Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students
NT Learning Adventures, 2016

Trip report: 2016 Red Centre tour

Planning school camps and trips to remote locations can be among the most stressful tasks for educators, who must juggle logistics challenges, unfamiliar locations and the unpredictability associated with caring for young people.

That’s why familiarisation programs such as those offered by Tourism NT are so useful when it comes to making hard choices so much easier. By giving teachers the chance to experience all the things a given region has to offer, they can be confident their new school trip will be a success.

Ten teachers from Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra were lucky enough to visit Central Australia in July this year, witnessing the historic and cultural delights of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Watarrka National Park and all the iconic sights the region has to offer.

From Travancore School in Melbourne, Kate Tyndall found that her participation in each of the experiences on offer over the six-day trip gave her “a better indication of the outcomes, rather than reading about them online or in a brochure,” she said.

“Meeting the activity leaders has also given me more confidence in reaching out to them in the future to discuss potential school trips,” said Kate.

The educators were afforded a tour of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta cultural centre, and were also given a guided tour of the extremely scenic Kings Canyon rim early in the trip. However, there were also visits to Alice Springs telegraph station, Earth Sanctuary, and Alice Springs Desert Park. Potential camp locations were scouted at Ooramina station before lunch at the Royal Flying Doctors Service HQ.

“Not only was it a great professional opportunity, but I also appreciated the ability to meet other teachers in a different setting, which gave us the ability to reflect and discuss school trips and planning,” Kate explained.

For David Sherwin from Fort Street High School in Sydney, the standout highlight was a heartwarming cultural experience.

I have so many fond memories from the trip, but camping overnight with Jungala Kriss and his family just outside of Standley Chasm was a real treat,” David said.

“I think it would also be unfair not to mention our visit to see Brolga at Kangaroo Sanctuary. His passion for animal welfare and the care of injured kangaroos was inspirational.”

In his capacity as a social sciences teacher, David found the opportunities to learn more about Indigenous culture and the traditional owners of the region a core aspect to the trip, providing him with the ideas and inspiration required to help him begin planning potential learning experiences for his students.

“As a teacher who educates students who have not been outside of an urban area, I believe it would by highly beneficial for them to see the ongoing close relationship that Central Australia’s Indigenous people have with the land,” explained David.

“Many students in an urban school understand the disadvantages faced by our Indigenous people but do not get to see the spiritual connection they have to the land.”

Of course, teachers are humans as well, and the key to a truly memorable experience for most people are memorable dining experiences. To this end, the group was treated at every meal, with special mentions going to a self-cooked BBQ at Outback Pioneer on their first night in the Red Centre, and the three-course Mbantua dinner with Bob Taylor on Day Five.

“Getting to know new friends while eating great food as the sun sets on a stunning backdrop – it doesn’t get much better than this,” said Kate.

While the latest group to experience the Tourism NT’s Central Australian teachers’ famil reflect on their experience, some of those who went on the first famil in 2014 have already gone on to take students back on camping experiences. One such teacher, Lisa-Marie O’Connor from Viewbank College in Victoria, recently returned from her school’s first Central Australia camp in over 15 years, where she led a group of Year 9 students. The feedback her students gave provides a real insight into the education benefits on offer in Australia’s Red Centre.

“I really liked visiting the Lilla Aboriginal Community because I have been to some other Aboriginal Communities and I felt very privileged to get to know a central community’s culture, beliefs and way of life. It was beautiful to see Australia and the land around me in their eyes.”

“My favourite experience on camp would have to be The Valley of the Winds. After a hectic couple of days at camp, it was relaxing to sit in the middle of nature and reflect on ourselves and our experiences.”

For Lisa-Marie, the importance of the assistance offered in the famil is summarised in her message of thanks for the team at Tourism NT:
“I just wanted to express to you my gratitude. I truly believe that without this familiarisation trip it would have been very difficult to plan a camp of this magnitude and in this location (We had a total of 130 students and 15 staff attend our 2016 camp). I also believe that you have to not just speak to the people involved or read about it but really experience what the students will be experiencing and this was only possibly by being a part of this familiarisation trip.”

NT Learning Adventures are currently looking for the next round of educators to join them on next year’s famil. Find out more here.

