I removed the greenery from the front of the house, I had now exposed our house for all to see. It was an old Education Department house that, I had to admit, looked a lot better when the trees obscured the view. To this day, whenever I announce that I am going to do some pruning, Lesley constantly advises me not to cut too much off. However, the good news about over pruning, as I repeatedly told Lesley on that cold Saturday night in Donnybrook, is “It will all grow back again.” And it does.

Actually we recently revisited Donnybrook on the June long weekend celebrating Western Australia Day. Originally, this holiday was called Foundation Day to celebrate the arrival of Captain Stirling and a hardy group of free settlers and English soldiers who arrived on June 2nd 1829 to establish the Swan River Settlement, which is now the pretty city of Perth.

Actually Stirling and his party landed on a very stormy night on the shores of Garden Island, about ten miles south west of Fremantle. It wasn’t till August that he actually declared Perth to be the site where he would found his settlement and claim control of one third of the Australian continent.

Unfortunately, Foundation Day could be seen as an unintended affront to the indigenous inhabitants of the Swan River area. The Noongar people had been living here for about 60 000 years before Stirling took possession of more than 1.8 million square kilometres in the name of King George the Fourth of England. The Swan River Settlement grew to become Perth, the most remote capital city in the world. It is closer to Djakarta and Singapore than it is to Sydney. A few years ago a decision was made to change the name Foundation Day to W.A. Day and I think that was a good thing.

It is a shame that Stirling arrived in early June, because the weather can be very wet and wild at that time. Such was the case on that long weekend as Lesley and I ventured South to Busselton, Donnybrook and Boyanup visiting old friends. The weather was wet, windy and quite cold. However, all of our friends gave us a very warm welcome and wined and dined us in fine style. We spent the weekend talking about the days of yore and how good were all were way back then.

Donnybrook holds great memories for us. I was promoted to Donnybrook District High School in 1975. Lesley and I, together with young daughters Jane and Sarah, took up residence in the Headmasters’ House in January 1975. We obviously loved the place as we stayed there for seven years, leaving at the end of 1981.

We kept ourselves busy. In August of 1975 our youngest daughter, Emily was born and Lesley enjoyed a renewed burst of motherhood. When the football season started in April I became the local sports reporter for Bunbury’s South West Times newspaper. In November I was elected to be the General Manager of the Donnybrook Football Club.

When Emily was about three years old Lesley started teaching music part time at St Mary’s School where Jane and Sarah were students. A year or two later Lesley took on a class teaching role and also developed a magnificent school choir which in 1979 won the choral section at the Bunbury Eisteddfod. An outstanding achievement.

1979 was also the year that Lesley won the Ladies’ Singles Championship at Donnybrook Tennis Club. She was also the club's nominee for the District Sportstar of the Year Award. It was also the year that I became the founding editor of the Donnybrook-Balingup News, a local paper that was distributed around the district each month. Oh, yes, a place of many happy memories.  

And that house that we lived in in Donnybrook? Well, a few years after we left Donnybrook, it was decided the site would be a great place for a well-aged home facility. I have to agree that it was a great site. It was adjacent to parkland on the main highway and about fifty metres behind the house was the Preston River. On the other side was a huge grassy hill on top of which sat a fine old style colonial home. A magnificent view.

Lesley and I went back to that spot on that Monday long weekend. Our house is now long gone, replaced by a very modern looking well aged home facility known as Tuia Lodge. Lui Tuia is a friend of ours. He was a far sighted and energetic Shire President in the 1970s who was largely responsible for the building and ongoing operation of the facility that now bears his name.

What is also gone is the magnificent view across the river to the old colonial farmhouse on the hill. In the intervening 35 years the trees on the far bank have grown, enormously so. So it really is a case of not being able to see the scenery for the trees.

But our house is not gone entirely. It was relocated to 27 Steere Street, which is right across the road from V.C. Mitchell Park, home of the Donnybrook Football Club. In fact, our house sits right behind the goal posts. Rather fitting that it should be there, overlooking that football oval  and clubrooms. I was General Manager of the Donnybrook Football Club for six years. Some changes have been made over the years but the little press box still sits on top of the clubrooms. It was where I sat perched for seven seasons reporting on the footy for the South Western Times newspaper.

I am very happy to know that our old house now has a great view of the Home of the Mighty Dons, where I put in a lot of work and have such happy memories. Not that people now living in our old house get to see much of the football when they look out their windows. The house has a cluster of  peppermint trees growing in front of it.

As we drove off I told Lesley that they needed pruning. She just smiled!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Seeing ourselves as others see us.

It was the great Robbie Burns who once mused
Oh would some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as other see us.

Well, of course, while Robbie is entitled to wish for such a great power, others have warned that we should be very careful what we wish for. It may not always turn out for the best. This became very apparent to me just last week. My beautiful wife, Lesley, came home from shopping. She was not happy.

Normally, when Lesley returns from her infrequent clothes shopping expedition she is very happy. She tells me of the many bargains that she has purchased and then takes delight in showing them to me. Sometimes, she even buys things for me, which makes me happy too.

But on this occasion Lesley was far from happy. She was bemused. She was put out and cheesed off. You could even say that she was very chagrined, irritated and vexed.Very vexed.

That morning she had been in a large department store looking for lady’s shoes that were both comfortable for walking and fashionable to look at. Finding ladies shoes that are comfortable and fashionable is no easy task. Some would say that where ladies' shoes are concerned, comfortable + fashionable is an oxy- moron, like Military Intelligence or Political Integrity.

