Changes that time brings…

Back in 1993 I was given the task of researching the way reading was taught K-12 in the southern Sydney region of Botany. My report is available in the National Library. Among the schools I visited over a three month period was La Perouse Public School. La Perouse is on the north side of Botany Bay and is home to a famous Indigenous community. At the time I was visiting there was excellent work being done there and the school appeared to be thriving.

But since then 25 years have gone by! I hardly believe that! In today’s Sydney Morning Herald there is a story of decline and renewal at the school.

In one part of La Perouse, there is an Aboriginal mission. In another, the fancy new apartments of Little Bay. And in the middle there is a school where, for many years, neither community wanted to send its kids.

In its heyday, La Perouse Public taught 300 students. Yet when Matt Jackman arrived almost two years ago there were about 24 kids, seven empty classrooms and a reputation that made parents scramble for out-of-area schools.

He could have let the school struggle on, a victim of the area’s gentrification and years of bad press. Instead, Mr Jackman hatched a plan to win over the trust of two very different communities. And his efforts have been rewarded: in 2019, La Perouse’s numbers will almost double.

That conclusion is good to hear, but I wonder what went on in the 25 years since I was last there.

La Perouse Monument

La Perouse monument, La Perouse. Photo by Jim Bar.


Nineteen years of blogging!

Beginning offline, if that counts. See some of the earliest here.

These entries have been pasted from Angelfire. There may be some oddities in presentation here.

I first got a real (borrowed) computer in late 1999 and didn’t go on the Internet until a few months later. My first site on Talk City came about in around April 2000, and the first internet diary entries soon after. The earliest entries here were written in a Brother PowerNote (memory 32k!) which I still have and sometimes use.

Go to Found — a whole stack of my old entries! [January 14 2008] for an index to what is available still on the Wayback Machine.

And a sample, strangely relevant today:

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Notorious hypocrite Howard rants about ‘values’.

I am so bloody angry that I have put this entry to record how personally insulted I feel, and disgusted on behalf of all my colleagues, by John Howard’s recent gratuitous attack on state schools in Australia. As far as NSW state schools are concerned, what the PM has said simply reveals that he has not done his homework:

NSW public schools teach essential values for life to children and young people.

Love of learning

NSW public schools aim to create young Australians who value learning and knowledge and who relish the effort and possess the confidence needed to resolve problems, or to master a skill, topic or subject; who can compose clear and precise prose and construct well-founded arguments; who have mastered the art of talking with others as a route to better understanding; who are deeply interested in finding common ground with other people, other ways of life and ways of thinking and believing; and who are interested in imaginative and new ideas, and in seeking out truth.

NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • scholarship, accurate and extensive knowledge, wide reading and understanding of traditional and new fields of study, including information technology
  • rational inquiry and logical, well-founded argument
  • clarity, confidence and coherence in thinking, writing and speaking
  • curiosity and imagination as the basis for pleasure in learning
  • communicating with others as a way of establishing agreement and arriving at truth.

Aiming for high standards

NSW public school students are encouraged to achieve their personal best and to aim for excellence in everything they do.

They are encouraged to participate in sport and creative performances and to learn ways of winning and losing graciously.

NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • aiming for the best in academic, creative and sporting achievement and in all public performances.

Care and respect for ourselves and others

In partnership with parents and carers, NSW public school students are taught how to respect and care for themselves and others, in order to achieve self-discipline and physical and mental well being. They learn respect and care for others through the codes and practice of good manners, the give and take of friendship, the routines of companionship and the management of friendly rivalry. They learn respect for expertise, legitimate authorities, and leadership through acceptance of responsibility. They are taught ways of recognising right from wrong.

NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • recognising right over wrong
  • honesty and courtesy
  • health, fitness and well being
  • discipline, punctuality, reliability
  • experience, expertise and authority
  • friendship, companionship and friendly rivalry
  • self-discipline, independence and responsibility

Care and respect for families and communities

NSW public school students are encouraged to feel and demonstrate empathy and respect for those who are vulnerable and dependent. They learn to demonstrate the values of generosity and compassion and the principles of fairness. In turn they earn the right to expect to be treated by others with respect and fairness. As members of families and communities they learn how to treat others with consideration.

NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • kindness and helpfulness towards those who are vulnerable, or who are less able than others
  • the rights of individuals and groups to a fair go
  • sharing and equity as principles of personal and social relationships
  • different histories, customs, cultures and outlooks within home and school communities and in the Australian community

Respect for work

NSW public school students learn the need to grasp opportunities, the rewards of effort, and the value of work. They learn to see how work is changing and how new forms of work encourage experiment and resilience. They learn with new and evolving technologies and are taught to welcome innovation. Public school students learn to work well together with different kinds of people.

NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • paid, unpaid and voluntary work
  • opportunity, aspiration and enterprise
  • creativity, experiment and resilience
  • working together and in competition
  • skilled workmanship
  • productive habits and methods.

Proud Australians and citizens of the world

As young Australians, NSW public school students learn to understand and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of their land.

They learn about Australia’s creative arts, literature, and history, and the insights to be gained for the future good of Australia. They learn to appreciate the significance of Australia’s Indigenous people and of immigration to Australian identity.

NSW public school students are taught to respect the rule of law and Australia’s democratic institutions and procedures. They are taught their own rights and responsibilities, and those of groups and governments under the code of law and systems of justice.

NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • Australia’s democratic institutions and procedures
  • the rights and obligations of governments, individuals and groups under the rule of law
  • the contributions of Indigenous people to Australia, and their history and struggles as our country’s first custodians
  • the beauty and uniqueness of Australia’s landscapes and environments
  • the histories and cultures of all Australians
  • the role of migration in building Australia’s place in the world
  • the interdependence of human beings with each other and with the natural world

Values for Australia’s future

These values help each NSW public school student to take full advantage of new ideas and knowledge which characterise the social and economic environment emerging in Australia, and in the world community.

In conjunction with an excellent general and vocational education, this code of values enables young Australians educated in NSW public schools to freely choose and enjoy their paths through adult life, to master the complexity and variety of the contemporary world, and to contribute as citizens to making Australia a better, more prosperous and happier place.

Perhaps the PM regards some of these as “excessive political correctness”? There are probably some values there the PM would have a problem with — but that is his problem, and ours in having a neanderthal for a Prime Minister. I can understand someone who hasn’t had an original or really broad-minded thought in the past forty years thinking that way, just as I can find it quite remarkable that a man whose prime value is how to hang onto power, stifle debate, and lie to the Australian people whenever it seems necessary to achieve his goals is suddenly the mouthpiece for “Australian values.”

Am I being disrespectful?

Bloody oath I am.

I have no respect for John Winston Howard, none at all.

Meanwhile any bigots or loonies who wants to gather half-a-dozen kids together to start a “school” advocating, say, “flat-earthism” as a parental value, are sure to get their hands on government cash these days.

Roll on the election!


Naplan, apples and oranges?

I am somewhat of a NAPLAN sceptic: see for example This is the Naplan post that wasn’t… and NAPLAN craplan… And on M’s anniversary. This year NAPLAN trialled online testing. In their FAQ they anticipate an issue with this but respond rather blandly: “Following extensive research undertaken by ACARA, NAPLAN online and paper forms have been explicitly designed to be comparable. Results for both paper and online tests will be reported on the same NAPLAN assessment scale for each test. The use of a common assessment scale, covering Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in each of the areas of conventions of language, numeracy, reading and writing, allows for an individual student’s achievement to be mapped as the student progresses through his or her schooling.” Trouble, as I see it, is the cunning trick whereby student response in the online version actually adds to/changes the test: makes me suspect the concern about comparability hasn’t really been answered.

