How Treehorn started

Aussie Friends of Treehorn

encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available.

NAPLAN has nothing to do with learning. It has nothing to do with teaching. It has nothing to do with real schooling. It has to do with finding fault and making money. It’s an ineffective, unreliable and invalid device that makes the most of young children’s vulnerability and it deliberately threatens their cognitive development and emotional stability.

2016 – The Year to get Rid of NAPLAN – The Great Year for Kids. A Great year for Australia

Vote for Kids. Opt out of NAPLAN



How the ‘Treehorn Express’ started

 “If I don’t say anything, they won’t notice.”

It was 2008 when Julia Gillard was ordered by Kevin Rudd to reform Australian education.  Let’s not forget the year of the biggest blunder ever made in our nation’s progress towards high status and prosperity. He had been listening to his big business superiors then initiating a corporate attack on education;  and was doing as he was told. Besides, working as a public servant for Premier Goss in Queensland in another life, he had found that it was a piece of cake to introduce radical reform to a major system that would, with his and other managerialist neo-cons, alter the public service spirit and wreck the good order and condition of services in Queensland. As a super-managerialist, he helped to establish a form of organisation that only the devil or any enemy of the state would introduce. In leadership terms, the notion that  plumbers could lead mechanics, circus clowns lead university facultiesand, all in all,  that skill and experience had no place in the administration of government enterprises. [Pray for the UN]  He and his managerialist friends left a monumental mess from which Queensland has yet to recover.   Some of its tenets, were outright crazy.

It was assumed that, because a person did well at one job [e.g. running the railroads],  he or she would also be good at running any other [e.g. education] department within the public service; that a full and well composed curriculum vitae backed by smart thespian skills of being interviewed, would be just the requirements for filling  a higher position within the organisation; that, because he or she was a person who had a doctorate or a number of academic achievements, he or she was good at everything. Everything.  That last particular tenet was the first major Gillard ultra-blunder. When she established ACARA, she appointed measurement experts whose knowledge of the classroom was very limited. School cleaners would have had more classroom experience.  She was a slow learning show-pony.  If an enemy of Australia wanted to muck up its major systems – education and public service – it would restructure both services as Rudd did in Qld.. Appointments would, in future, be political not experience based. Things became an unholy, monstrous mess and, because of the large unhappy numbers within the public service and teaching professions in Queensland, the public service revolted; Goss lost his job as Premier, thanks to these managerialists [Rudd and Co.] within his own department. They weren’t thinking ahead as to how many people they offended.

A few years later,  Julia G., the super-wrecker of children’s futures, in 2008,  headed off at Rudd’s command, to get her riding instructions from ‘he who must be obeyed’ in NY….. their big  boss; and  brought home a pet lawyer, Rupert’s good-buddy, Joel Kleine with her to convince the people who matter in Australia that his scheme was the best…. of the only one she visited. The Australian big-business boys actually paid his way down under. Using their empirical-based knowledge of “It didn’t do me any harm”, his advocacy of Tell facts-test-blame  tactics impressed them. They fell for it . He now works for the mighty Rupert Murdoch,  who, at the time was the greatest stake-holder in the school testing industry and sometimes seen [as here] as sucking the blood out of Australia. The publishing of the tests and related programs are worth billions to him and other testing companies…and to Klein [who now claims ‘The Australian Education System’ as his].  Klein spoke with as many business leaders, bankers, politicians and corporate leaders in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra as he could. He sweet-talked them [They’d all been to school once – easy] as she later did to the educational profession’s groups like APPA, ASPA AEU, ACEL, ACE.  Both were good at their job.

NAPLAN was born out of this.

STOP PRESS: Today’s [16 Jan.] news tells that the leader of corporate America’s attack on education and head of the failed  test-publishing company Amplify, Joel Klein, has moved from the creation of educational mayhem from the Murdoch empire to medicine, having taken control of an on-line medical company called ‘OSCAR”.  

Back to our Aussie problem…..

There was no open discussion, prior to the introduction of NAPLAN to Australia,  with classroom experts nor with school administrators about the impact of a NAPLAN bomb on the everyday class, prior to its introduction. NONE.  Julia just said, “THIS IS IT. NO  ifs. NO buts.”

