A Principal’s Dilemma


Primary school principalship used to be the most caring, most ethical, most intellectually demanding, most exciting of all the caring professions

I was a proud primary school principal for quite a few years and, despite my later higher administrative duties, remained so until retirement.  I reckon that primary school principalship was the most caring, most professional, most difficult, most intellectually demanding of all the caring professions.  Its dignity and esoteric nature set it apart. I loved the role. I retired from the rituals of bureaucracy, confident that, despite the impact of managerialism, dedicated primary principals would ensure that the new century would see schools loaded with love for learning, playing and learning, finding the beauty in all school subjects, but especially in the fundamental ones. Achievements in all subjects would have no ceiling. Love of learning would the catch-cry

Now, principals have had a testing program forced on their schools in police-state circumstances by crazed politicians, ordered to do so be the big end of town and supported by a press much more silent than it was in 1942-3 concerning Darwin [ 2 reports on 62 raids] which, they all know,  is causing enormous damage to their administrative professionalism and to  kids’ progress ; but they are told that they must comply. They all do.  The brown-nosed ones say that they don’t mind because the tests are diagnostic….as diagnostic as a kick in the crotch reveals how degenerate one’s macula is. Dedication to test scores has become the catch-cry.

There is hope in the younger generation of principals. There has to be. They seem to understand better[we all hope] what primary schooling is, what it is for; that it is about pupilling, a notion that most seem to understand and want to share with kids;  and that inspirational challenge by pupils requires evaluation of progress and encouragement at the learning-point,  not months later.  I have met many who seem to understand clearly the a-about-f turmoil of NAPLAN-directed bang-crash kind of instruction and would love to see it go away..

Frighten – mentally abuse – cause anxiety – test – practise – practise – practise -homework- homework- homework – test – test -test – abuse – punish – create fear – frighten……. They know what NAPLAN does to kids.

If the present tests had any diagnostic element, schools should be able to request the new one for the year at any time to fit in with the school’s own evaluation program, if the school principal deems its use necessary. The only thing sacred about the first week in May, is that it suits the testucrats.

If accountability is an issue, then consideration must be given to the use of true-blue, well-experienced, former principal experts checking out each and every school for all phases of school operations as regularly as possible. It’s been tried and it’s true blue. It keeps the system curriculum-connected, teacher-mentored, team-building, innovative  and responsible.

Disastrously, when kleinism was introduced into Australia in 2008 and the major body of principals [the APPA] preferred to support the ‘lawyers’ lore’ of schooling than to uphold  ‘principals’ principles’ of ethical delivery of learning services. It surrendered shamefully to its own political capture, allowed itself to be remodelled as an association in the likeness of eichmannism and, in doing so,  changed to being a deliverer of rigid, high stakes blanket testing , subservient for its upkeep and its opinions to disgusting forms of political thought-police control and to the dictates of ACARA, a pure-bred testing factory; …….THEN …. it adopted a casual indifference to the welfare of children and kept its distance from the concerns of parents. I lost my admiration for the present generation of principal organizational disposition when APPA told the governement in public that it supported NAPLAN. The political institutionalisation of its association’s activities belittles the profession of primary school principalship. It no longer has any importance in Australia.  AND….The overall health of schooling in Australia is not good while these circumstances prevail.

One notes that the ‘professional’ views of APPA and that of its state bodies are largely ignored when public discussion on a broad landscape are  held.  They are largely ignored and their opinions seldom requested.  Principals seem to have succumbed to their maverick  role as compliant agents of testucation and have totally lost the plot as far as child learning, mental health and professional dignity  are concerned. They no longer have the respect that forthright ethical bodies usually have. Believe me, it hurts …it hurts real bad to be a witness to this kind of degradation.

In this era of neo-liberal kleinist control of schools, I sometimes wonder how I would react as a principal of one of my old schools to the kind of irrational force now imposed on school leadership.

I do know that, as director of primary education there is no way in the world that I would have supported the  introduction of kleinism nor the Australian Primary Principals’ Association’s approval of NAPLAN testing.  Divorce proceedings with the state association  would have put in place post haste. The present APPA  attitude towards child welfare and schooling progress runs counter to the intellectual progress of children, to mental health issues and to the fundamental acquisition of knowledge.  As it is now proving, it is detrimental to child health [anxiety, sleeplessness, ADHD epidemic and suicide amongst its outcomes] and to the progress of a worthy, holistic curriculum for the nation’s children. As a true-blue primary teacher, I did not join the profession to treat children  in the way that the kleinist freaks and Naplan approvers [including APPA members] treat curriculum issues of such major importance do,  these days. It would not have been worth my job to have indulged in any sort of collusion with such a fear-based, anxiety-inducing Wall St.nooze-up’s hangover. I’d been through a similar unseemly politically threatening time during the M:ACOS era and the Standards Debate. With confidence, I reckon that I could ride the punches of this debacle or find a meaningful job of some kind.

As an operating primary school principal, however, I know that I would have tried, as some are doing, to subvert the process of learning-destruction.  I would have held a number of meetings of parents to try to persuade them not to give their permission for their children  to undertake the nonsense; tell them the truth that NAPLAN was not part of a normal school curriculum. It was a booze-inspired foreigner dumped on schools without any prior check. Teaching is better-off without it.  I’d try to beat the for-and-against NAPLAN score of Kimberley College near Brisbane. 300 parents againstNAPLAN; 6 for.  Great. [These days, if the Kimberley spirit was alive in every school, it means that the odds of NAPLAN lasting much longer in a proper school are 50 to 1.  I’d like some of that.]  Learning seems to have a higher priority than testing at Kimberley and brooks no interference.

That attitude would probably get me into trouble with authorities, these days, as it does at Kimberley College . So what!

