Australian Primary Principals Association - Connected Leader: The APPA e-journal for Australian primary school leaders


September 2014

Dear Colleagues,

A discussion paper has been developed by the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) to draw attention to problems arising from the publication of NAPLAN data on the My School website. APPA is increasingly concerned that the public availability of data on all schools, combined with the powerful and flexible search tools on My School, has shifted NAPLAN into a high stakes environment and had significant unintended negative consequences for schools.

High stakes assessment involves tests that have significant consequences for students, teachers and others in education, and also involves public reporting and public accountability. Our paper presents national and international research evidence of the significant negative effects of such testing regimes, including:

  • limits on the development of the range of skills and literacies needed in the modern world and the encouragement of low-level thinking
  • negative effects on teacher pedagogy, teacher collaboration, and on creative and effective teachers
  • a shift away from supportive and collaborative learning approaches to competitive and individualistic ways of learning
  • stress and tension in students, especially primary students, leading to negative impacts on student well-being, self-esteem and motivation
  • distortion and narrowing of the curriculum.

Our paper then examines the implementation of NAPLAN and the public reporting of NAPLAN results in searchable form on the My School website. It concludes that there is clear evidence that NAPLAN has become a high stakes assessment regime, and that the negative effects evident in international research are also evident in Australia.

APPA states its support for NAPLAN, recognises its role in school transparency and accountability measures, and values the clear, independent data provided by the assessment regime to schools and school systems. The paper does not see NAPLAN itself as the source of the problems identified in the paper; rather, we argue that the evidence suggests they result in large part from the publication of comprehensive, searchable results on My School. This is clear in the publication of league tables of schools in Australia and a public discourse that sees NAPLAN as the key source of information about a school.

APPA proposes that this deteriorating situation can be resolved in the following ways:

  • removing school-level NAPLAN results and the related search capacity from My School
  • making clear, if it is not already clear in any jurisdiction, that schools should report their NAPLAN results, together with national and their own state or territory results, to students, parents and the community
  • making clear in public discussion of NAPLAN results both the value and the limitations of the data.

The key issue raised by APPA in this paper concerns the consequences of the public reporting of NAPLAN data for all schools on the My School website. It is our contention that this has had serious negative effects on the education of Australian children, especially in primary schools, and that these effects can only be managed by removing NAPLAN data from the website.

The argument is easily misinterpreted. In order to demonstrate the effects we are concerned about, the paper discusses the negative consequences of high stakes testing, of which NAPLAN has become an example. We stress that the argument is not about NAPLAN, which we support, but about the perverse consequences produced by its publication in searchable form on My School.

The paper is concerned with the side effects produced by the publication of NAPLAN data in an aggregated, searchable form and by the provision of simple, apparently transparent, comparisons of schools. We argue that these features have a net negative effect on the education of Australian children, especially in primary schools.

Despite our support for NAPLAN, we regard the program as pernicious if it is used to produce broad-brush and inaccurate rankings and comparisons of schools. We think it is counter-productive if it drives out and devalues other data and mechanisms for school evaluation and improvement. We think it is damaging if it distorts the curriculum and pushes schools and teachers to spend excessive time on test preparation. We think it can be destructive if it creates anxiety and fear in primary children. These and other difficulties with the present position of NAPLAN in Australian education are functions principally of the publication of NAPLAN data on My School and the resulting perception of NAPLAN as a high stakes assessment regime.

The discussion paper, ‘My School - NAPLAN Discussion Paper’, is available on the APPA website. It will be the basis for a motion at the APPA Conference in Sydney in October where I believe primary principals will call for the publication of school level NAPLAN data on My School to cease. I commend the paper to you.

Norm Hart
President, Australian Primary Principals Association


Principals in the news

September 2014

Christian Cundy

The principal of Calare Public School, in NSW, has sincerely apologised to all parents and carers for unwise remarks he made in a recent (in-house) letter to staff.

Principal performance management

School council presidents in Victoria (usually parents) will soon be able to take part in the performance management of principals, advising the education department on how they are faring and what could be improved.

Graham Roberts

NSW principal Graham Roberts recently explained the benefits of Tathra Public School’s Aboriginal Education Walk Signs and the Community Aboriginal Flyer.