As the  Australian Education Union has said:

Victoria’s Education Minister James Merlino said he was “extremely concerned” about reports that the results from the pen-and-paper version of the test and NAPLAN online version may be “not comparable”. NSW Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott said that while parents would be able to see how their own children scored, ACARA might not be able to compare system-wide student performance from this year to last year or previous years.

The AEU has led the call for a comprehensive review of NAPLAN. This has been joined by parent and principal associations around the country. The AEU has also called on Min. Birmingham to immediately give a full explanation of what went wrong with the NAPLAN online trial, and whether the data comparison issue can be rectified.

In the Sydney Morning Herald:

Almost 200,000 Australian students sat NAPLAN online this year and the rest did a pen-and-paper version, but state education ministers and directors general are concerned  the two sets of results are not statistically comparable.

Ministers in two states said they were considering withdrawing from NAPLAN online until their confidence was restored….

The Herald understands the main problem with differing results relates to the grammar and punctuation test.

One of the innovations of NAPLAN online is that the test adapts to the child’s ability. If the students get the first set of answers correct, the questions get harder. These tests give a more accurate diagnosis of strengths and weaknesses.

But this year, strong performers in the reading test were given difficult questions from the beginning of the grammar and punctuation test. They did not get the so-called “confidence building” questions, a key part of test design.

The students who sat the written version did have those confidence-builders. As a result, the top-performing students in schools that ran the test online did not perform as well as the students who sat the written version.

Because the online version is more accurate, it also more effectively separates the very top and bottom-performing students across all the tests, so some of the highest performers might appear to have not performed as well as they did last time….

Apples and oranges?

See also NAPLAN is dangerous and limited: expert panelists, and NAPLAN results delayed over concerns national data could be invalid.

Dorothy Hoddinott — an example to us all

Ignore those paranoid “patriots”, the dwindling supporters of Pauline H, the moaners about consideration for others — sorry, “political correctness” — gone mad. The best way to go has been before our eyes for years now, and one shining example has been just retired school principal Dorothy Hoddinott. What a positive influence she has been on so many lives, and for harmony in our country! As a former teacher myself I am humbled by what she has achieved, with her colleagues. The best thing is realising the ripple effect of her example.


Dorothy Hoddinott in 2014: see my previous posts Refugee success stories, Islam and so on… and Iraq, Downer, Rudd, and a really positive story to end on.

In that last post:

Dorothy I met through ESL circles.  There is a great story on her in today’s Herald.

One morning earlier this month, Dorothy Hoddinott left Wollongong at the crack of dawn to drive back to Sydney. The Holroyd High School principal had been attending a conference but was determined to make it back in time to see one of her former students graduate from university.

Zainab Kaabi finished high school 11 years ago. But her personal accomplishment was also an exceptionally proud and significant moment for her mentor and former principal.

Not only did Hoddinott once willingly add $9000 to her personal credit cards to secure her student a place at university. But the young asylum seeker inspired her to set up a trust fund in her name, which has since expanded to support refugee students studying in public high schools and universities across the state.

The Friends of Zainab trust fund was established when, in her final year of high school, Zainab Kaabi told Hoddinott she would have to drop out because, as she was now an adult, she would no longer be eligible for her welfare payments under the conditions of her temporary protection visa.

Hoddinott recalls telling her ”I’m not going to let you leave school, you’re too good. Sorry but you’re a scholarly girl.”

She contacted everyone she knew for donations and set up the trust fund, allowing her to remain at school.