At local Union meetings and at principals’ meetings I would propose that parents be given the choice at an appropriate time….say first Monday in May  each year – to express a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – to exercise their  democratic right to participate .  Only ‘Yes’ respondents would do the test. The non-test pupils would be learning. See http://huff.to/2nFzqMA

Of course there would be no special kinds of test-prep, like practising previous tests, special kinds of homework that usurp learning time. The maintenance of love for subjects of the NAPLAN kind would continue, and this, of itself, would probably produce superior results at test time. So what! That’s just what happens when kids like learning and like the subjects that they do, They’d have Maths., science and literature amongst their favourite subjects, and give raspberries to test-freak modes of teaching..

I would indicate to my superiors in a humble letter that I seriously oppose NAPLAN…just to clear the air with them. I’m a professional principal. They have to earn the right to try to bully me in the same way that they want their teachers to bully children.

I would remind them that I am the principal head teacher at my school.

Finally, there is music in the air. I feel that the the younger generation of principals are much more alert than the older, that their crap-detectors are fully charged, that  they are more conscious of the unlimited outcomes that originate from fair-dinkum pupilling of children and realise the value of sharing progress with their pupils as they ‘learn along’.  They openly condemn the immorality of sharing a pupil’s personal achievements with anyone beyond the school precincts. I reckon that, very soon,  they’ll tell their political masters what to do with their shameful abuse of children.


What do you think?

As has long been recognized by students, parents and educators, the essence of test-based education policy is not accountability but punishment. Punishment is about control, about regulation; the right to punish is a police power. The governance of education increasingly takes the form of policing. More and more, school is about compliance, and more and more, this compliance is organized via tests (and “data”) of some kind.    Mark J. Garrison: ‘A Measure of Failure – The Political Origin of Standardised Testing’  http://bit.ly/2ncI3CE


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

My Epiphany Moment. A story.

REVIEWING NAPLAN                                                                                                                                       RESPECTING KIDS


Treehorn [Everychild] was the hero of a book by Florence Parry Heide: The Shrinking of Treehorn. When he was severely afflicted, worried and puzzled, the adults closest to him – parents, bus-driver, teacher, principal – preferred to ignore him. They had other things to do. The conclusion to the book is dramatic. He had lost faith in all adults. Then, when his skin started to turn a violent green, he had adjudged by then that adults don’t care about school kids in particular …..and the book concludes : “Treehorn sighed. ‘I don’t think I’ll tell anyone.’ he thought to himself. “If I don’t say anything, they won’t notice.’” 

Do you know how your child feels at NAPLAN time?  Do you care?



 Dressed in my finest academic regalia on a visit, this photo was taken in 2014,  I am standing at a door that links two classrooms at Edge Hill State School, Cairns where I had served as a Primary School Principal in the 1960s.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 9.51.08 PMI am pointing at the spot where, in 1968,  I was standing when I made a momentous decision. I call it my ‘Epiphany Spot’….where the truth arrived.

I was testing  Year 3 with a Maths test of numeration.

There were two classes and I stood at the door [obscured] between them.  I gave tests as often as I could until this Epiphany Moment. I had been doing so for years and had a cupboard full of all sorts of tests for all sorts of occasions. I thought that it was expected of me, so I wanted to do it properly.  I became the most testing fixated principal in the country, I’d reckon.  I’d test anything to which one could attach a number.

 I was always uneasy that the pupils didn’t try harder to do well at all tests; and often angry that my remonstrations fell on deaf ears.

 I talked issues like this over, regularly, with my colleague from a neighbouring school, whose opinion I valued. He was very casual about testing. I thought it was an important schooling function. He used to  suggest to me that, if testing was getting me down, I should give it up.  Well, in those days, principals just didn’t do that sort of thing. Weak and compliant, we thought that our Inspector and the whole department would come down on anyone who did that sort of thing,  like a ton of bricks.  Like Eichmann we dared not question. We did as we were told.

 Standing in this doorway, I was able to watch a group of children from behind. Two of them, Jacqui and Peter,  were about the smartest pupils I ever had met and they competed with each other with great intensity. Peter beat Jacqui by one mark on my test. During the hiatus while the pupils gave the results of the test to their teacher to record,  I saw the tears run down Jacqui’s face as she reached for a book from under her desk to read during the pause in testing. It was a book called Voss by Patrick White that had been set at the local high school as a text that year. She was in Year 3.

 I said to myself, “That’s it. There’s somebody stupid in this room and I know it’s not Jacqui.”

 I mumbled something like, “I did not join this profession to make kids cry” to the teacher as I left the room and later told the staff that there would be no more blanket testing at Edge Hill School while I was around. I had earlier started to wonder why we did such tests anyhow, why I was so intense about testing when I believed, at the same time, that primary education was, far and away, the greatest of all caring professions.

 My thinking moments changed to considering the differences between assessment and testing and evaluation and appraisement and teaching. I needed to sort myself out. Here I was:  professing to be a teacher, a lover of learning, a pillar of a thinking community and I was violating the sensitivities of children, defying the  conventions of confidentially and of morality, treating kids like robots; while, in other situations, I was constantly preaching that primary education was  the most intense, busiest, most noble caring profession the world had ever seen. There has to be a special  word for a hypocrite, like that. I didn’t want to be one and was ashamed of what I had been doing.

 l did a complete 180. I remain ashamed at what I had done before this ‘moment’ and I am disgusted that, almost fifty years later, there are some colleagues around who are administering tests and do not think about what they are doing.

I now hate and detest unprofessional regimes of testing like NAPLAN. I certainly would not allow it in any school these days. There’s something crazy, stupid, cruel about having a love for teaching and giving silly tests. Clearly incompatible.  The damage that NAPLAN tests  do is inestimable.

Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  0   cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net/                     http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com/ 

A New High School Principal Introduces Himself

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.

A New High School Principal Introduces Himself

To the students and faculty of our high school:

I am your new principal, and honoured to be so.

There is no greater calling than to teach young people.

I would like to apprise you of some important changes coming to our school.

