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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

High school student on fetish website: this is the world that I live in

Australia’s foremost cyber safety expert, Susan McLean, speaks candidly with Education Matters editor Kathryn Edwards about the worrying online trends of Australian school children and how principals and teachers can keep their students safe online.

With almost three decadesof fighting cybercrimeup her sleeveSusan McLean speaks with a certain ease about the awful websites and online activities parents have caught their children partaking in, after all there’s nothing left to shock her, it’s just another day.

“I took two calls yesterday,” McLean says. “One from a principal wanting to know when I could get to their school because they’ve got an issue with the Year 6 girls and boys sharing naked pictures on Instagram and one was the mother of a 15-year-old girl, who on the outside was the perfect blueprint of a child, but then checked her phone to find he daughter’s on a fetish website meeting guys with an hourly rate in a city hotel.

“Nothing surprises me anymore, this is the world that I live in but the good thing is I suppose people come to me seeking advice.”

As Australia’s top cyber cop McLean has seen every example of technological misuse and says the implications are often lost on young generations. She has called on parents and teachers to have greater awareness and involvement in the online activities of children.

“Parents are not parenting – that’s part of the issue – parents who are trying to be their child’s best friend, and the overtly sexual nature of the world we’re in,” she says. “Technology is such an integral part of our world, and primarily a really good part of our world, but parents need to get themselves up to speed and they need to learn because if you don’t know what you’re trying to protect your children from you can’t do it.

“You also need to be involved and need to be there with them, watching, advising and guiding – and stop trying to be your child’s best friend. You are the parent, you are the adult, and you’re the one that has to make the tough decisions that your children don’t have the cognitive ability to make. Yes it’s a hard job, and you’re not always going to be liked, but that’s how it is.”

McLean says greater awareness can begin with simple steps such as talking to your children about online strangers and going through their friends and contacts list on social media sites regularly to see who appears. Children should be taught the difference between an ‘online friend’ and physically knowing somebody. If ever in doubt parents should also research a website and check whether it’s appropriate for their child.

McLean also recommends that schools integrate cyber safety into the curriculum at all levels and encourage everyone to work together – teachers, parents and students – to keep children safe online.

“Cyber safety education is not one session ticks a box,” she says. “You’ve got to get the school working towards it. You’ve got to have policy and educate staff, students and their parents.”

McLean also recommends that teachers identify and report inappropriate behaviour that has been brought to their attention.

“This issue normally manifests itself visibly in schools with either a visible change in friendship or they might see a child acting out behaviours, especially sexual behaviours, which are not age or developmentally appropriate,” she said.  “Teachers have got a legal duty of care to students so inappropriate sexual behaviour comes under mandatory reporting. A teacher’s duty of care means that when they’re told about these issues they’re obligated to deal with it. They cannot say, ‘It happened at night, it’s not my problem’. I’m getting less of that now bit there’s still too much of it.”

In her new book about online safety, Sexts, Texts and Selfies, McLean provides examples of the destructive impacts of cyber bullying, to fallouts of ‘sexts’ gone viral and the hidden lurks on online predators, and shares advice on how to keep children safe in the 21st century. It is available in book stores now for $29.99, published by Viking.


Proposal seeks further teacher training to ‘bridge the gap’

Graduate teachers would need to complete an additional two years of training according to a proposal by the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE).

In its submission to the federal government’s review of teacher education, the Council recommended that a professional learning framework be implemented that underpins a graduate teacher’s transition from university into the profession and supports a teacher through their first few years until they obtain full registration.

ACDE President, Professor Brenda Cherednichenko, has defended the proposal saying it’s not a bid for extra cash for universities but about framing, rewarding and recognising teacher professional learning in the early transition years.

“You need to think about the beginning teacher from the pre-service teacher through to their first few years in the profession,” Cherednichenko told Education Matters.

“This is about implementing a learning framework, a supported, scaffolded professional learning framework that bridges the gap between graduating a degree – whether it’s a four-year degree or a master’s degree – and becoming a fully competent and capable operating teacher. 

“We know that when I leave university, whether I’ve done four years or two years or one year, I am ready to teach – but am I ready for any school and any classroom in any part of the country?  Possibly not. So this proposal is about when I’m in that space, how do I go on connecting my pre-service learning to my professional learning to my community and to the student sitting in front of me whether they’re aged 14 or eight.  That’s the vision we have with this framework,” Cherednichenko explains.

“Most beginning teachers engage in quite a lot of professional learning so this is about trying to shape it and frame it so that it comes from their teaching to their knowledge base, builds their capability and confidence and then recognises that with an award.”

