To the Editor
Asbestos in Queensland schools

I write to express my growing fears of asbestos exposure in Queensland schools.

Nobody sees the inside workings of schools quite like the humble relief teacher. In my 10-year career, I have worked in just under 50 schools in three different cities, and have been able to examine them from a fresh and unbiased perspective. I have observed first-hand, the dangerous, asbestos-ridden structures in our schools, some of which are prominent and easily accessible.

I have also examined the Queensland Asbestos Register thoroughly. In particular, I have looked at every single item listed for schools in my own region, and I cannot possibly see how the extraordinary number of items in their various states of degradation can be safe. The Asbestos Register seems to be an all-conclusive answer to any concerns raised by parents or staff. Yet anyone but the most gullible can see the limitations of such a document, which is about as reliable and effective as your typical school behaviour management plan. The Register cannot account for unpredictable and spontaneous disruption to any of the enormous range of weak physical structures present in schools. While I will not name any schools, I can say with absolute certainty that in many of the schools I have worked in, risks have been taken.

Even if the immediate work on buildings is done outside of school hours, residual material remains on the school grounds. Disrupted asbestos fibres are about as hard to contain as the air we breathe. Microscopic fibres carried in the breeze can easily collect in the many communal areas that children use. This, combined with the massive amount of human movement that takes place on a typical school day, with children brushing against walls, sitting on floors, bumping into furniture, getting footballs stuck on roofs etc., is cause for real concern. I have witnessed the tearing up of old floor coverings by workers who don’t bother to properly barricade the site, or even to wear masks for their own protection. This is corner cutting at its worst.

Add to this the significant amount of re-shuffling of classrooms, libraries and multi-use rooms currently taking place as part of the BER, hastened by government-imposed schedules. Much of the work is being done in a hasty manner. Furniture and resources that have gathered dust for years are being disrupted. Cracks are evident in walls and roofs, the rims of air-conditioning vents are insufficiently sealed, carpet and tiles are beginning to loosen, and are sometimes held down with nothing more than a strip of black tape. Children are being asked to move their desks and other heavy items across the schoolyard to another space while work is being done. This is all unacceptable.

Given the fact that even minimal exposure to asbestos can be dangerous, and even the most cautious handling of the material cannot guarantee complete safety, I fear there will be far-reaching health issues emerging from the current work being done in schools. The children who we are called to educate and protect, may well end up permanently attached to an oxygen tank at some stage in their lives, because of a system that failed them in the worst kind of way. But time will have diminished any chance of government accountability for this issue, and that is the essence of injustice. Parents and teachers should accept nothing less than guaranteed total protection from exposure to asbestos in schools.
Name and address supplied

NSW and SA teachers save on car costs
Teachers in NSW and SA can make significant savings on the cost of buying and running a car by taking up a novated car lease with Smartleasing, the Dept of Education’s salary packaging provider.
Compared to buying a car outright or using traditional finance, a novated lease offers the potential to reduce car costs by thousands of dollars through tax savings; tax-free fuel and oil; tax-free registration and insurance; tax-free lease payments; tax-free car servicing
tel 1300 117 305

Researchers seek feedback on draft standards for teachers
The first major project funded by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) is to be conducted by a research team based at the University of New England. The team will gather information from teachers across the nation that will help to ensure that the new Professional Standards for Teachers, to be introduced nation-wide during 2011, reflect the views and aspirations of teachers themselves.

The four team members – Prof John Pegg, Dr Greg McPhan, Dr Bruce Mowbray and Mr Trevor Lynch – are from the UNE-based National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR National Centre).

The validation process to be carried out by the SiMERR team is the next stage in the development of the new Standards, which have now reached draft form. The researchers hope to obtain feedback on the draft Standards from up to 14,000 teachers at about 1,000 schools through online surveys and focus group workshops in each State and Territory before the end of the year.

Travel health risk management for schools
Schools and teachers have a duty to take reasonable care of their students on trips overseas. Essentially, this means assessing and describing what risks might occur on the trip, and what precautions need to be taken to minimise those risks.