NAPLAN was created in Frankenstein fashion as a sure-fire way, she thought,  to produce scholars, all of whom are to be cubed replicas of each other, at a mediocre level of interest in learning. No individual talents were wanted and it has since proved to be a really great Australia-made  horlix [aka: an unholy mess; a complete balls-up of the highest degree]

When it all started, one was sure that it would not last to the end of 2009. It was just too silly for words. All of my close school-experienced colleagues. school-research academics,  high level educators, with whom I discussed the stupidity, were sure that School Principals would not have a bar of it. We were so sure that they would just say politely to Julia, through their organisations, like APPA, ASPA, A CatholicPA, AEU: “Sorry dear. We just don’t do those sorts of things to children. We evaluate their progress with them…part of the learning process. We like kids. We aren’t in the job to make them hate school, to make them cry, to vomit, to lose sleep…” ….and….if the lady had any sense, she’d have said, “Fair enough. I don’t want you to be unethical. “  It didn’t happen.  I had always had complete confidence in primary principals to play the game by the kids. The ones that I knew and respected,  were not appointed to their position nor lacked pride in their professional ethics and truly cared for kids, as far I knew. They must have disappeared.  We were sure that principals, in their roles as head teachers and curriculum leaders,  would advocate firmly for children at their own school, at their local, regional, state and national level and emphasise that they were not in the job to abuse children, make they cry, cause them to lose sleep with naplanitis and worry the daylights out of parents. Principals as head teachers in particular,  just did not do those nasty, unethical, unprofessional things.   I had no doubt that they would say. “It’s not on. We don’t do things like that. It’s grossly unethical.” I did not think for one minute that any Australian primary principal would have a bar of it. I was so sure…we, in Queensland had been talking about the importance of shared evaluation as a part of learning for some years. I knew that our good old Queensland Primary Principals would not let the kids down.

Have you ever had all of your ideals and visions crushed; your notions of having school children treated as fair-dinkum pupils ignored; to foresee all schools concentrating on teaching children how to learn for a lifetime replaced by swotting for tests; to share the joy of children really loving school and bursting blood vessels to achieve just because they want to do so, replaced by fear-of-failure. Schools must be  happy places to learn,  run by people who know what they are doing, are innovative and independent; and unafraid to have a go.  [Of course, many children love school now, despite the assault on their vulnerability and cognition because Australia has some remarkable teachers who are able to create magical classroom atmospheres under any circumstances.]  Encrusted within the learning act are on-going, shared evaluation devices and strategies that dispose the pupil to discuss how well they are doing as they go, without the need for useless, costly, immoral, curriculum destructive, one-off, biennial tests compiled by enlisted officers from some unknown deschooled planet,  who wouldn’t know a classroom from a hole in the ground. These aliens even think that their tests are more diagnostic than teacher-opinion at the chalk-face.  Fantasy.

Talk about disappointment!!  This strange woman was able to manipulate the kind of people I had always applauded for their dedication to children and for their grit in sticking-up for kids.  It was, and remains, a truly sickening experience for me….to be so wrong.  They had chosen her views at the cost of kids’ learning emotions. I was flattened- failed.  I also endure a bitter disappointment  that their passive compliance and toady behaviour has lasted for so long. I have kept the hope, too,  that I trumpeted  in the 1970-80 period that the professionalism of school administration in this county would grow and become a powerful force in its own right. Again: no such luck. Wrong again. I wonder, sometimes, how Bill Walker, ‘Gus’ Crane, Ross Thomas, Hedley Beare, Keith Tronc, Bill Mulford and fellow executives of ACEL during my brief, but intense excursion into those climes would react .   If any one of the organisations listed above [e.g. APPA] spoke up now,  and exposed the dangers of NAPLAN to the educrats and testucators now running the show and openly stated to federal politicians that they do not approve and would no longer do the dirty work  for ACARA , for Jerry Hall’s hubby and kids and for our patron Saint Joel or his replacement at Headquarter, Australia could then get on with the job of teaching children properly. We’d become a truly progressive nation….but…. we continue to head backwards and downwards year by year……and few care enough to protest above a grunt.