Training would be in the form of a graduate certificate undertaken online with professional development modules and would be credentialed to universities. 

Union launches Gonski tour

The Australian Education Union (AEU) has launched its national Gonski tour, which will see four vans with Gonski campaigners cover 22,500kms across Australia before arriving in Canberra on the 18th of March.

The Union hopes to strengthen support for action on Gonski by the federal and state and territory governments. Campaigners will encourage education professionals to make submissions to the Senate Inquiry into School Funding that outline how their schools could benefit from the funding.

“We have a five week national tour planned, arriving in Canberra ahead of the May budget where the future funding of all schools will be decided,” Federal AEU President, Angelo Gavrielatos, said in a statement.

“The May budget this year is a critical test for this government – we’ll see whether [Prime Minister] Tony Abbott plans to honour the five signed Gonski agreements, or whether he plans to deny the extra resources the Gonski Review so clearly showed our kids need.”

Gavrielatos says Abbott has committed less than a third of the federal funding set out in the Gonski agreements and the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia have no guarantees of extra funding.

Where signed Gonski agreements are in place, extra funding has begun to deliver extra resources to schools.

“Tony Abbott must honour the full duration and funding allocation of each of these agreements so that kids are getting the extra support they need at school,” Gavrielatos said. “There is no way that this government can deny our kids the resources they need…”

Principals flag support for Pyne’s $70 million ‘independent’ schools plan

Australia’s education leaders have supported the Federal Government’s $70 million Independent Public Schools Initiative as a step in the right direction, but have warned that the focus must remain on improving student outcomes.

On Monday Education Minister Christopher Pyne unveiled the Initiative which plans to make approximately 1500 public schools become independent by 2017 and follows an election promise by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to have greater principal autonomy and parental engagement in school matters.

Rob Nairn, Principal of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association, supported the plan but said school principals must be prepared well enough to step into autonomy.

“When you give leaders autonomy, in a lot of cases they don’t know what it means, and they don’t know how to use it effectively,” he said. “We’ve got to have the right focus when you give people autonomy, because we could very much end up like what happened in New Zealand where managing property and finance was the biggest focus under autonomy and it didn’t improve student outcomes because it was the wrong focus.”

Pyne said he wanted to remove the red tape and give principals the ability to choose their own staff and extra-curricular activities, with the end goal to give school students the opportunity to reach their full potential.

“One day I would like to see every public school having a level of autonomy and independence that means that student outcomes are a student first priority,” he said at Monday’s launch.

Nairn cited good leadership as an essential element of the Government’s Initiative.

“We believe that good school leaders develop good teachers who then improve the outcomes for students,” he said. “We haven’t changed the way we train principals, we haven’t changed the way we select principals – I think we need to look more at the changing role of the school principal, look at what the role entails and how we can best prepare people for that changing role.”

President of the Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association, Stephen Breen, also stressed that removing bureaucracy and giving principals greater freedom over the organisation of their school was an essential element moving forward.

“Red tape is colossal in the education system,” he said. “If you want to have autonomy for schools – like the non-government schools – you have to actually be dinkum about it and reform this area in a different way. Autonomy means responsibility for a school to get on with the job. A lot of schools can’t get on with the job at the moment because of the amount of paperwork, red tape, and signing-off. The systems have to let go so that we can do our job.”

Pyne unveils $70 million plan for ‘independent’ schools

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has unveiled a $70 million Independent Public Schools Initiative to help a quarter of Australia’s public schools to become independent by 2017.

The Federal Government’s plan will aim to make approximately 1500 public schools self-sufficient by 2017 and follows an election promise by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to have greater principal autonomy and parental engagement in school matters.

At the Initiative’s launch on Monday, Minister Pyne said that schools perform better when principals were in control, citing the Western Australia example.

“Western Australia has a particular brand of independent public schools which is very autonomous,” he said. “They are a one line budget item in the Western Australian state budget and the school is run by the principal and their leadership teams and the board of parents, local government people, business people, [and] professional peoples with some knowledge about how to make a school hum.”

Pyne said he wanted to remove the red tape and give principals the ability to choose their own staff and extra-curricular activities.

“We’ll be trusting principals, trusting their leadership teams, to make the right decisions for their schools and to not spend as much of their time on the grind of red tape and bureaucracy.

“One day I would like to see every public school having a level off autonomy and independence that means that student outcomes are a student first priority.”

Pyne said the Government’s money will be mostly spent on building the skills base for principals and leadership teams from schools that apply for the Initiative.

So far all states are on board with the exception of South Australia that is awaiting the outcome of a state election in March.