Steven Lockwood

A former principal is appealing against the severity of penalties the Education Department imposed after it investigated three incidents involving different students at Nollamara Primary School, in Western Australia.

Sakari Momoi

A former Japanese school principal recently became the oldest man alive, aged 111. ‘I want to live for about two more years,’ he said after receiving a certificate from the Guinness World Records.

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Opinion and analysis

September 2014

Inaccurate and damaging comparisons

The Australian Primary Principals Association argues in a discussion paper that My School is exposing students and schools to ‘blunt, arguably inaccurate and damaging’ comparisons.


APPA is recommending five-and-a-half as Australia’s preferred school starting age, with discretion for parents to send their child six months earlier or later.

Diverse views on school chaplains

Opinion is still polarised on the school chaplaincy scheme, after the High Court ruled the Federal Government’s plan invalid in June, for the second time in two years.

Matthew Knott

Matthew Knott provides a personal summary of the past 12 months of the Abbott Government, in relation to its performance in education.

Len Fehlhaber

‘Your NAPLAN [results] are high stakes, anyone who wants to trivialise it is mad, anyone who wants to make excuses is equally as mad,’ say the principal of Mackay Central State School, in Queensland.

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Research, reports and statistics

Sept 2014

Report on student self-harm

Recently released ‘serious incident’ data in NSW shows more than 40 cases of children self-harming or threatening to hurt themselves.

Competition harmful: OECD

In its latest PISA in Focus brief, the OECD says that the PISA international test data show that more competition has failed to improve student results and has increased social segregation between schools.

Chinese students flourish in Australia

A new study has found that students of Chinese background in Australian schools scored higher than Shanghai students in the 2009 OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test.

Learning from brain scans

Dr Daniel Amen explains some recent advances in brain structure research. What are the implications for teaching and learning?

No empirical evidence

New Zealand education academics say that after more than 25 years of Reading Recovery in their country, there is virtually no empirical evidence to indicate that the program results in sustained literacy improvement.

PR1ME Mathematics—based on the world’s best practice used in Singapore PR1ME has been developed by Scholastic in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in Singapore.

How does it work? PR1ME: explicitly and systematically teaches the problem solving processes and strategies; uses consistent and carefully structured pedagogy; takes a carefully scaffolded, deep-dive into conceptual development; actively involves students in metacognition; and provides professional learning for teachers.

Education news

September 2014

Federated school boards

Up to 10 schools on the Victoria-NSW border are keen to join forces by creating a federated school board to oversee matters such as capital works programs and student welfare services.

MySchool website review postponed

Parents will still be able to rank schools by their NAPLAN test results, through the controversial My School website, after the Federal Government postponed plans to overhaul the site.

Ban on unsupervised gymnastic feats

A number of parents have objected to a Queensland primary school’s ban on students performing unsupervised cartwheels and handstands in the playground.

Security scare

Students and staff at a Melbourne Jewish school were recently evacuated after security guards called in the Victoria Police bomb response unit to check a suspicious car.

5000 trees chopped down

More than 5000 trees have been chopped down in NSW schools after eight-year-old Bridget Wright was killed last February by a falling limb from a gum tree.

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Balancing act

September 2014

The physical consequences of stress

A Stanford University neuroscientist examines the damaging physical consequences of stress, both short and long-term.

Turning anxiety into calmness

Dr Martin L. Rossman explains how to use the power of the mind to reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain, change lifestyle habits and live with more wellness.

Sleep: the key to health and wellness

Dr Ellen Hughes describes the role of sleep in achieving health and wellness. She also provides measures that can be taken to live longer and better.

Mental toughness

Dr Sean Richardson provides an overview of the subtleties of human brain and behaviour function to facilitate overcoming the normal and predictable human barriers to success.

Getting ‘unstuck’ from negative thinking

Alison Ledgerwood investigates how certain ways of thinking about an issue tend to stick in people's heads. How can one ‘switch’ to positive thinking?

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Policy and innovation

September 2014

Science teacher in every primary school

Specialist science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers are recommendations of a plan delivered by Australia’s chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb.

Fluorescent strips in school uniform

High-visibility ‘glow shirts’ are now part of the school uniform at Niddrie Primary School, in Melbourne. Reflective strips will make students more noticeable when they cross the road.