Being properly prepared includes making sure that suitable medical precautions have been taken. Brock Cambourne, national manager with The Travel Doctor-TMVC says that making sure everyone has had all of the vaccinations recommended for the destination is vital, but there are other risks that need to be planned for. Somewhere between 35 per cent and 80 per cent of travellers experience gastro-intestinal problems while overseas, for example.

While school trips to Western Europe, Japan, Korea, the US and Canada are low risk in terms of exposure to infections, and high quality health care is available should it be needed, the same can’t be said for Latin America, Africa, much of SE Asia, the Indian sub continent and, closer to home Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands.

Yet these higher risk countries offering an element of adventure that appeals to students. Coupled with this is the growing popularity of voluntourism – where the group will work on a charity project as part of the tour.

The Travel Doctor-TMVC specialises in assisting schools to get properly prepared. Services offered to schools includes group briefings for students, parents and teachers; recommendation and administration of appropriate vaccinations; medical assessment of an individual’s suitability for travel if there are pre-existing medical conditions; support by email and phone while the group is travelling; and management of any travel-related medical problems that have developed during the trip upon return.

As well, specially designed Travellers Medical Kits to treat non-acute common ailments such as gastric upsets can be provided. Each kit includes a manual that describes the symptoms of illnesses that may be encountered and instructions on how to treat.
The Travel Doctor-TMVC
National Schools Liaison

Online environmental lesson plans and games
Visy Enviromaniacs, an education program designed to help primary school teachers make environmental education fun, is available for online at

The program has been developed for children in years three to six, and supports current Australian and New Zealand curriculum criteria.

The free lesson plans tie in with five online computer games based around recycling, water, energy, packaging and litter. The plans centre on practical initiatives and actions that children can implement to preserve and protect the environment. 

Students can create their own enviromaniac character to take them through the five interlinked games. By earning ‘enviropoints’ and putting into practice what they have learned, students progress through different rankings, including the Green Machine (everything you touch turns to green), Water Watchkeeper (watching out for water wasters) and King Clean Streets (there’s no job too dirty).

There are monthly student prizes, an annual teachers’ prize and a school yearly prize to be won by participating in the game.
Register and play online at:

Competition for budding songwriters
Entries close on 24th September for the 2010 ACMF national songwriting competition. There’s a special category this year – Peacebeliever, to mark the 30th Anniversary of John Lennon’s murder in New York. Other categories include Best Instrumental, Lyrics Only and Categories by age group.
The entry form, terms and conditions and how to enter are on the ACMF website.

Filling the gap in mandatory reporting teacher education
During the 12 years that social worker Vivien Resofsky worked at the “coal face”, she came to understand the enormity of the problem of child sexual abuse and its terrible impact on a person’s life, when untreated.

She left child protection five year ago, wanting to use her knowledge to prevent abuse from happening. She trained in the programs that are most commonly used in schools – Protective Behaviours and Choose With Care and explored the requirements of the mandatory reporting training for teachers but concluded “there must be something better.”

Her research let to the Darkness to Light website ( and the Stewards of Children program.

“It was a website unlike any other,” she told Education Today. “It conveyed the message that it was an adult’s job to keep children safe from child sexual abuse.”

Five years on, Resofsky continues to lead Talking to Kids workshops in Australia, drawing awareness to the problem and the Stewards of Children program.

She says: “In every workshop that I have done it has been rewarding to see the participant’s new awareness and understanding of child sexual abuse. People leave feeling empowered because they have the knowledge and confidence to deal with the abuse.”

“Stewards of Children is the best training material for adults that is currently available. It is the only evidenced-based, third party evaluated material that has been proven over time to actually change the protective behaviours of adults. Many education departments and universities in the US and Canada are incorporating it in their training for teachers.”