I am making these changes because I am convinced that most of the ideas that have dominated public education in Australia and are now pervasive, have worked against you, against your teachers and against our country.


First, this school recognises that learning per se is an individual effort.

You are not a student at this school. You are a pupil. Pupil infers learning from a teacher.[My comments]

You attend this school because you want to learn as much as you can from those willing to help you.

We cannot make you learn if you are not willing to do so.

You will want to learn because we want to teach you how to learn and because you want to achieve.

The rest of your life will be learning focussed and will be measured by you, according to your personal achievements.

We undertake to help you to learn HOW to learn according to your individual abilities. and interests.


Second, this school respects your rights to humane treatment. You will be treated as a person, with emotions and wants and needs.

No fear laden tests that classify your individuality or intellect, will be used or made known to anyone but yourself.

We will share the evaluation of everything that you learn with you. You will measure your progress and we teachers will help you to do so.

Together we will aim for the very top, and ignore those static one-hit useless blanket tests, mandated by government, used by some schools. Any forms of in-class testing will be pertinent, related to the current learning enterprise; and motivational.

We believe strongly in the supremacy of basic literacy and numeracy skills and you will achieve very high in these aspects of learning because you will want to.


Third, this school will no longer honour race or ethnicity.

I could not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Endeavour or on convict ships.

The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity — your character, your scholarship, your humanity.

And the only national identity this school will care about is Australia.

This is an Australian public school, and Australian public schools were created to make better Australians.

If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere.

We will end all ethnicity, race and non-Australian nationality-based celebrations and this school will be guided by Australia’s values. This includes all after-school clubs.

I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities.

This includes race, language, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else may become in vogue in a society divided by political correctness.

Your clubs will be based on interests and passions, not blood, ethnic, racial or other physically defined ties.

Those clubs just cultivate narcissism — an unhealthy preoccupation with the self — while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself.

So we will have clubs that transport you to the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, languages you do not already speak, carpentry and more.

If the only extracurricular activities you can imagine being interested in are those based on ethnic, racial or sexual identity, that means that little outside of yourself really interests you.


Fourth , I am uninterested in whether English is your native language.

My only interest in terms of language is that you leave this school speaking and writing English as fluently as possible.

The English language has united Australia’s citizens for over 200 years, and it will unite us at this school.

It is one of the indispensable reasons this country of immigrants has always come to be one country.

And if you leave this school without excellent English language skills, I would be remiss in my duty to ensure that you will be prepared to successfully compete in the Australian job market.

We will learn other languages here, but if you want classes taught in your native language rather than in English, this is not your school.


Fifth , because I regard learning as a sacred endeavour, everything in this school will reflect learning’s elevated status.

This means, among other things, that you and your teachers will dress accordingly.

Many people in our society dress more formally for Horse Racing events than for church or school.

These people have their priorities backward. Therefore, there will be a formal dress code at this school.


Sixth , no obscene language will be tolerated anywhere on this school’s property — whether in class, in the hallways or at athletic events.

If you can’t speak without using the f -word, you can’t speak.

By obscene language I mean the words banned by the Federal Communications Commission, plus epithets such as “Abbo,” even when used by one black student to address another black, or “bitch,”even when addressed by a girl to a girlfriend. It is my intent that by the time you leave this school, you will be among the few of your age to instinctively distinguish between the elevated and the degraded, the holy and the obscene.


Sixth , we will end all self-esteem programs. In this school, self-esteem will be attained in only one way — the way people attained it  a generation ago — by earning it.


Seventh , and last, I am reorienting the school toward learning-to-learn and achievement. Your achievements will not be measured by any one-hit external external standardised tests but by yourself and your teachers. You will be proud of your achievements no matter how modest they are nor how inadequate you think you are. You are a proud learner and you will be good at it


We will have failed if any one of you graduates from  this school and does not consider him or herself inordinately fortunate to be alive and to be an Australian.

Now, please stand and join me in the singing of ‘Advance Australia Fair”’.

If you are new to the school and do not know the words, your teachers will hand them out to you.

Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443   cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net/
07 5524 6443          0407865999

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 : http://treehornexpress.wordpress.au/ .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 : http://thedailyblog.co.nz/about-us/about-allan-alach/

Check Bruce: http://leading-learning.blogspot.com.au/

Check Kelvin: https://networkonnet.wordpress.com/author/kelvinsmythe/

Check Phil [‘ON LINE OPINION’ articles] :http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/author.asp?id=5872

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   
cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net/                     http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com/
07 5524 6443          0407865999

Principals with principles

 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 .

It must be difficult for a 2015 school principal with principle these days….to conduct curriculum activities using the best of what is known about learning within an institutionalised context, and also coping every day with the demands of a political whim that actually impairs cognitive development of school children.  The 2008 whim was based on a belief, held more by significant politicians of the time than by any other sector,  that school children learn best when the school climate  is one of heavy rigour and driven by fear of testing results.  So, there is an extraordinary amount of school time nowadays that concentrates on measuring parts of schooling that only testing experts,  employed by such politicians  believe should be taught and tested. Principals are stuck with organising a byzantine system of control that keeps pupils and teachers  in line; and parents in the dark.