Boys using an abacus, Shutterstock.

Changes to Tasmanian Education Act pass parliament

Tasmania’s State Government has reformed its Education Act in an attempt to improve literacy and numeracy rates.

The bill passed the Tasmanian parliament yesterday, bringing into effect the option for students to start school at four-and-a-half years of age, as proposed by Premier Will Hodgman at the beginning of 2016.

Previously, starting age in Tasmania was set to five years old – the oldest minimum starting age for schoolchildren in any state or territory of Australia.

After the act passed yesterday, Tasmania’s Education Minister, Jeremy Rockliff said the bill is part of a long-term plan to to improve education outcomes in the state, and that it “will help close the gap where currently Tasmanian students can receive up to two years less schooling than their interstate counterparts.”

However, not all Tasmanians are convinced that the change will be beneficial, with various interest groups raising concerns, including the Union of Childcare Workers and Early Childhood Australia’s Tasmanian branch.

A ‘Stop lowering the school age in Tasmania’ petition has been signed by 5,204 people, more than doubling in size over the past few months.

Children crossing sign, Shutterstock.

Sex abuse rates climbing in Victorian high schools

Secondary students in schools across Victoria will soon receive instruction to look for signs they are being groomed for sex, with recently released figures revealing 258 suspected cases of sexual abuse in the state in 2015.

The Age reports that new guidelines, published by the Education Department, will warn students of the signs that someone is grooming them, saying a perpetrator could be ‘someone who you like and trust’.

Behaviour that could constitute grooming, the resource states, may include gift giving in the form of phone credit, money, clothes or even added attention.

The resource also covers online grooming, with reference to the sending of sexually explicit images or the soliciting of such images online.

The number of sexual abuse cases reported by schools in Victoria has almost doubled since 2006, growing from 132 to 258 last year, with cases ranging from the use of sexualised language to allegations of abuse.

Education Minister James Merlino said the resource is intended to “help parents, school staff and students to identify, prevent and respond to child abuse”.

The new resources are designed to help schools adopt Child Safe Standards, which were introduced in response to an inquiry into child abuse earlier this year.

The President of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Judy Crowe has said Child Safe Standards will increase the administrative burden on schools, but that it’s nonetheless critical for schools to be aware of these requirements.

“We need to make sure that the people working in our schools aren’t overly burdened by these requirements, and that this doesn’t detract from their ability to get on with their core business,” she said.


University of Melbourne

Report: School leavers disadvantaged by university entrance system

As part of today’s Higher Education Summit as presented by The Australian Financial Review in Melbourne, Education Minister Simon Birmingham is expected to present a report that indicates students from poorer families may be disadvantaged by issues of clarity regarding university entrance.

Read more

Music Education

Early childhood education awareness campaign launches in NSW

Last month the NSW Early Education Minister, Leslie Williams announced $115 million in funding for Start Strong, a program designed to make early education more affordable for all NSW families, while removing nearly all fees for Aboriginal families and low-income families.

Now the NSW Government is launching what is described as a ‘thought-provoking campaign’ that draws attention to the importance of early childhood education.

The campaign, dubbed ‘It Makes You Think’, has a stated aim of increasing the amount of hours children are enrolled in day care or community preschool in the year prior to entering primary school.

“A child needs a great parent, and a great teacher.  Many do not know that a preschool program, whether it’s in a dedicated preschool or a through long day care, provides the foundation for your children’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievements at school and in life,” said Mrs Williams.

“It’s a confusing area and there are many myths about cost, availability and the real benefits to children – which is why it’s so important to break down the barriers.”

It Makes You Think campaign poster
The It Makes You Think campaign aims to drive awareness of the Start Strong initiative in NSW.

One of the key statistics underpinning the campaign is the fact that 90 per cent of brain development occurs before the age of five years – and this is the kind of detail that the NSW Government hopes will impress upon parents the importance of ensuring their young children gain maximum benefit from early education.

“Our social and emotional skills known as ‘soft skills’ are critical to success in school and life – for instance how to control emotions, take turns, share with others and pay attention to instruction, actually begin forming in childhood and learning these skills in preschool could prevent harder problems later in life,” explained Mrs Williams.