Like a lot of big department stores these days, there was a great selection of merchandise on display but a complete lack of shop assistants to help with the shopping experience. Lesley noticed an old lady who was having trouble balancing on one leg as she tried on a shoe. Being as kind and caring as she is beautiful, Lesley quickly moved to help her.

“Here, lean on my shoulder to steady yourself,” she said as she moved alongside the old lady. They quickly fell into friendly conversation as he lady tried on the shoes, eventually deciding she did not want them. Together they wandered around the great array of shoes, conversing cheerily and looking, looking, looking.

Lesley’s quest for comfortable and fashionable shoes was proving to be Mission Impossible. At length she said to her shopping new found companion that there did not seem to be any suitable shoes on display.

“No,” replied the elderly lady, “they don’t seem to cater for us anymore.”

Us! Us, thought Lesley. Does that mean that she thinks that I look as old to her as she does to me? The very cheek of it!

Lesley quickly walked out of the shoe department in high dudgeon. She would much have preferred to walk out in fashionable and comfortable shoes. The good news is that Lesley can still balance on one leg, as she demonstrated to me, as if to prove a point, when she finished telling her story. By this time she was smiling.

Ah, yes, as I am sure Robert Burns knew only too well, to see ourselves as others see us is more often than not a great shock, rather than a welcome gift.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

When policies are not solutions.

Policy announcements are not solutions.

Just after announcing the double dissolution election on July 2, the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, said that he would provide an “additional” 1.2 billion dollars for education. Many educators and opposition politicians quickly replied that it was not really additional funding, but part of the 80 billion dollars previously removed from state education and health budgets. This money was originally removed from the education budget because some states, notably Western Australia, did not sign up with Labor's Gonski programme.

Mr Turnbull said that he would provide this money for the states on three conditions. To get the money the states would need to: -
1. Introduce standardised literacy and numeracy tests for children entering Year One.
2. Introduce standardised literacy and numeracy tests for students finishing Year 12.
3. Introduce a regime of Merit Pay for Teachers.

This is a classic example of what Richard Dennis, the Chief Economist at the Australia Institute, has labelled “Announceables”. Writing in the May edition of the Monthly Magazine, Dennis wryly observed that, “In a country as rich as Australia it makes sense for politicians to focus more heavily on style rather than substance. What would be the point of solving problems if no one noticed?”
Dennis goes on to say, “Ministers are praised for the policies they launch, rather than the problems they solve, and a policy “works” if it helps the government send the right signal.”

The intention of Mr Turnbull’s announcement was not to address any real issues in education but to let the voting public know that he and his party are deeply interested in education. This has been the fundamental problem for education since the 1980s when politicians took over from educators in formulating policies for schools. The problem is that politicians invariably formulate policies that they hope will win them votes rather than policies designed to meet the real needs of children sitting at their desks and those who teach them. The Gonski scheme, a funding programme based on student and school needs, was a plan that went against this trend but unfortunately politicians have killed Gonski stone dead.

Let us exam the three conditions Mr Turnbull has placed on “extra” funding to school.
Most people would agree that testing Year 12 students for literacy and numeracy is a reasonable proposition. In fact, most people d probably think that that is already part of the purpose of having final exams in Year 12.The other two conditions, while sending out the signal of the PM’s great interest in education, are not solutions to any major issues in Australian education today.

A national standardised test of Literacy and Numeracy for children entering Year One would be a massive waste of money. Children enter Year One at the beginning of February. By the end of February, every Year One teacher in Australia would be able to confidently identify those children in the class who would thrive, those who would reach satisfactory outcomes and those who would struggle for a whole variety of intellectual, social, physical, psychological and economic reasons.
Those Year One teachers are not desperately crying out for national standardised tests for literacy and numeracy. What they desperately do require are more support teachers and more teacher assistants to provide enrichment and remediation to specific individual and groups.

They require more school psychologists, school nurses and social workers to help address the many problems in the class that stem from outside the classroom and the school. Unfortunately, the money needed to provide these valuable resources to address these problems will be used on creating a national testing regime.

Merit pay for teachers sounds like a great idea. Mr Turnbull has said that no teacher should move to a higher salary grade unless they demonstrate improved outcomes. Some may wonder if Mr Turnbull is deserving of the substantial pay rise he accrued when he replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. In the last sixteen months has Mr Turnbull demonstrated improved outcomes? In that time he has largely followed the policies and programmes that Mr Abbott introduced. In that time his poll ratings have fallen quite dramatically but he continues to be paid that much higher salary. Why is it we never hear of merit pay for politicians?

Of course Merit Pay for Teachers, or payment by results, is not a new concept. It has been tried before in many parts of the world, always without success. It did not produce increased educational outcomes and it made teachers frustrated and disgruntled. Believe me, every school student would want their teachers to be very gruntled. It makes for happier classrooms.

The cry for merit pay for teachers is another way of saying that our teachers are not working hard enough and must try harder. The fact is, the great majority of our teachers are working above and beyond the call of duty while starved for funds and resources by the very politicians who are critical of their efforts. It is similar to army generals putting their troops into the front line with faulty weapons and little ammunition and then complaining that they are not winning the battle.

Of course Malcolm Turnbull is not the only politician who announces a policy to send “the right signal” of interest rather than a solution to a problem. In this 2016 federal election campaign politicians of all hues will make policy statements that are designed to indicate their great interest in important areas of education or manufacturing or health or infrastructure. Solutions will be much harder to find.