As Professor Costa [Calif.StateUni.] states : “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.”    School principals with principles are expected to maintain this farce and are expected to hoodwink the public  on the virtues of running schools based on the whims of teaching-inexperienced measurers employed somewhere else.  The logic that teaching a child how to fill in the right bubbles on a piece of paper somehow helps the child to read better, calculate more accurately and develop profoundly in other critical literacy and numeracy skills is twisted logic. It is the kind of logic that a full generation of wise school leaders have had to tolerate.
Many educators believe that the use of such data to make judgements about schools is a sneaky, dishonest  scheme to privatise Australian schools, to undermine Gonski recommendations and to maintain the flow of money to testucating, publishing and computer programming corporations.
It’s a real dilemma for principals with principles. The forces that have no regard for children’s feelings nor parental concerns are very powerful. While a self-respecting principal can call upon his or her professional ethics to deny access to his or her classrooms, it’s a very brave thing to do under the existing political, totalitarian-based regimes since 2008. The hubristic arrogance of lawyer-trained Ministers has been and is so overpowering.  It’s possible only for  principled principals to reform as an ethical, professional group. Even then, they need to be strong to protect school children the way they should be protected.
Sometimes, chances come at Conference time for large organisations which principals and teachers subscribe to, at great expense. No free rides. The really productive ones are those run by subject associations but,  during the coming month or so, there is a number of conferences with highbrow connections:
Australian Council for Educational Leadership –Sydney – “Setting the Learning Agenda. Courage and Commitment to Lead”. [ The title suggests that the likes of NAPLAN, Direct Instruction etc. might be coming to an end very soon.]
Australian Secondary Principals Association –  Attendance at ACEL Conference suggested.
Australian College of Education – Sydney – “Education on the Edge.”  [Sure is. Should be some fireworks. Methinks it’s toppled already.]
Australian Primary Principals Association – Hobart –  “The Heart of Leadership”  [In view of leadership principles involved in the dispensing of NAPLAN tests, – see above- the outcomes of this conference should be momentous.]
Australian Government Primary Principals Association – [No conference. Unsure of its place in the schooling landscape.  Allied with APPA or trods on its toes?  A CIA outpost?]
Association of  Heads of Independent Schools of Australia – Sydney– “Culture, Character, Collegiality. “  [ Jolly good.]
At such conferences, some of the most productive time is spent in rooms, bars, coffee shops and  cafes  discussing the major issues of the day or just ‘chewing the fat’ about major issues affecting Australian schools.  Under such conditions, one would imagine that principals with principles would discuss what they are going to do about NAPLAN and its control over Australian schooling. With the conversions to tablet use, this period of 2015 is super-critical for serious decision-making that can have  its foundations in sessions like these.  Indeed….It’s  time for all schooling-connected organisations to get together. As Professor Kenneth Wiltshire says, “The whole of the NAPLAN plan needs to be put on hold…” [Treehorn 3 Aug.2015] Yes. It’s serious business, that can’t be neglected.
Supposing that conferees were challenged by a comprehensive list of comments and examined them comment by comment,  about  standardised blanket testing provided by Marion Brady of The Washington Post………..
– provides minimal to no useful feedback for classroom teachers;
– leads to neglect of music, art, other oral ways of learning, physical health;
– unfairly advantages those who can afford to pay for out-of-school tutoring;
– hides problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring;
– penalises test-takers who think in non-standard ways [which the young frequently do]
– radically limits teacher ability to adapt to learner differences;
– gives control of the curriculum to test-manufacturers’
– encourages use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators;
– uses arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores;- 
– produces scores that can be [and sometimes are] manipulated for political purposes;
– assumes that what the young will need to know in the future is already known;
– emphasises minimum achievement  to the neglect of maximum performance;
– creates unnecessary pressures to cheat;
– reduces teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession;
– lessens a concern for and use of shared evaluation techniques
– has no “success in life”  predictive  powers;
– unfairly channels instructional resources to learners at or near the pass-fail score;
– are open to massive scoring errors [as has already occurred] with life-changing consequences;
– are at odds with deep-seated ‘fair go’ Australian values about individuality and worth;
– Create unnecessary stress and negative attitudes towards learning;
– perpetuates the artificial compartmentalization of knowledge by field;
– repels a wholesome holistic attitude towards inter-discipline learning;
– channels increasing amounts of tax-money into corporate coffers and special programs instead of general classrooms;
– Wastes the vast, creative intelligence and potential of human variability;
– blocks instructional innovations that can’t be evaluated by machine;
– unduly rewards mere ability to retrieve second-hand information from memory;
– subtracts from available instruction time;
– lends itself to ‘gaming’ – use of strategies to improve the success–rate of guessing;
– makes TIME – a parameter largely unrelated to ability – a serious factor in scoring;
– creates test-fatigue, aversion to subjects and an eventual refusal to take tests seriously;
– is a monumental waste of money and time;
– destroys institutions’ reputation  and that of the profession in myriad and unsuspected ways
Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall if any group  dared to discuss some of these comments….and follow it through??
If significant teacher groups or learned societies should examine a few of these factors seriously……..it’s bye-bye NAPLAN.
When? 2015?
Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443   cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net                     http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com

Education Readings August 14th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Choice Stifles Learning for Educators

“What is it about a mandated, contractually obligated, professional development conference that inspires some teachers and completely turns off many others? Why do some teachers glow with excitement at conferences and many others complain as they go through the motions? Is it the conference itself, or the attitude of the educators attending, or a combination of both?”


‘Nothing you learn at university has any relevance in a classroom’

This article doesn’t reflect the title….

“But teacher education in Australia has become a zombie discipline. Its brains are being eaten by ‘experts’ that hold no proficiency in teaching and learning, but are offering a view because they attended school at some point. These ‘experts’ are instructing universities – holders of self accrediting authority – about the necessity to return to the ‘basics.’”


Why Dyslexia Is No Bar To F1 Champions

This isn’t strictly educational but then again it shows how people can succeed at the highest level in spite of their reading disability.

“Vancouver neurotherapist Mari Swingle insisted there’s scientific basis for Stewart’s theory, saying that dyslexics’ brains have an affinity for things like racing.

“There’s a different form of spacial perception that dyslexics have, so it’s almost fundamentally what hurts them in their learning to read actually helps them on courses and tracks,” said Swingle.”


7 things that doodling does for you that will probably make you want to start doodling again

Seems we should allow to doodle in class… can you cope with that?

“Shelley Paul and Jill Gough, two learning design educators, have taken the call to doodle into their classrooms. Armed with research and some colored pencils, they’ve come out with some hands-on experience that really illustrates why doodling is the jam.

So here are seven things doodling can do for you.”