Parents were deliberately deceived  and important issues hidden from them, so that their children can be treated as robots.  Parents were conned into believing that the tests were a normal part of school routine. Parents were not given a choice of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to having their child partake of this optional test; and the Rupert-huggers helped to establish an aura of belief that the tests were important. Shamefully, principals eichmanned; some milgrammed.  They did as they were bid, almost immediately; and did not tell the mums and dads that  they could say “no” just by saying ‘no’. That was a very naughty thing for ‘professionals’ to do. Those principals who were queried by parents, were told by authorities that they should make the parental refusal as complicated as possible, by the use of hoax form-filling  rituals. This ‘trick’ was supplied by ACARA. [See Treehorn Express 9 January, 2016] and continues to exist!!] It treats parents as easily conned galoots.

Time on important school subjects was stolen and, now,  a generation of children has endured naplannic schooling and lost the well-rounded opportunities provided by an holistic curriculum. A full holistic curriculum was dumped to shoot for better scores on silly tests.  There is a school of thought that believes that children should be taught the full curriculum during normal school hours and those who wish to contest NAPLAN should do naplan-prep in their own time; even the three testing days. It is an optional extra, as a course on underwater knitting or the study of the Koran would be. It has nothing to do with schooling. It’s more about making money, in various ways, than anything else. Education in Australia is now a large-profit industry; not a pubic service. Why shouldn’t naplan-prep and testing become an out-of-school activity for those schools that like testing?  It is of no use to the teaching-learning obligations of schooling.

Because of the importance that NAPLAN has claimed, many parents enrol their children at after-hours unregulated and unsupervised  tutoring companies at high cost.  Many of these specialise in NAPLAN performance enhancing activities for money. It’s usually of short-lived use. Such back-yard operations have also become a profitable growth industry; and their operations detract from the worthy work of those tutors who help children with special needs.

Some parents believe that a good NAPLAN score will support a child’s enrolment at a private school. Some fee-paying and pretend schools, do ask for NAPLAN scores. These sorts of schools need professional help, it appears. The request itself reveals an educational deficiency. They lack appreciation for the difference between ‘schooling’ and schooling. 

Performance-enhancing vitamins are used in some places. You will have seen the  Tv adverts for ‘Fish Oil’ brain food to help NAPLAN contestants.  Recruiting for ‘The Dons’ or ‘The Sharks’ ?

School administrators in Australia are cautious about the way they handle NAPLAN tests. They should be. Remember that principal in an inner-Brisbane suburb who allowed the kids to work a few minutes over-time on a test? He was pilloried.  A sexual assault on a dozen young kids would have received less ‘treatment’.  He received headlines of many pages in Brisbane’s major newspaper, aggressively interviewed through his screened front door at his home shown on TV channels in an all-out effort to destroy his reputation and career opportunities; then taken from his school and confined to “Room 101” aka “a rubber room” as Americans describe a concentration camp in a departmental office, and finally ‘disappeared’.   He was only thinking of his pupils….a major crime.

With all of these antics going on, I wanted to do something just to help the kids. I understood and appreciated that most adults don’t give two hoots about kids….that’s clear….. and that many teachers do not try to enlarge their esoteric knowledge of classroom activities with any great vigour, although I am impressed by the growing numbers that are. I remembered the children’s book “The Shrinking of Treehorn” given to me by colleague, Althea Hurley, and the author’s trilogy by Gavin Shepherd. It’s one of the best books ever written and it still shares pride of place on my shelves with “The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died, but Teacher You Went Right On.”, “ Up the Down Staircase”, “Hooray for Dieffendoofer Day” and some other classics.  Treehorn’s comment towards the end of his story, when he had just turned a violent green all over his body was “If I don’t say anything, they won’t notice.”  He was right.  I should tell as many as I could.

I wrote an article that was printed in the Queensland Teachers’ Journal on 10 October, 2008. It was called “ARE YOU LISTENING MR. RUDD?”