Resofsky invites school principals and teaching staff to attend a Talking to Kids workshop and learn how they can make a difference in their local community.

tel 0413 456 566

DVD for parents of young people living with cancer
Redkite and CanTeen, have come together to produce a free DVD to assist parents and families through their child’s cancer experience.

The result of extensive research by both charities It’s Like This... is a practical and caring support tool to aid parents to cope with the challenges often experienced in the cancer journey.

Available free online, It’s Like This… explores a range of topics from diagnosis, to treatment to dealing with bereavement; providing important tools for honest and open communication.

Monash using linking, crowdsourcing and analytics to reshape education
Speaking at the ELH & SchoolTech Conference, held in Lorne, Vic., last month Nathan Bailey, associate director of Monash University’s eEdcuation Centre told delegates that today’s university students are used to exploring global issues in collaborative and integrated ways, supported by the latest Web 2.0 technologies – regardless of physical location.

They find it difficult to connect with conservative educational models delivered in traditionally designed learning spaces. Increasing student numbers, the Digital Education Revolution and the National Broadband Network will exacerbate these trends.

Students participating in Monash’s myLearningSpace program are being integrated into active learning communities that encourage participation, interaction and exploration in the classroom. The approach resonates strongly with students, receiving positive feedback from across a range of disciplines.

Monash has been conducting research to explore why these new approaches are so effective. This research builds on active areas of enquiry across PowerPoint, notetaking, multitasking, learning spaces and ink-based communication.

It is clear that traditional approaches to teaching with PowerPoint are likely to disengage students and lead to passive and ineffective learning experiences. Even the simple act of inking (drawing on a tablet screen) has been shown to have a significant impact on engagement and understanding. When inking is extended into collaborative learning experiences where students can provide feedback to teachers, huge educational opportunities are created.

Currently, unless a student raises their hand and asks a question, they remain stuck – at least until they connect with a teacher after the class. But with Monash’s MeTL software, students can connect with each other to ask and answer questions. MeTL enables a crowdsourced-based approach that allows students who are struggling to find others who have mastered the concept to help them. The end result is a much more dynamic approach to education that allows every student to be an active participant and contributor.

Schools leaving too many children behind
Schools are leaving too many children behind and are failing to teach skills that are relevant for the future. These are key points criticised by Charles Leadbeater, acknowledged UK education and innovation strategist.

“In a world of information and misinformation on the web, we need people to learn how to search, question and think rather than copy and memorise,” he argues. As a result, school curricula will soon become obsolete.

At the largest global e-learning conference, Online Educa Berlin (1st–3rd December), Leadbeater will examine the learning strategies that may be needed to change our approach towards a sustainable knowledge society.

The management thinker and author is an advocate of radical transformation in education systems. His most recent work includes a study into education innovation in slums and other deprived places. One of the lessons learned from education in poor countries is that learning must either be enjoyable, or it must pay-off quickly: “Practical forms of learning which lead to problems being solved or money being earned or products being made is vital,” Leadbeater says.

Sick kids struggle at school
Children who have special health care needs in early childhood may encounter learning and social difficulties in their first years of school, a QUT researcher has found.

Master of Education researcher Chrystal Whiteford analysed data from Growing up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children for her study, which was the first of its kind in Australia.

Ms Whiteford said children with special health care needs, such as chronic physical, developmental, behavioural or emotional conditions, and who required health and other services beyond those usually required by children, were at risk of a range of negative developmental outcomes. “Children aged four to five years with special health care needs performed lower in social and learning competencies prior to school.”

Designing fun for teachers
The Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) has launched new courses for teachers. There are two courses on offer:

• 3D Animation for Teachers A 10-week evening course that introduces teachers to the 3D animation software used in the games, film and visual effects industries.

• Game development for teachers A10-week evening course that introduces teachers to skills and knowledge used to develop computer games.

Both courses are suitable for teachers of Creative Arts, Information Technology, Design and Technology, and Digital Media.

Statements of attainment against nationally accredited units of competency will be awarded to participants who successfully complete either course.
Courses commence on Tuesday 12th October in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Fee is $300.00.