Too much too soon? What should we be teaching four-year-olds

Young children with oral language deficiencies are becoming a very common problem in New Zealand schools and this article suggests that the first schooling experiences should focus heavily on redressing this.

“We need to develop children’s oral language skills early and leave formal classroom instruction until children have the foundation skills they need to achieve. This should raise the attainments, and esteem, of all children.”


Climbing a tree can improve cognitive skills, researchers say

Get children outside as much as possible!

“The study, led by Drs. Ross Alloway, a research associate, and Tracy Alloway, an associate professor, is the first to show that proprioceptively dynamic activities, like climbing a tree, done over a short period of time have dramatic working memory benefits. Working Memory, the active processing of information, is linked to performance in a wide variety of contexts from grades to sports.”


Signing off: Finnish schools phase out handwriting classes

I’m in two minds about this. I can see the logic but then again there’s evidence to support the value of handwriting to children’s learning.

“While purists mourn the loss of personality and the “human touch”, some neuroscientists stress the importance of cursive handwriting for improving brain development, motor skills, self-control and even dyslexia. French education officials took heed of these findings and reintroduced cursive writing classes in 2000 after a brief hiatus but in Finland, there’s been little response to the proposed scrapping.”


How the Arts Prepare for a Life’s Work in any Discipline

“Here is an outstanding keynote by Dr. Root-Bernstein, who after researching over 200 biographies of outstanding scientists found a correlation between their sustained art and craft avocations to their achievement in other disciplines, especially the sciences.  His talk begins with a quick display of childrens’ art which quickly reveals a playful and powerful connection to some great minds.  In other words, this is not a passive Art Appreciation class here, folks, but a case for active and continuous making, doing, tinkering (especially in high school).”


This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Seeing Struggling Math Learners as ‘Sense Makers,’ Not ‘Mistake Makers’

I recommend you all read this.

“Teachers and schools that are capable of creating real-world, contextualized, project-based learning activities in every other area of school often struggle to do the same for mathematics, even as prospective employers and universities put more emphasis on its importance. This struggle may come from a fundamental misunderstanding about the discipline and how it should be taught.”


New Zealand’s all but forgotten science research about valuing the both the views students hold and the process of learning to clarify their thinking – The Learning in Science Project. 

“Science teaching in primary classrooms cannot be ignored or forgotten. Primary schools need to provide worthwhile challenges to stimulate and challenge children’s’ present ideas as well as providing  opportunities to ‘learn how to learn’. Primary science, above all else, needs to encourage children to take an interest in their environment and their own learning, explore ideas, and seek and develop understandings about their world.”


My Longstanding Beef With Instructional Leaders

Principals as instructional leaders – yeah right!

Two articles by Bill Ferriter:

“But the truth is that despite working for some remarkable principals over the past 22 years, I’ve never turned to them for help with my instruction — and they never volunteered any instructional strategies that challenged my practice in a positive way.  Instead, I have always turned to my peers for that kind of professional challenge because I know that my peers are wrestling with instruction on a daily basis.  The expertise that I need to change my teaching rests in the hearts and minds of other practitioners — not my principals.”



From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died…

The Geranium on the Windowsill just died but Teacher you went straight on.

A book to encourage teachers to listen to the variety of voices of their students and reminded them of what it was like ‘to be small, penned up, bossed around’; and for students retain a sense of resiliency and joy during the time they are at school.”


Schools – so last Century

Schools so last century – still…

“At the end of the nineteenth century schools were developed to meet the needs of an industrial age to transfer knowledge to often reluctant students and, in many ways, they have changed little since those beginnings. In contrast almost every other aspect of our lives has been changed through technological advances. Roland Barth, from the Harvard Leadership Centre has written, ‘many of our schools seem en-route to becoming a hybrid of a nineteenth century factory, a twentieth century minimum security penal colony and a twenty-first century Education Testing Service.”


Whose learning is it?

“Without meaning to many teachers not only diminish their student’s authentic sense of self but miss out in inspiration to develop engaging personalized programmes. As DH Lawrence wrote, ‘you have to know yourself to be yourself’. At school students learn to fit into a world designed by teachers and not all students will thrive in such an artificial environment.”


What Started Treehorn?

I’ve always shared beliefs with fair-dinkum schoolies, whose concern for the rights of the likes of Treehorn is serious.  Treehorn is Everychild.

We  believe

1.       …..that there is good in every child no matter how slow, damaged, ill-favoured or despised by others;

2.       …. that children will work to the limit of their abilities no matter how high or low that might be;

3.       ….. that all children matter;

4.       ….. that happy relationships between school administrators, parents, teachers and pupils are all important;

5.       ….. that the life of the child is enriched by the development of its creative powers

6.       ….. that love and encouragement and having fun at school  are far more productive than fear and punishment;

7.       …..that  children need care-based pupilling rather than fear-based hard instruction;

8.       ….. that teachers need as much support as pupils, and thrive on recognition.

Since the 1990s, such beliefs have not been not widely shared.  It would appear that the yen for testing has claimed the attitudes of the majority and that schooling is now akin to the ‘processing of oranges’ [Lorraine Wilson].

So, some years ago, I adopted Treehorn Everychild to express my own feelings and some wonderful, wonderful true-blue educators have joined me by sharing that sort of spreading of the  good word on behalf of the ignored.  Treehorn, the product of the imagination of writer, Florence Heidi Parry, was a little boy with a big problem. Nobody he knew, took any notice.  He showed us how little we adults care about kids at school.  Out of sight, out of mind.  He is in every classroom and we ignore his discomfort.

At times it now seems like a forlorn crusade, having to fight for so long for justice for kids.  Justice for kids is  not on anyone’s  agenda. “We ‘Care For Kids’” is expressed more often with tongue in cheek.  Expressions about children’s learning has been replaced by plenty of talk about about test results;  and it hurts as  you wonder if the kind of former great people who once ran our schools, have been replaced by others, who, wonderful people though they are, seem to have lost the plot and now work hard for a sad purpose.  It hurts because one believes in the enormous dignity and importance of primary schooling and there are now too many operatives who don’t seem to care.