“Unlocking a child’s brain is the key to helping parents understand why early learning is such a must for their child’s development.”

Other Facts from ‘It Makes You Think:       

  • Kids who participate in early childhood education are more likely to have an IQ score higher than 90 at age 5
  • Preschool puts disadvantaged children at a level playing field with other children
  • In the first 3-5 years, there is a dramatic growth spurt, as approximately 90-95 per cent of cells organize and create pathways to more sophisticated brain functions
  • A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to 3 – producing 700 new neural connections every second
  • Young children have a unique ability to learn more languages easily and their vocabulary often quadruples between the ages of 2 and 4

Beginning in January 2017, the Start Strong initiative will deliver $115 in funding over 18 months to reduce the cost of early education and encourage parents to enroll their kids in 600 hours of early education each year.

High ropes outdoor education

Perceived risk and unstructured learning: Education in the great outdoors

Children need space to grow. It’s a fundamental concept that continues to come under threat in the contemporary world of population density, helicopter parenting and social sensibilities regarding risk and responsibility. No educator wants to deny their students’ need to explore the world around them, but there remain real issues regarding how best to allow this without putting the school or the teacher in a more vulnerable position.

Yet the benefits of facilitating unstructured, experiential learning experiences remain undeniable.

In April this year, researchers from eight different countries and a variety of academic backgrounds met in Denmark to reach an evidence-based consensus on the benefits of physical activity for children and young people between the ages of six and 18. They produced an expansive statement that notes the evidence for the positive benefit of exercise in the regions of: fitness and health; intellectual performance; engagement, motivation and wellbeing; and social inclusion.

At a similar time, research from Australian optometrists demonstrated that outdoor light plays an important role in reducing the chances of myopia, or short-sightedness, in children. Their findings show that children need at least two hours of natural light each day for optimal eye development.

Even the benefits of spending time in nature are becoming starker. Japanese researchers conducted a study where they observed the physiological impacts of people who spent 15 minutes walking in nature daily, versus those wandering around city streets. Their results found that even a brief walk amongst greenery resulted in a significant decrease of the stress-related hormone cortisol, a two per cent decrease in blood pressure, as well as a four per cent drop in heart rate.

In a bid to discover more about how modern schools are offering outdoor opportunities to their students, Education Matters’ Editor, Campbell Phillips, recently spent time chatting with Richard Thornton, Chief Executive for The Outdoor Education Group.

Campbell Phillips: Richard, what’s all the fuss about Outdoor Education as far as you’re concerned?

Richard Thornton: Well, I may be biased as it’s been my life for the past 25 years, but we believe primarily in experiential learning – that you can learn from doing things. I believe that’s important for a number of key reasons. Firstly, it’s completely meaningful. That means this form of learning is underpinned by real experiences that students take with them in life.

That’s something of a departure from the more abstract learning that occurs in the classroom, which often takes the form of watching, reading and writing. An actual experience may be successful or unsuccessful, but they’re always meaningful. That’s because adventure and challenge is important to humans. What the specifics of that adventure or challenge is can vary greatly; it could be something as simple as spending time in a different context with classmates they wouldn’t normally spend time with. If you can push the students to the point where they start to feel unsure of themselves, then you can give them the space to making meaningful achievements.

We also like to use the term memorable. I sometimes find myself discussing school camps and those kind of experiences with adults. The fact that they may not recall the specifics of what they’d been learning in class, but they did recall what they did on these camps is very telling.

The phrase is a little out of fashion, perhaps, but experiential learning can be described as ‘character building’. When I started working in this field in 1990 the term was used quite often. It’s a term that describes what parents want for their children above all else, that they can find their place within life and learn about themselves, their strengths and recognise the areas they can improve upon.

I recently met a person who had joined one of our programs some years ago. She was candid in telling me that the experience hadn’t been her cup of tea, but that she’d never forgotten it, either. Every time she needed to overcome adversity, she was able to recall her experiences with us and realise she could do whatever was needed to be done.

CP: There seems to be something of a resurgence in the population of Outdoor Education in the past five or so years. Why is that?

RT: People realise that this mode of teaching replaces something that has been lost from modern society over the past 50-plus years. It’s also about learning some of the skills we are continuing to learn as a culture and it therefore gives kids a level of self-reliance that will set them apart from their peers who never have the opportunity to have these kind of experiences.