The donations continued to support her through a bachelor of medical sciences at Macquarie University and a bachelor of pharmacy at Sydney University…

So I was very pleased to see 7.30 during this week:

GEOFF THOMPSON: After years of travelling and teaching in Australia and in Europe, Dorothy arrived at Holroyd High in 1995, where about half of the students have a refugee background and almost 90 per cent speak English as a second language.
DOROTHY HODDINOTT: There was an educational Apartheid in the school. There was a ‘them’ and the ‘us.’ And so one of the first things I had to do was to actually extend all of the facilities of the school.
There were lots and lots of rules and a lot of the rules were overlapping each other and they weren’t common sense.
(Shots of kids at Holroyd High)
So what I did was I threw out all of those rules and we operated on common sense for a year, while we negotiated a new
way of doing things, and we came up with respect. And so we had to make that sort of suitable for kids: respect for myself, respect for others, respect for the school and community.
GEOFF THOMPSON: It worked. Just ask Bashir Yousufi, whom 7.30 first met in 2012 when he came to Holroyd High as a 15 year old… He had just fled Afghanistan after his parents were killed by the Taliban.
BASHIR YOUSUFI, FORMER HOLROYD HIGH STUDENT: I didn’t go to school so I didn’t think I would ever have this opportunity that I have at the moment.
GEOFF THOMPSON: This week Bashir travelled to Sydney to thank the person that he now calls his mum.
BASHIR YOUSUFI: She is more than principal to me and she is my mum and she adopted me, which is a great thing and I love her and I really, I respect her.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Bashir is now in the final year of a business degree at ANU.
BASHIR YOUSUFI: How are you?
DOROTHY HODDINOTT: Oh, how wonderful to see you!
GEOFF THOMPSON: Dorothy helped Bashir through school and into university with her Friends of Zainab Scholarship Program, named after the first student she helped to get to uni using her own credit card.
BASHIR YOUSUFI: Without your help, it would be – I wouldn’t be studying at ANU right now.
DOROTHY HODDINOTT: You decided to learn English while you were in detention. You decided to learn 15 English words each day.
That wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t had the motivation. It was a happy combination of your motivation, the school supporting you and so on.
BASHIR YOUSUFI: Yes. Holroyd High became my favourite place and you will be my favourite place for the rest of my life.

Says it all, doesn’t it?

Sir Joseph Banks High School: inspiring

Last night on SBS we met this young man, among others.


They are the captains of Sir Joseph Banks High School in S-W Sydney. He is also dux. The school not only encompasses just about everything Pauline Hanson would be scared of, head-scarves for example, it also brings to life just why she is tragically wrong-headed. Not to mention all those Hanson think-alikes (male or female) out there.

At Sir Joseph Banks High School we are proudly inclusive. We welcome students to our school wholeheartedly, and celebrate the fact that they come from a wide range of cultural and language backgrounds. Within the school, we have fostered an environment where students care for each other and for those less fortunate than themselves. Our growing reputation within the East Hills and Bankstown areas is based on the success of our students who are thriving in this environment and who are able to take advantage of the huge range of opportunities we provide for them.

This explains How Sir Joseph Banks High School turned its fortunes around.

Just a few years ago, student numbers at Sir Joseph Banks High were dwindling; it was far from the first choice of school for many and its reputation meant neighbouring high schools attracted the best and the brightest.

But within three years, the dedicated team of teachers, led by principal Murray Kitteringham, have turned the school around and for two years in a row, every student from the Revesby school who has applied for a university place has been accepted….

[The Principal] said the school had a reputation of being a “rough school” and the local Arabic population favoured single-sex schools over Sir Joseph Banks.

But while the school is still dominated by boys, the number of girls is rising and there has been an overall growth in enrolments of 10 per cent in 18 months. It is also the top school in its area for student growth – the most important measure in education.

The school has used some of its federal Gonski funding to employ a youth worker for years 7 to 10 students as well as a senior studies coordinator, Amaney Khazma Roumieh, who develops a personalised learning plan for every senior student….

Do yourself a favour if you can and watch that episode of Insight, linked at the top of this post, and also on the school’s website.

This extremely powerful episode will touch your emotions and make you feel very proud that you are part of our Joeys’ family. Where else do people care so much for each other that they go above and beyond to provide the support needed for students to succeed? Thank you to the many students who bravely shared their stories. We applaud you!

As a former teacher I am just in awe at what this school has done!


Year 7 students from Sir Joseph Banks HS being inspired by a visit to Sydney University