[One major principals’ organisation actually dropped the word ‘primary’ from its title and has never sought to reinstate it. The reasons  were pedestrian and, by doing so, did nothing to enhance the nobility of its existence.]

We all were once so proud of primary schooling’s uniqueness [http://primaryschooling.net/] because we knew what it stood for….

  • Primary schools introduce a country’s populations to its culture; to its rituals, conventions and rules. They provide the real foundations for a country’s future. Neglect primary pupils and you neglect your country’s future. Teach them how to learn and you will enrich your country beyond any normal expectations.
  • Each primary-teacher undertakes a parent-surrogate role with a large number of children for a full school day for at least a full school year, with few if any breaks.
  • Parents trust primary teachers more than they do most other people. They start to let go of their children’s hand at the primary school gate at an early age.
  • Primary teaching, because of its enormous range of curriculum requirements, is more intellectually demanding than any other kind of teaching and extremely demanding of personal creativity.
  •  It calls for a mega-counselling ability that is more diverse than other carer provides. Statistics indicate that over one-third of an average class has suffered a serious trauma of some kind in their young life. 1 in 3 –domestic violence; 1-4 sexual violence; 1-10 is poor ; and the teacher is the only adult with whom one-third of the class has spoken during the previous 24 hours. Most pupils itch for some kind of loving consideration during the course of each day. Most need it. Which ones?
  • Each teacher must cope with seven major areas of required curriculum learnings and other imposed kinds as well,  while catching up for  the enforced delays imposed on time tables during the first few months every second year..
  • Each teacher, because of the variety of curriculum demands, must adjust teaching styles from their repertoire to cater for the intricacies of the subject in hand, the setting, the resources available, and, in particular, the idiosyncratic  learning styles of each learner. It is an extraordinarily complex task.

It is seldom recognised that

[a] the routines of each school day in such active learning centres are physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding. By comparison, lecturing to a group of fifty adults is so easy, but through extraordinary social circumstances, a university professor receives a higher salary than a Year 3 teacher for lecturing fees;

[b] each primary teacher has a closer, friendlier and more productive linkage with its clientele than most business institutions and yet corporate managers and leaders receive much higher remuneration;

[c] primary teachers serve children in the most remote places imaginable….far from home, friends, interests, favoured pursuits, recreational interests and geographical comfort. No other professional occupation serves the public in places so remote. Children and parents live there by choice. A primary teacher performs a public service that few others bother to appreciate.

If we do not teach our pupils how to learn, the kind of material that we stuff into them  in the lead-up to NAPLAN Testing will be useless.

The public needs to talk to generate some serious discussion about the value of these sorts of things;  and query why ignorant, arrogant, suspicious politicians imposed such extraordinarily  immature and nasty classroom requirements on a profession that serves its country better than any other group does. Despite the fact that some new curriculum material is of social benefit [e.g.. Appreciation of Domestic Violence] does anybody ever ask ‘What does it replace?”  What did NAPLAN test-prep replace?

That this unique profession of primary teaching in Australia succumbed meekly to heavy-handed, time-wasting, anti-child processes in 2008 was a real shocker.  I had always believed that its care-for-kids ethics were stronger than that. All that any representative group of fair dinkum, professional primary teachers needed to have said, at the time, was : ”Lie down you nasty pollie. You cannot expect us to abuse our kids like that. You are trying to destroy our professional ethics by expecting us to be subversive in the way we treat parents, with whom we are normally open and honest; and to create fear and distress for their young children who just want to learn as much as they can according to their abilities.” 

This  2008 “Big Brother” command that NAPLAN must be used to repair the fictitious decline in standards, was the first public indication of a misguided,  embedded,  authoritarian Australian culture for the new millennium. School teachers’ professional ideals are so easily captured. They were the first targets. They comply easily. Others are following.

Orwellian as this social condition is, I’m often tempted to join the timid and compliant….and just quit. It’s an easy way out of social justice responsibilities. But, it’s too hard.  I can’t. Our children and our future are too important. I’m a primary teacher. Aussie kids deserve only the best, not this second-hand New York crap.

Primary teacher, Bill Brown, has suggested to me that my value-ridden outbursts of the liberal/democratic kind, are very lonely. Democratic values are in short supply. The norm that guides the teaching/learning ethic has been lowered and it requires serious discussion about such basic democratic norms if redress is to be achieved. Bill Brown repeats that much more than mere ‘talk’ is needed. The issue requires very serious discussion. Totalitarian control mechanisms of the Gillard-Pyne kind have had their time. But!  There will be no such redress until the need is expressed at the ballot box.

The first move has been made in the Labor ranks that now provides a chance for reasonable people to discuss the school-world of children and their parents….

the first democratic expression of public goodwill towards kids and their parents in seven years.

If Mr. Abbott had proposed this sort of  liberalising, democratic thing …. telling the full truth to parents, it would be a ten-flag event. 

 Maybe he can autocratically  trump Labor and banish all stress-based tests forthwith?

But there are super-confused levels of pupilism [how children learn] caused by school- inexperience at his adviser and decision-making levels. Data-miners with minimal classroom hands-on experience run the show and only know how to test. They believe in number magic…that failure in test performance motivates children to do better. This suits the purpose of the greedy as there is big money in data-mining.

In 2008 there was a large toxic Monarch butterfly that flapped its wings in New York and produced a cyclonic maelstrom in the South Pacific!  Data mining, big time, started.

We now need a larger, more attractive, energising butterfly to create  adequate sensitivity to the need for a large-scale political awakening. Although they hold a superior position, the spin put out by ACARA and by ‘experts’ like the Hatties of this world needs to be debunked.   Bill Brown suggests that we need to heed the advice of folk like Buckminster Fuller when he advised that we should not struggle to change a problematic model, but create a new one that makes the old one obsolete. What do you think?