Education is so often about achievement via tests and exams. I see Outdoor Education as an avenue for providing young people with the tools they need to find work in the real world. Skills like teamwork and leadership ability. At some point I feel parents and schools started making the mistake of spoon feeding kids to ensure they reach a certain level, to make a certain grade. Now there’s a revitalisation of the concept that people need to learn how best to help themselves in life.

CP: How are schools currently managing to offer Outdoor Education?

RT: Some still manage their own Outdoor Education programs, but in some cases there’s an argument to be made for the cost efficiencies and additional value offered by an experienced third party provider. Mostly this is because organisations dedicated to providing these experiences tend to be better equipped to offer them. They can also offer a broader range of experiences as a result, as well as enhanced flexibility should plans have to change at the last minute.

One common reason why we see schools choose not to provide their own programs is simple: risk. By comparison, we have a whole department that just looks at risk management and we’re leading the world in managing risk in perceived high-risk environments. Part of the secret to effective outdoor education is presenting perceived risk and then managing it in such a way that no real risk becomes evident. For school principals, risk and compliance are a significant part of their daily life, so being able to outsource a component that results in a minimal level of risk makes things that much simpler.

There are excellent Outdoor Education programs being delivered from within schools, and some will adopt a hybrid model where a third party like ourselves works in partnership with the school to deliver a specific part of their program. Sometimes we’ll have staff embedded within the school, sometimes they only want us to assist when out in the field. I think that any of those models are fine so long as they do have an Outdoor Education program at all age levels.

CP: Perceived risk is an interesting concept, but one that must be difficult to sell to some educators as well as parents. How do you overcome those concerns?

RT: There’s been some great research recently emerging on this very area from a partnership between the outdoor sector and the University of the Sunshine Coast and Federation University. For example, after a twelve month study of incident data, Outdoor Education has been shown to be safer than playing common sports like cricket, netball and rugby. As with anything, there will always be an element of risk, however studies like the one mentioned above demonstrate that the risks involved in Outdoor Education are very low when compared to, for example, sports played on the school oval.

For Outdoor Education to be successful it needs to be challenging, and part of that challenge is the perception of risk. Take a high ropes course as an example; you can climb and experience the perceived risk of falling, but in reality there’s a safety rope, an instructor and a system designed to secure the climber. This analogy holds pretty much across the board, with any of our offerings from K-12. There’s always a safety rope to prevent an incident occurring, yet the student still perceives enough risk for the program to be worthwhile – so they can feel like they’ve made a real achievement.

CP: What does the ideal Outdoor Education program look like?

RT: The ideal Outdoor Education program is one that’s regular and sequential. It should eventually lead up to at least one major experience each year, culminating in something very significant in secondary school. Of course, not every school has the funds or facilities available for this, but there are often ways of offering an experience at a cut-rate. For example, your typical day excursion could range from something cost-effective, like navigation exercises within a short train ride from the school, to the same exercises performed after catching a bus to a wilderness location an hour or two away.

Getting students into environments that require them to reflect and manage whole group dynamics is key to producing solid educational outcomes. Of course the longer the experience, the better. So small groups, in semi-remote destinations, with an element of a journey, is what we aim for particularly in the secondary sector. The journey can be a metaphor or tool for the social and emotional outcomes that can’t be delivered in school settings. We are asking students to be reflective and evaluative about themselves, their interaction with others and the natural world. It is about learning that has taken place and the behaviour changes the students have identified in themselves. The key to getting this right is understanding the point at which students (and school communities) are able to engage. We need to understand their journey before they can come on ours. Longer experiences can be truly life changing or enhancing, memorable and meaningful but the key is to make the learning transferable back into school and life beyond.


Bangsbo, J., et al. (2016). The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016; 0:1–2. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096325
Read, S. A., Collins, M. J., Vincent, S. J., (2015). Light Exposure and Eye Growth in Childhood. Clinical and Epidemiologic Research, 56, 6779-6787. doi:10.1167/iovs.14-15978
Park, J. P., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T. & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventative Medecine, 15(1): 18–26. doi:  10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9