I said, “It seems unfair for my wrinkled generation to have tolerated two stupid governrnents in a row, both of which know nothing about school evaluation. [He’d taken over from John Howard.]

We think that we deserve to see some optimistic sparkle for  a healthy schooling era for our twilight years.  We once held that vision. With Australian schools about to be immersed in high-stakes testing we look like losing the vision.

We can hope that Mr.Rudd and Ms. Gillard [and Mr.Turnbull] will change direction but they seem to be stuck in the clutches of the measurement-obsessed hierarchy of the federal education department..

Writer Alfie Kohn, one of America’s most outspoken critics of the fixation on grades and test scores, has endured such movements in his country.

He wrote : “A plague has been sweeping through schools, wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers and administrators. Ironically, that plague has been unleashed in the name of improving schools, invoking such terms as ‘tougher standards’, ‘accountability’ and ‘ raising the bar’. people with little understanding of how children learn  have imposed a heavy-handed, top-down, test-driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country.

It has taken educators and parents a while to realise that the rhetoric of ‘standards’ is turning schools into giant test-prep factories, effectively closing off intellectual inquiry and undermining enthusiasm for learning [and teaching] . It has taken even longer to realise that this is…a political movement that must be opposed.”

I hate being pessimistic. It is a sad experience to be witness to the dumbing-down of learning and to be so certain that this will continue.

This Australian revolution is tawdry and cheap, fostered by disgruntled middlemen, anxious bureaucrats and supercilious politicians, disdainful of efforts of teachers in schools. They ignore the obvious – the over-crowded curriculum, the lack of real learning resources, the differences between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and the plight of the poor pupils being treated as students. The aim is to fail as many pupils and schools as possible. Political self-aggrandisement knows no bounds.

Teach pupils HOW to evaluate, for goodness sake, and to share personal progress with someone they respect. Spend the money and time sensibly; not on this immoral failure-based assault on schooling.”

It was 2008. Nobody took any notice.  Writing journal articles has its limits, it seems.

It seemed that, if I wanted to continue  trying to help school kids , I should start an article-based newsletter and send it out to as many as possible who might be interested in the topic and, perhaps, send it along to a number of their friends, so that, eventually, the whole  of adult Australia would insist on treating our school kids with humanity-based learning.  Another flop….so…..we keep trying.

I called it “The Treehorn Express” after Florence Heidi’s little boy, whom all adults ignored despite his big problems. It’s not that they dislike kids, though this might appear so. Adults are just so indifferent. Aussie kids need their help now.               But…

Kids : just don’t get your hopes up.

About the time that the name was chosen, I’d been exchanging views with an amazing Kiwi trinity : Allan Alach was a primary school principal who is an amazing professional reader and gatherer of wonderful articles. A remarkable visionary, dedicated to schools and children, he has shared activities from early in the piece and started a Treehorn blog : .Allan has built up its readership [now 1,213]. His Friday Readings are keenly sought-after by true-blue professionals from around the world. I send The Treehorn Express direct, including Allan’s writings, to almost 300 readers. Because there is so much to describe about the antics of NAPLANers and the skulduggery of Rupert-huggers, well over 1000 Treehorn Express articles have been sent out and hundreds of Allan’s Friday readings.

The Treehorn Express was on its way with serious fair-dinkum, Aussie support.  There is a chance that our children will be in charge of a remarkable country, once it thinks about LEARNING per se.

Allan’s close colleagues, Bruce Hammonds and Kelvin Smythe are something else. I suspect that, because of the likes of them, New Zealand maintains such a high place in world education circles. They are a perfect mix – Kelvin, former Chief Inspector for the country and fearless erudite commentator working with master school helper-consultant Bruce are so outstanding that Kiwi schools do things better, despite the antagonism of local departmental oberleutnants and peculiar politicians. The trio sets thousands thinking. So Treehorn visits a lot of people. He’s largely ignored as far as action is concerned, but then, he is shared with the converted, many of whom do their best with ‘send-ons’ to groups of their own, who seem to enjoy reading it.  If you don’t now, please send this and other Treehorns to a dozen or so others.