 Care to try?

Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue   Banora Point Australia 2486   07 55246443   0407865999   cphilcullen@bigpond.com
http://primaryschooling.net   http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com   http://kelleyandcullen.net

I’m a Primary Principal

The Treehorn Express

Treehorn is the hero of a children’s book called The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heidi. It’s about a small boy with enormous problems, who remained totally ignored by all adults, including his parents, teachers and principal during an important period in his life. Like all young school pupils, he came to learn that adults don’t take much notice of school kids, no matter how dire the circumstances. Children are left on their own to survive, despite the stress that some very cruel adults impose on them – like the operators and users of NAPLAN the Wombat tests. The Shrinking of Treehorn is a powerful story with a morally-stunning conclusion.

I’m a Primary Principal

This is about the greatest job in the world. It is a task in which the pressures are continuous, demands can be contradictory and the days unending. It requires a high professional conscience, continuous personal development, superhuman energy, decision-making capacities as to what drives conflict resolution regarding the school’s curriculum and what should; and a level of personal reconciliation with professional ethics beyond the normal.

It’s a tough job, but it has an endless array of unusual, wondrous fringe benefits that other jobs don’t. The Practising Administrator once said that it has special perks. It asked in what other job can you….

Start the world all over again at the beginning of each school year and have an opportunity to influence its direction.

Touch a child and see your fingerprint.

Look around and see 100 kids trying to imitate some personal mannerism you didn’t even know you had.

Have the mother of a five-year-old faithfully entrust the dearest thing in her life to your care.

Have a seven-year-old show you his skinned knee but blink back his tears because he doesn’t want you to see him cry.

Feel a tug on your coat and look down to an enormous set of brown eye asking, “Do you know who I am?”

Feel the rush of success when you reply, “Of course I know you, Susie.”

Overhear one child tell another, “That’s our principal. He owns this school.”

See a young chap greedily eye the chocolate cupcake in his lunch-box – and then offer it to you.

Practice dentistry without a licence.

Have an excited teacher burst into your office shouting, “It worked!”

Hear a grateful mother say, “You were right. That’s what he needed.”

Watch a skilled teacher at work and remember how many times she came to you in tears in her first year.

Having hundreds of adults and children try to sing “Happy Birthday to You” with gooey icing from the tuckshop mothers’ cakes still in their mouths.

Watch your wife’s face, when a Year 1 points to her and announces confidently “That’s the principal’s mother.”

It’s the kind of job that makes one realise that there is a divine plan and that one has been chosen to play a special role in some children’s lives.

Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 [3rd left from Q’ld.] 07 5524 6443 cphilcullen@bigpond.com
http://@qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com                  http://primaryschooling.net

The Right to Give Permission [3]

The Treehorn Express

The Right to Give Permission [3]


 No aspect of social justice for children was considered at the time of the 2008 mad, counter-productive scramble to gather tests scores. Teachers and their organisations, principals and their associations, academics and their learned groups dutifully complied with the arrogant directions ‘from above’. Disfigured by the acceptance of managerialism of the nineties, the various representative groups lacked the professional and ethical backbone to take-on the quasi-Stalinists. Although it was their major duty, caring about kids was out-sourced.

Despite the abundance of research, empirical evidence and learned offerings about the deleterious effects on a Rupert%20sucks[3]child’s mental capacity for learning under stressful conditions, testing has continued….. under suspicious circumstances…..the circumstances being that it continues only because of the financial benefit to a few mega-rich profiteers and is of electoral benefit to some narrow-minded, gullible politicians.

The blanket testing industry is a multi-billion industry, according to its major benefactor, a New York former Australian. In the six years since its inception, his pet NAPLAN has, almost completely, fragmented the school curriculum for Years 3,5,7,9. It’s a cancer eating out the soul of any knowledge-building curriculum, not giving our kids much chance to learn and to like learning. How did it happen? How did our kids come to be treated like little robotic testing machines….with no feelings nor emotions?

 1. From the start, school principals, the lynch-pins of any useful reform were isolated, then corralled. Their opinion was not sought; then they were told what was expected of them; an alternative principals association was formed to ‘legitimize’ changes; and coerced to give their ‘approval’ of the hunt for higher test-scores. The school-cash handouts and a chance of some ‘autonomy’ made compliance complete. Now, as NAPLAN’s central operators, they seem to operate with blind indifference. They accept any direction without question.. Their associations give a squawk or two every now and then, but there is no large-scale examination nor serious experience-based view expressed about the effects of high-stakes testing on classroom strategies and curriculum outcomes. Things are not looking too well for stressed kids while principal complacency continues.

Child feelings and the effects of severe testing on their cognitive development have yet to be considered….by anyone.

2. The acceptance that ‘being tough on kids’ is good for them and is part of the process of ‘growing up’ is a stated belief of ACARA; and is oft times repeated by business associates and ‘tough’ parents. A return to crash-bang-wallop techniques won’t do much harm. Despite being a shameful tenet, this has created an atmosphere of support for the cruel mandated tests. Classroom teachers know this and know that they shouldn’t be co-operating – but the heavy, coercive, authoritative chain of gestapo-like government controls are compelling.

A child’s reaction to being ‘toughened up’ has yet to be considered.

3. Principals were not allowed and are still not allowed to inform parents about the general and specific effects of high-stakes testing on classroom performance; nor encouraged to generalise about the kinds of evaluative devices that a school can use to enhance higher levels of learning…..shared devices, parents informative devices, on-the-spot developmental devices. The evidence that test-free achievement-based, learnacy-focussed, happy classrooms using an holistic curriculum, produces higher scores on PISA tests than do practice-practices-practice devices, is kept secret….deliberately hidden. [Unless you are talking about Finland]

Shhhhh – don’t talk about the best ways for kids to learn..

