May 2012

Saturday saw Ross Cameron – for whom political disgrace has been liberating, apparently – sounding off at the Teachers’ Federation. Good to see him occupying moral high ground. It encourages a belief in redemption. Stephen Aitken is closer to the truth.

This clipping is from the May 19 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit

Give power to principals to choose their A-team
SMH – Saturday, 19 May 2012 – Page 38

The strike by NSW Teachers yesterday is an important moment in the life of the O’Farrell administration. Any government can do the easy things – writing press releases, announcing inquiries, changing the names of departments. The test is who can do the hard yards of reform that will improve the quality of life of ordinary citizens. Real reform will be resisted by powerful vested interests. So it is with the push by the NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, to give greater power over budgets and hiring staff, to school principals.

It is not a new idea but it is a good idea. We cannot expect to hold principals accountable for their performance if we do not give them the executive authority required to do their job.

Anyone who has ever run a voluntary organisation , a company, a football team, will tell you that the most vital decisions relate to personnel. One person with the wrong attitude can drag down and infect the entire show. By the same token, one skilled and motivated teacher can make a huge difference. Recent American research showed that the impact on life outcomes of losing a really good teacher was so great that parents would be rational to pass the hat around to keep that teacher in their child’s classroom.

It is also the case that conditions vary across geography and time. The principal is the person to judge what personnel the school needs, and what options are available. The principal should decide if the school is better served by two deputies (which is the template) or one deputy and a literacy resource. The principal ought to be free to employ casual and contract staff – immediately increasing the field of potential candidates.

You might be astonished to learn how little executive authority is vested in a principal when the most decisive factor in whether a school flourishes or fails is not funding, class sizes or demographics but the presence, or absence, of an inspirational leader.

While one may have a low regard for the leadership of a range of trade unions, education unions – and the NSW Teachers Federation in particular – are by far the most malignant because they have the power to shape the next generation of young Australians . It’s not the left propaganda that worries me, it’s the overwhelming mediocrity of the enterprise, the lack of faith in human potential , the hostility to discipline, excellence and diversity – the focus on teacher entitlements rather than student outcomes.

The thing that has provoked the fury of the federation is the Minister’s belief that every school principal should be able to make 50 per cent of teacher appointments “on merit” . This is the measure that the federation president, Maurie Mulheron, describes as ‘‘ the most extreme proposal by any education minister in the past 25 years’’ .

There are public school principals all over NSW who have not made a voluntary teacher appointment in the past decade. This is a disgrace. It would be equivalent to saying to the Wallabies coach: ‘‘ We expect you to build a winning culture in this team but you can’t choose any of the players … they will all be sent to you by a bureaucrat based on their rights of tenure under permanent employment contracts regardless of their skills, work ethic or suitability for the positions you need to fill.’’

Someone needs to inform the education unions that they do not run education. The proper order of influence is: 1. The school principal ; 2. The parent body of each school; 3. The democratically elected Minister for Education; 4. Other parties, especially teachers, interested in supporting the educational project.

The teachers unions have such a big say because of their repeated threats to shut down schools if they don’t get their way. Every teacher who ‘‘ downed tools’ ’ yesterday was making an explicit decision to prefer their own interests to the interests of the children they teach. Each one of them should feel the blow torch of the personal criticism they deserve, but they won’t because parents worry their children will be victimised if parents express their feelings. Those on strike yesterday betrayed their vocation.

We ought to remember that it is not just governments that shape communities – we citizens also shape the limits of policy that our leaders are brave enough to offer. When we find a good minister doing the right thing, against a ruthless cabal, he should be strongly supported.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald

Good to hear this voice again!

It is rare I agree with Ross Cameron, but, as a Catholic diocesan principal for 32 years in four schools, all in low socioeconomic areas, I learnt the advantage of being able to select my teachers and control the school budget. These tasks were demanding, but rewarding; they made the school responsive to local needs, staff and parent input. This was proven by the success of Catholic diocesan schools in spending BER money wisely and strategically. I understand the federation’s fear these reforms may be a source of future government cost cutting. That did not happen in the Catholic sector (class sizes decreased). The minister promises it won’t happen in NSW state schools. Good teachers want to work for inspirational leaders, in responsive school communities, aware of the needs of their students and able to promote a work ethic and a desire for ‘‘ personal best’’ . I could not cope with a system of transfers. I believe that good teachers and schools have nothing to fear from the minister’s proposals, if he keeps his promises. Let us hold him to them.