Check Allan :

Check Bruce:

Check Kelvin:

Check Phil [‘ON LINE OPINION’ articles] :

If you have read this far, thank you and congratulations. It’s so great to share things with great people.  I must be content with that.

Will you share my present dream ? Let’s make LEARNING as its is related to educational accountability and national progress, the No.1 issue for this year’s federal elections.

Put simply…….



TESTING              TESTING             TESTING

 There’s more to come.

Any suggestions as to how to get through to our politicians? 


Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443              
07 5524 6443          0407865999

2 thoughts on “How Treehorn started

  1. Hi Phil,
    I still read it from time to time. I remember it still, those dark days in Ed Qld when Wayne Goss’s wonder side-kick Rudd wrecked the Qld Public Service, forcing experienced and successful officers to ‘re-apply’ for their positions or face replacement by some over-credentialed clueless clown, who’d end up re-employing many of the older, wiser officers on contracts – to sort out the mess they’d made.
    I was a card carry member of the ALP then – a branch secretary, state conference delegate, and member of the education and environment policy committees, no less. But I resigned my membership shortly after the funding for the teachers’ incentive transfer scheme, long standing ALP policy, and recently receiving bipartisan support from the Nationals, was dumped in favour of the ‘Viviani Report’.

    It was also about then that the wheels began to fall off the ‘Radford Scheme’, whereby Queensland classroom teachers were charged with devising their own curricula, teaching and assessment programs, as the principal means of developing and measuring the matriculation of our own students. Such a radical idea at the time, I remember attending national education conferences where delegates from other states and even overseas waxed lyrical about the ‘theoretical possibilities’ of such a system without ever acknowledging that Queensland had been practicing 100% school based assessment at senior high school level since the early 70s.

    It was a huge task, and we were scarcely equipped to carry out the ongoing research and development that was demanded. But most of the people I taught with seemed excited by the prospect of becoming ‘professional educators and researchers’ in a way that ordinary classroom teachers had never been before. It was evident that a great deal of work was going to have to continue for many years in order to hone the program.

    But the rot had set in, and the demolition began, brick by brick, until now there is a very real prospect that after nearly 40 years, the sad remnants of Radford will be jettisoned in favour of a new generation of ‘standardized public examinations’ that will be fair to all students – because no-one, except the students of certain Brisbane private schools will know what’s on the end of year 12 one-off, one size fits all on the day memorized regurgitation exercise. It’s a system of ‘assessment’ that sits well with NAPLAN. I’m reminded of the old story about the ‘crock of shit’ which is transformed, by the public service propagandists into a ‘bowl of the richest organic fertilizer’.

    Suddenly the short-comings of 3 hour, hand-written, off the cuff, un-reviewed expositions are hailed as the acme of assessment of the skills development of young scientists, historians, nurses, lawyers, artists and journalists – despite the fact that none of these people will ever perform such absurdly unrealistic activities in the whole of their professional lives – and thank God they don’t!

    How far have we come from Australia Felix? Do they even teach people about that early post-Federation idealism any more? I’m reminded of those dreams as I read histories of the Great War – in pursuit of near forgotten relatives who threw their lives away in the trenches of the Western Front.
    What noble and radical ideals we stood for then: universal suffrage, old age pensions, workers’ rights, an 8 hour day, a living wage, a fair go for all. All this from a former British penal colony where the inmates and immigrants had taken over from the aristocracy. The British officers suffered apoplexy at the egalitarian insolence of the big, strong, healthy ‘peasants’ in the ranks of the AIF.
    Now it seem that we are all to ready to ‘tug the forelock’ before the tyranny of establishment and unequal wealth. Public schools that allowed the sons and daughters of the working class to aspire to the same goals as the children of the ‘professional and moneyed classes’ are being degraded by progressive defunding and demoralization.

    Perhaps we are destined to become a third world country and build the nation again from scratch in this ‘brave new century’.

  2. Truly appreciate your comments, John. Thank you. Yes. There was a time when we looked like coming to grips with the real meanings for the application of fair-dinkum
    assessment and evaluation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s