4. People are encouraged to talk in scoring-talk in preference to learning-talk. It’s PISA talk. A class or school or state or country is ‘academically better’ because it made higher scores. Huh! All state and federal ministers as well as shadow ministers, talk in scoring talk. They have great difficulty in describing schooling using curriculum terminology. Their descriptions have to entail NAPLAN or PISA talk. Its the favoured terminology of the classroom ignorant.

5. Teachers who show compassion towards individual kids during the strict exam period …the sorts of exchange that are common during normal classroom activities …are branded, sometimes as ‘cheats’. Their misdemeanours are exposed. They are subjected to local versions of Room 101 . It can be a helluva few days for compassionate teachers to have to supervise the distress and anxiety of their loved ones.

FEAR abounds.

Australia is certainly in a crazy schooling whirlpool with numerous woolly politically-based additions made, merely to divert attention from the main game…teaching kids.

Right? What are you going to do about it? Each Australian school is now a veritable Wellmeadow Cafe. The snail is in the bottle. It’s deteriorating.


Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point 2486 07 5524 6443. cphilcullen@bigpond.com

“it’s impossible to understand a dynamic, systemically integrated world using a static, fragmented curriculum.”

Marion Brady

How Wrong Can One Be?


Treehorn Express

How Wrong Can One Be?

It’s election day in Australia next Saturday and I have long anticipated that the topic ‘NAPLAN’ would be on everyone’s lips during this week and that everybody would be talking about its effects on the cognitive development of our school children and the economic future of this country. Each political party would then have ‘Ban NAPLAN” as its prime policy. I was hoping that NAPLAN would be, far and away, the main issue of the election.

I was so wrong. I came to appreciate how powerful is Florence Parry Heide’s message, in The Shrinking of Treehorn. Adults just don’t give two hoots about children of schools age, as young Treehorn so ably demonstrated. I thought that ordinary Australians would be especially rebellious when politicians started fiddling with and forcing teachers to apply inappropriate ways of dealing with children’s mental health and their ways of learning; and that some crazy Yank-happy people had cloned a failing New York system to do it. I just could not see NAPLAN lasting very long.

I was so very wrong.


 I knew that any effort would be ‘pushing it up hill’ since NAPLAN’s scandalous introduction in 2008; but I was pretty confident that the ethics of Australia’s leading education bodies would quickly remediate the extraordinary mistake made by their quick blessing of such a fear-based system of schooling [I hereby acknowledge the outstanding ‘persuasive’ techniques of Julia Gillard] even though the scheme was antipathetic to the successful achievement-based learning theories, known to every teacher.

Having been active with associations such as Primary Principals, Educational Leadership and general education under banners known as APPA, ACEL and ACE, I could not see NAPLAN lasting more that a year at most. I had been so impressed, during my career, by the moral integrity of each these associations during previous skirmishes of a political nature [SEMP, M:ACOS, Standards, MCT amongst them] I was surethat NAPLAN would have a life of about the same time-frame as the MCT movement. When their approval of NAPLAN testing portrayed them as complicit ‘Noddies’ standing approvingly behind an arrogant and contemptuous politician, the vision was quite shattering.

I misjudged things badly. Wrong again.


 When serious tertiary studies revealed that over 80% of teachers showed that they disliked NAPLAN and did not believe that it would work, one expected that their unions and organisations would raise the standard and even march on parliament houses to tell the uncaring pollies that ‘enough was enough’. The message went through to the keeper.

I was so completely wrong again.


 Then, when schools started to rely on constant pavlovian-style practice of small-time, albeit essential, maths and literacy items by dumping worthy aspects of the curriculum, I was pretty sure that subject associations, academics and teachers would tear ACARA apart, as would State Ministers of Educations who used to get pretty jumpy when artistic aspects of the curriculum were fiddled with. It almost seemed as if our state ministers became very lily-livered when the federal master-mind ministers wanted her or his own way.

Disappointing ….and disgusting. Nothing happened. I erred.


 The intensity of opposition to Standardised Blanket Testing by the world’s leading educationists [Brady, Robinson, Yong Zhao, Ravitch, Wu, Sahlberg, Goodlad, Glass, Hargreaves…the list could be so long that it would be easier to look for a school-educationist who supports the use of standardised blanket tests for school improvement purposes. [“If there is one out there, would you please stand up!”] has been so appropriate and honest, I could not envision any true-blue schoolie ignoring it.

The wave-length that these real educators share is based on sound learning theory and practice, not on measurement tactics. Marion Brady, in his most recent comment in the Washington Post expresses the feeling: “It should be self-evident that a democracy can’t function without an educated citizenry. It follows, then, that when leaders of business and industry buy a particular theory about educating and sell it to politicians who write education policy, responsible citizens will try to make informed judgements about it.

The key word that drives the present corporate-influenced education reform movement is “rigor”. Its supporters assume that teachers and kids have been getting off easy for decades, so a tough “no excuses” regimen is long overdue.” [See his quiz below]

Measurers would of course support testing in schools. They should have no place in decisions affecting school learning. Their role, in a schooling context, is to be on tap, never on top. What did Australia do?

[Why are we so afraid of Mr. Murdoch, owner of the $US700billion [Yes] firm producing the material and equipment, who is the main beneficiary of large heaps of money from various testing procedures everywhere; and is the de facto controller of Australian schools…..or…..have I got that wrong too?]


 Finally, I have not heard nor read the word ‘NAPLAN’ mentioned in any election material by any person for the last month or so. I thought that ‘BAN NAPLAN’ deserved to be splattered over each candidate’s poster. I thought that it would have been installed as of far greater importance than boat people, CSG, or paid maternity leave. No. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The Treehorn Syndrome is just too overcoming. Adults just don’t care about kids.

Sorry kids. It’s so true.

Phil Cullen Sub_83 http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/senate_committees?url=eet_ctte/naplan_2013/submissions.htm


Read Marion Brady’s quiz: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/08/31/a-quiz-on-americas-core-curriculum/