Stephen Aitken The Entrance Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald

Trying something a bit different this morning. The article interests me, but the approach to republishing interests me more.

I’ve just started following The Conversation, a website for news from university-based writers. It has far more than science and social science, so the fare is varied and interesting. It seems to be following the long-overdue progress towards open-access to research and publication that the unit are pursuing (so sick of wading through SpringerLink, etc, and then having to go back through the uni Library to clear access). The site allows republishing under a creative commons license:

You are free to republish this article, as long as you follow some simple guidelines, which are summarised here:

  1. You can’t edit our material unless you have the author’s express permission or you are adjusting for relative changes in time, location and editorial style. To make material edits, please contact us
  2. You can run the first few lines of the article only, if you say: “Read the full article at The Conversation” with a link back to the article page on our site.
  3. You must link to us and include links from our story, as well as our page view counter.
  4. You can put our articles on pages with ads, but you can’t sell our material separately.
  5. You can republish individual articles, but you can’t automatically republish all of our articles unlessapproved by us.
  6. You have to credit our authors and partner institutions in the byline. We prefer “Author Name, Institution” (for example “Bruce Mapstone, CSIRO”).
  7. You have to credit The Conversation and link back to our home page as provided in the HTML.
This is an excellent approach and, in this instance, provides a valuable lens on the 4 Corners program from last week. I worry about quoting and republishing SMH articles, even when they provide the technology to do so. This is much better.
So, in obedience to the conditions, here goes:

Clear thinking on sporting concussion research
By Caroline Finch, Monash University; Andrew McIntosh, Monash University, and Paul McCrory, Monash University


Clear thinking on sporting concussion research


Sporting head injuries can be reduced through modified game rules.
flickr/Montauk Beach

Recent media and expert commentary has called for more research into brain injuries sustained by footballers. The focus has been on the need for a long-term study of the effects of concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE, a degenerative disease of the brain) in professional players after they retire.

There’s no doubt that the safety of all sports players needs to be the focus of more research in Australia. In fact this is already recognised as a major public health goal. But to ensure research investments lead to to real sports injury prevention gains, we need a strategic and rigorous approach to this research. And it must build on current scientific knowledge.

The media often quotes sports injury studies from the United States and there’s an impression that little research has come from Australia. This is quite wrong. As researchers who’ve been working in the area since the 1980s, our research (and that of others) has already directly led to improved safety practices in Australian sport and international guidelines for the management and detection of concussion in sport.

So what has our research told us about how to prevent, reduce and manage concussion on the field?

Concussion occurs when impacts to the head exceed the level of human tolerance. There’s no one cause of concussion in sport. Players’ skill, technique and the rules of the game all play a role. Many head injuries in sport can therefore be prevented through the modification of game rules and techniques such as outlawing head-high tackles in football.

Shaun Hart wore a soft helmet for much of his career due to consistent head injuries. AAP/Anneliese Frank

Helmets are often suggested as a simple way to reduce the rates of head injury in football and rugby. Indeed, protective helmets may prevent injuries in activities such as cricket, equestrian sports and bicycling. However, protective helmets are yet to be proven to prevent head injuries in the common football codes in Australia.

Concussion can be difficult to diagnose, particularly on the sporting field, but physicians now have access to evidence-based guidelines to assist with the management and diagnosis of player concussion. It’s important that concussed players only return to play after they’ve received medical clearance. Otherwise, they may be at risk of further concussion or complications.

Knowledge about what can be done to prevent concussion, when to return to play and the actual uptake of preventive measures, is influenced by the attitudes and beliefs of players and coaches – and this trickles down to the community. It’s important that parents have accurate information about injury risk and prevention. Simply preventing children from playing sport isn’t the answer to injury prevention, and denies children the health benefits of active lifestyles.

Future research

Of course, we still need to build this current knowledge base. There’s no doubt that monitoring the long-term outcomes of professional players with concussion, both during and following their playing career, has to be a future research priority in Australia. And our team is already undertaking this research.

But we still need to know much more about the actual biology of mild traumatic brain injury: how it manifests, how the condition progresses (if at all) and whether we can improve the detection of brain damage through better methods of brain scanning.

We currently have very little information about what the general sporting community knows about correct concussion management and prevention, and how it’s currently managed. If we can identify what helps or hinders the implementation of concussion management and prevention guidelines, then we’ll be able to enhance the uptake and sustainability of safety programs in community sport.

We will also need to improve how we disseminate the latest scientific evidence about concussion prevention to the general community, including through social media.