Wirra Club program extended

A child obesity reduction program trialled in two Canberra schools will be extended after it received a three-year funding grant of more than $460,000 from the ACT Government.

Innovative school design

As part of an urban regeneration scheme, two Victorian schools in a financially under-privileged suburb have been brought together in a ‘walled city’.

Enhancing engagement in learning

According to a recent trial, 85 per cent of participating primary school teachers thought their students were engaged in their learning when using a tablet.

KidsMatter Primary is a proven mental health and wellbeing framework for primary schools. It provides expert knowledge, tools and support to help schools grow healthy young minds and care for children’s mental health. KidsMatter is backed by the expertise of Principals Australia Institute, beyondblue and the Australian Psychological Society.

Professional skill-building

September 2014

Six steps to leading positive change

Rosabeth Moss Kanter uses the stories of great leaders and ordinary people to reveal the six success factors that are the keys to positive change.


Dan Ariely talks about managing short-term impulses at the expense of long-term goals. Reward substitution and self-control contracts are two suggestions.

Effective school leadership

US school principal Jeanie Dawson discusses effective school leadership, especially the importance of collaboration.

Changing a culture of failure.

Michael Alcoff describes how a school in the Bronx, New York, USA, was ‘turned around’.

What makes a great school principal?

Vicki Shannon, President of the Ontario Principal's Council, in Canada, discusses what the role of the principal is, and how great principals are made.

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Money matters

September 2014

Multiple funding sources

Philanthropists, local business owners and parents will be asked to contribute to the foundation of an innovative independent school in Port Melbourne, Victoria.

Fundraising ethics

The media has reported on an unfortunate quiz night at North Cottesloe Primary School, in Perth, Western Australia.

School disappears

Sold by the Victorian Education Department in 2012 for $4.6 million, the land once occupied by Mooroolbark Primary School is now being developed into a 79-residence estate.

Early education funds extended

On 5 September the Government confirmed it would commit $406 million to maintain the current early education funding agreement with the States and Territories.

Raising funds for Nepalese education

A Rockhampton teacher is working with First Steps Himalayas to build an education and training centre in Nepal.

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Love the job

September 2014

Steve McGarrigle

Principal, Rollins Primary School
Bell Post Hill, Victoria

Provide a brief description of where you currently work as a school leader.

Currently, I am the principal of Rollins Primary School, a dual campus school of 268 students. The main campus is located in the Geelong residential suburb of Bell Post Hill. The second campus is four kilometres away in Batesford. We are fortunate to have a supportive parent community and fabulous students. The school has been through a significant period of staff change in recent years and I often reflect on how lucky I am to work with such a committed and professional group of people.

How long have you been a school leader? What/where was your first appointment?

My entry into school leadership was almost 20 years ago but my first school appointment in 1980 was to Woodville Primary School, in Hoppers Crossing, where I spent 10 amazing years honing my skills as a teacher. It was at Woodville that I learned a lot about developing positive relationships with all members of the school community but, most importantly, the students. I was fortunate during these years to work with some of the most impressive school leaders and teachers that I have had the pleasure to be associated with. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that many of my teaching colleagues from Woodville in the 1980’s went on to become principals themselves.

When, and why, did you originally want to become a school leader?

My first venture into the Principal Class was in 1995, when I was appointed to the position of assistant principal at North Shore PS, in the northern suburbs of Geelong. Two and a half years later, I became the principal of that school, and remained there until the end of 1999. I was excited to move into the Principal Class, after having undertaken a wide range of leadership experiences throughout my 15 years as a classroom teacher and, although the reasons are somewhat intangible, I knew that the time was right for me to take the next step into leadership.

What makes you smile at work?

It brings a smile to my face when the children are happy, engaged and learning and when teachers make a genuinely positive connection with their students. For me, one of the most rewarding part of this job is when you see a child achieve something that they have never achieved before or when they show pride in a challenge they have accepted. There are also many occasions when children say the funniest things, generally with complete innocence, and those moments are pure gold.

(continued on next page)


Love the job

September 2014

Steve McGarrigle

Principal, Rollins Primary School
Bell Post Hill, Victoria

(continued from previous page)

What are you most pleased about in relation to your staff?

