Education, the Australian media and writing good news stories.

Today is a very sad day for public education in NSW. Murray Kitteringham, Principal of Sir Joseph Banks High School died suddenly this morning. The outpouring on social media especially Twitter lamenting the shocking  news of his death is devastating – overwhelming numbers of kind messages indicate the enormous professional regard Murray was held in by his staff, his principal colleagues, teachers and leaders across systems, university partners and the wider community surrounding Murray’s large secondary school in southwest Sydney.

Vale Murray Kitteringham – RIP wonderful human.

On Saturday I read a story: “NSW has a principal problem that is difficult to fix”  by the education reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald; it was … to be blunt …. an awful piece – narrow and inadequately researched. Murray Kitteringham too expressed his dismay about the story in a response on Twitter.

This SMH story was full of statements from many of ‘the usual critics’ in education i.e. those who have moved on from education – mostly commentators removed from leading schools, and the real work of teaching in classrooms and importantly what its really been like on the pandemic frontline for the past two years.

It seems the teacher quality mantra and the lack thereof has moved onto a bigger target, principal quality. Is it any wonder applications for principal positions are falling? Is it any wonder young people are not putting up their hands to enrol in teacher education degrees in universities? Is it any wonder various survey and peer-reviewed studies find principals and teachers are drowning in seas of admin tasks, an avalanche of poor public perceptions fuelled by more and more sections of the media who continually focus on what is ‘wrong’ with education, our schools, and our teachers.

As Dr Briony Scott, Principal of Wenona said recently to education editor, Julie Hare in an article for the Australian Financial Review: “Teachers were trivialised, their profession bastardised and their contribution overlooked by a generation of political decision makers who see the world in black and white and have no comprehension as to the complexity of the school ecosystem” … “And then I think, they have no training, but they [think they] know more about my profession, what I do with my three degrees and where I have worked on the ground for decades. Tell me again, how to do my job.”

I first qualified to teach in a secondary school in 1981. It has been a 40-year career in education as a classroom teacher, head teacher, senior policy officer, teacher educator and researcher. In that time, I have only ever encountered less than a handful of principals who were not quite up to the task. And, I also speak as a parent of two young people who went to NSW primary and high schools. But who was I to judge or report or discuss their performance … never having been a principal of a school?

I could point to many more examples of recent ‘clickbait’ narratives but I won’t. My point here is that the Australia media and some education reporters need to STOP finding fault everywhere in schools and START to focus on the many good news stories of what schools have achieved and continue to accomplish at this difficult time in history. And so, I say to journalists – and those who enter the education arena in Australian news outlets – fact check your sources, check your data, check your balance and SHOCK us all and write some GOOD NEWS STORIES about schools, principals and teachers … and while I am at it – teacher education in universities for a change – take up the challenge – I dare you.

Note: Margaret Simons has written a recent essay This is not journalism in Meanjin (June edition) – she also takes up the point in Late Night Live on 16th June.