Most importantly, if we can identify new strategies to prevent concussion and other head injuries from occurring in the first place, we will also have eliminated the risk of long-term head injuries.

Far from lagging behind the rest of the world, Australia’s sport concussion researchers are already setting the standard for international research. To maintain Australia’s international leadership, future research will need to be even more multi-disciplinary and co-operative across research groups.

It’s critical that this research is conducted in partnership with peak sports bodies from the outset. Otherwise, we run the risk of producing research outcomes that don’t work in the long term and aren’t adopted as routine safety practices.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Benedict recognises Hildegard of Bingen as a saint – CathNews.

And about time too!

Today’s editorial is very much to the point.

This article is from the May 7 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit

THE Productivity Commission has brought an outsider’s view, and some much-needed clarity, to the debate over teaching. That debate has centred on the need to improve the quality of teaching in Australia, and on how that might be achieved. It is an important subject, but it can quickly bog down in statements of astonishing woolliness and imprecision. That may be inevitable. The skill of a good teacher is hard to define, and harder to measure. Teachers are at once stage performers, scholars, orators and psychologists – and other trades besides. Which degree of emphasis on which skill fits any given moment in a classroom is a matter of fine judgment. What works now to compel a class’s attention may not work next week, or even in five minutes’ time. Some teachers master all this apparently by instinct, and raise the aspirations and standards of all their pupils. Others cannot. To those in their separate classes the difference is obvious. But defining and measuring it are another matter.

The commission’s report on Australia’s schools workforce is largely free of wool. It notes that the supply of teachers is complicated by declining levels of pay. Average salaries in education are 7 per cent above the average for all industries; in 1994 they were 14 per cent higher. With pay, status has also declined. The result is a decline in the quality – measured in literacy and numeracy – of those beginning teacher training.

In government schools, salary scales reward length of service up to a point, but not quality. Professional collegiality has produced a reluctance – relinquished only recently, and not very far – to accept what is widespread elsewhere, that better teachers should be paid more.

The commission rightly sweeps such obstacles to progress aside. As well as improving quality, it sees higher pay as a way to attract extra teachers to subjects where there is a shortage (mathematics and science) just as teachers may now be induced to teach at disadvantaged or remote schools with wage supplements. And it recommends principals be given the power to dismiss teachers who are not succeeding. In that it parallels the NSW government’s recent move to devolve much more power to individual schools and their principals.

It may be hard to define good teaching with scientific exactitude, but school communities know who their good teachers are. Parents know. Students know. Let them be consulted. Let the power to reward that essential skill be given to those who can identify it.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald

I couldn’t agree with Richard Leonard more.

The Way.


The Way

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The Way. Starring Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez. 123 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes, drug use and coarse language).

Ever since Tom’s (Martin Sheen) wife died, his relationship with his only child Daniel (Emilio Estevez) has been fraught. In dealing with his grief, Daniel takes flight, from his doctoral studies, from his father and from the USA.  Under the guise of being a cultural anthropologist on field studies, David tries running away from himself and his pain.

Daniel finds his way to the Pyrenees where he begins the medieval pilgrimage, now called The Camino (The Way). Ill prepared, he dies from exposure in the early days of his pilgrimage. Tom leaves his practice as an ophthalmologist in California and goes to claim his son’s body at St. Jean Pied de Port, France. On arrival he discovers what Daniel was doing, and Tom decides to complete the pilgrimage as a way establishing a connection with his dead son. “Our children are the very best and the very worst of us.”

It is very rare for me to say that I think every Catholic secondary school student should see a film, but The Way is it. And I know that almost every person of faith will find here a genuinely faith-filled experience.

The insightful tag line of the film comes from Daniel’s challenge to his father as he takes flight from home, “You don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.” And an even more telling line comes later, “The Camino is all about confronting death.”  Every journey to self and religious revelation involves death in all its varieties.

TS Elliot’s famous poem The Journey of the Magi, those original Christian pilgrims, understood this well:

“… were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.”


An article very supportive of women Religious in the US after the public kicking the Vatican has administered. One day, the hierarchy will get it; but they continue to make it hard for ordinary Catholics and extraordinary Catholics doing good things.

The Tablet – A very public rebuke.

The general public – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – will view this latest foray as an attempt by a hierarchy whose influence is waning to silence women and to bar them from the halls of power more permanently. That the halls of power have moved to social media seems both the cause and the promise of the Vatican’s actions. Overall, popular opinion clearly favours the women Religious, whose ministry is better known and more widely accepted than the pronouncements of a hierarchy apparently blind to the moral shortcomings of too many of its own.

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