My staff are a highly motivated group of individuals. That being said, the thing that pleases me most about them is the way in which they embrace the team ethos we have worked so hard to build. No one is an island at Rollins and the level of communication, collaboration and cooperation, both within and across school teams, is of the highest standard. We feel comfortable to challenge each other professionally and to accept that there can be better ways to do things. I love my staff!

What was the best day you ever had as a school leader?

It’s virtually impossible to pick out just one day. However, there are a number of days that come to mind as being just that little bit special, including the day the local radio station broadcast from our school grounds; the Saturday when a neighbourhood church provided 150 volunteers to complete a range of building and grounds projects at school; the day we opened our BER building (which is now a vital resource for our school community we couldn’t live without) and all the days when our entire student population provides an evening of entertainment for our community at the school concert.

What personal and professional attributes helped you through your worst day as a school leader?

During 2007-2008, I had the good fortune to be seconded to DEECD’s Conduct and Ethics Branch, where I worked as an Investigations Officer with a hugely talented team of people. This was a tremendously rewarding period of my career, which equipped me with skills that have enabled me to become a much better principal than I was prior to this experience. The toughest days in schools can be those when you have to challenge a staff member in whom you have placed great trust. Attributes such as honest communication, analytical thinking, patience, empathy and a sense of humour are those which were enhanced in my time at the C&E Branch, and which I draw on for the most challenging of days.

As an inexperienced principal, was the most useful lesson you ever learned from a more experienced principal colleague?

I have been fortunate to work with some highly capable school leaders and learned many valuable lessons throughout my career. However, the one that that sticks with me most of all is the one I learned from my principal in my early years as an assistant principal. Under his leadership, I came to truly understand that everything we do is for the children; whatever decision is made should be made in the context of what is in the best interest of the students. For many children, the best time of their day is the time they spend at school, between 9.00am and 3.30pm. It’s our job to make sure that every minute they spend at school adds value to their lives.

(continued on next page)


Love the job

September 2014

Steve McGarrigle

Principal, Rollins Primary School
Bell Post Hill, Victoria

(continued from previous page)

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you as a school leader?

Many years ago, while principal of North Shore PS, we enjoyed a staff function one evening during the school week. In the course of the evening, one of my teachers joked ‘We might all take the day off tomorrow, Steve’ and I flippantly replied, ‘Yes, that’s a great idea’. The next morning, I had a principals’ briefing and didn’t arrive at school until 11.00am. To my absolute horror, the car park was empty, the school was locked and not a person was in sight. To this day, I’m not sure how such an elaborate prank was organised in such a short period of time but I was hugely relieved a few minutes after my arrival to find every student and staff member in fits of laughter hiding from me in the hall. The staff had even gone to the trouble of parking their cars offsite, well out of view.

What tips would you give beginning school leaders about staying positive and keeping their energy levels high?

School leaders beginning their journey can quickly become consumed by their role, which is at times both challenging and demanding. It is so important to maintain a balance and have interests beyond school. Personally, I enjoy a Saturday afternoon at the local footy and my wife and I love nothing more than a weekend away or dining out at a restaurant where we can enjoy a meal with a good bottle of wine. It’s important to keep in mind that, when confronted by a challenging situation at school, that a considered and calm response will often lead to a positive outcome. I’ve found throughout my career that the worst decisions I’ve made have been the decisions that have been made on the run.

If you could name just one thing that kept you going to school every day, even during tough times, what would that be?

I can honestly say that I love going to work every day, however some days are obviously more difficult than others. I have found that one of the most valuable resources available to principals during those challenging times is their network of colleagues. The wealth of knowledge and experience available is enormous and it’s very comforting to know that there is always someone who is prepared to share their time and expertise when things get tough. Even after many years as a principal, I don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call a colleague if I feel the need to talk through a particularly difficult situation and get some independent advice.

Steve McGarrigle, Principal, Rollins Primary School, Bell Post Hill, Victoria



Managing Editor, APPA 'Connected Leader'

Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988

Connected Leader

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Connected Leader is an official publication of the Australian Primary Principals Association. In close collaboration with APPA, Connected Leader is designed, produced and edited, specifically for APPA members, by Debra J. Crouch, Managing Director of Vivid Word and Image design, to enhance the professional learning of Australian primary school leaders.


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