Asking the smart questions - Education Matters Magazine
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Asking the smart questions

When it comes to choosing a before and after school care provider for schools, some people are struggling to know exactly what to ask for. While it is true that there are no dumb questions, there are certainly some smarter ways to ask them. Outlined below are the five smart ways to ask the best questions to help you get the best outside school hours care for your school community.

Before we get to the specific questions, it is worth reflecting on what you are trying to achieve with the selection process. Fundamentally everyone wants the right balance between quality and affordability as well as finding a good fit with their other requirements. The challenge is to ask questions that will give you the responses you need to make the right choice for your school. To do this you need to ask five different types of questions:

1.    Requirements checklist

2.    Financials

3.    Descriptive

4.    Responsive

5.    Open ended

Each of these has a role to play in getting you the information you need in a way that can help you to make the right decision without the need to wade through nearly 200 pages of response. The first step in this process is to go through all of the things that you want to know about the suppliers and then determine which of the following question types is best suited to getting you the answer you need.

1.    Requirements checklist

This type of question should give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. You can also provide an option for comment. If you do this, set a word limit to save you from getting an essay/sales pitch with each answer. This can be used to cover big questions like, “Are all of your services NQF compliant?” through to some more of the more unusual questions such as, “Will you feed the school’s chickens during the school holidays?”

Remember that just because you use the checklist format does not mean that each of the questions carry the same weighting in your scoring rubric. Important questions can still carry more weight; you just don’t have to read a lot of words to find out if the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

2.    Financial questions

Outside school hours care is unusual when it comes to finances as it has multiple parties involved. Parents are charged a fee by the provider, however this fee is substantially subsidised by government rebates. The provider also pays the school for use of the facilities and in many cases additional contributions to the school. Subsequently there will be a trade-off between fees charged to parents and the financial contribution to the school. In asking the financial questions, it is important to indicate which of these will be the higher priority.

It is also important to get a full outline of all of the fees and charges involved and how they will be applied. Also if there are calculations or variables involved in the contribution back to the school, it is worthwhile outlining some attendance scenarios so that you can readily compare like with like.

3.    Descriptive questions

The intent of the descriptive question is to obtain an insight into the nature of the organisation you are going to be dealing with. It is important that these questions enable the organisation to express their expertise and personality as this will provide you with greater insight.

Used well the descriptive question can be gold. Where many people go wrong is by trying to get it to do the job of a requirements checklist question as well as eliciting some more information. Keep the two separate. The requirements checklist question should be able to establish compliance, competence and the like. The descriptive question enables you to get a sense of the experience. Some examples of this are:

·         Please describe the experience a grade one would have at their first session of after school care.

·         Please outline the range of activities and resources that will be available to children attending the service.

4.    Responsive questions

These questions are scenario-based questions which provide an insight into how well equipped the organisation is to deal with various issues that may occur from time to time.

·         Please describe how a parent could raise a concern or complaint and how this would be managed and resolved.

·         What will you do if parents or the school have concerns around a particular staff member of the organisation?

·         When assessing these questions it is worth looking for use of policy and procedure and other indicators of what they have prepared for this and other possible issues that may arise.

5.    Open-ended questions

The open-ended question is designed to give the provider an opportunity to tell you about things you may not have thought about. These are ideal for getting an overview of the organisation, the service offered, and other aspects of OSHC that they may know more about than you.

About the author

Romney is a qualified and experienced primary school teacher who has worked in the OSHC industry at Australia’s leading OSHC provider Camp Australia for over five years.

If you would like any assistance with putting a list of smart questions please contact Romney directly at Romney.nelson@campaustralia.com.au