Breaking: Key changes to family tax benefits and childcare assistance

A key Federal Government report, known as the Commission of Audit, has recommended major changes to Family Tax Benefit and childcare assistance today.

Key changes include:

  • Abolition of Family Tax Benefit B – the payment that goes mainly to single income families
  • Tighten eligibility for Family Tax Benefit Part A, removing the base rate for higher income families
  • Lower the Paid Parental Leave scheme wage replacement cap to $57,460
  • Scrap the child care rebate and child care benefit and replace them with a single, means-tested payment

What does it mean?  Basically it means more means testing so higher income families will lose things like the child care rebate.

Family Tax Benefit B provides up to $3,018.55 for some families who meet certain conditions, so I wonder how this will affect those families?

There are also a number of other areas of cuts recommended which will affect working families, including the aged pension, Medicare benefits, hospitals, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, National Disability Insurance Scheme, carers’ payments, aged care, the Disability Support Pension, and school funding.  Read more here.

The real impact will be known when we understand whether the government intends to act on these recommendations and what levels the new payments and new income cut offs will be

Currently child care rebate is available to all families regardless of income and some form of childcare benefit is available to families whose income is up to $170,404 (for three children) plus $32,219 for each child after the third

The Federal Budget will be released on Tuesday May 13.

Watch this space.

Read more:

Is the school your kids attend a good one? A special guest post written by Carla Stacey

Better schools

What makes a good or bad school?

It is something I’ve thought about for a long time, even before I became a parent.

I am fascinated by the playground chatter about schools – mostly heresay and often about whether that school has a good or bad ‘reputation’. Rarely does it go deeper than anecdotal.

So when David Gillespie’s book Free Schools, how to get a good education for your kids without spending a fortune came out I was keen to find out what the research showed really does matter in a school.

As an experienced, professional researcher I was impressed. The book is well researched, authoritative and accessible.

His book blew up some of my own myths and beliefs. I found his book both useful and challenging. And it is a challenge for parents to go past their own bias and anecdotes they’ve heard to see what the evidence shows.

A lot of parents are interested in this topic, but don’t have enough time to read the whole book. So, I did a summary – Carla’s Cliff Notes I call it – to share with others.

I have written it for parents.

Parents like me with high expectations for their child’s education.

Parents that need to choose a primary school, a secondary school or want to assess the current school their child attends based on real evidence.

I want parents to reflect and ask how they can help make schools better – beyond the fundraising and the P&C.

And schools can be better – and for all us they need to be.

Parents have a big contribution to make to their school community.

The better informed we are, the more effective we can be – individually and collectively.

Tell us what you think. Or better yet use the information to help create a better school.

For the full summary of the book, go here.

Please let us know what you think.  You can start by answering the questions below

  • Did this information help you in assessing the school?
  • What information or feature do you rely on to pick the school your child attends?
  • How do you think you can make your existing school better?

What makes a good school?

Better schools

David Gillespie’s book Free Schools, how to get a good education for your kids without spending a fortune aims to inform parents about what really matters in their child’s education.

David Gillespie does not push an agenda – his intention was to look at the evidence and make an informed choice as a parent. He is a former corporate lawyer, co-founder of a software company and consultant to the IT industry. He lives in Brisbane with his wife and six children.

Free Schools cuts through the marketing spin and the school reputation wars to do the following:

  • explain the history and funding of our three school systems – public, Catholic and independent
  • review Australian and OECD country research on what really delivers better education outcomes
  • highlight what parents can do to set their child up for success
  • identifies the two core things that REALLY matter in a school – leadership and teachers
  • and lists another 11 things that great schools will have.

Its key finding is there is no correlation between how much you pay and the quality of education.

Free Schools is easy to read and will challenge many parents’ beliefs and perceptions of what they thought ‘matters’. The book is based on research – looking at the many studies on different educational elements and it acknowledges the quality or limitations of those studies. It narrows down the findings to the crux of what makes a difference in education.

It provides insight into both what parents can do to choose the best education for their child, as well as consider how that decision will contribute to the improvement of all children and Australian society.

Whilst David Gillespie bashes teacher unions just a little too much for my taste (although I do recognise that their interests can conflict with the best interests for the system and educational outcomes for all) I found the book to be very useful.

It was practical and informative to me, as I have three children with my oldest starting high school in 2015.

Free Schools has attracted media attention and created discussion in some circles. I thought it important that parents go beyond the headlines or reactions to one element of the book and consider the totality of what David Gillespie is trying to do.

To encourage more parents to consider this information I decided to write up a summary – a kind of Cliff Notes. Quotes come straight from the book – the rest is my summary. For those of you interested in reading the book in full, check out your nearest book store or download a copy here.

Australian does not have three education systems.

We are the only OECD country that funds three different brands of government school but pretends two of them are private.

In short, the private system is not private. It is significantly funded by taxpayers. Public funding of private schools is relatively new – starting in the 1960’s and accelerating in recent years.  This shift has ‘profoundly altered the outcomes for all our students and not in a good way’.

Interestingly, students who attend private schools do not necessarily get better education outcomes.

They may get nicer buildings or facilities, a ‘better class’ of friends and can reinforce the belief of their parents they are giving them the ‘best’. But not better education outcomes.

And don’t buy the myth that choosing private education saves the taxpayer money – it doesn’t.

What doesn’t matter – blowing up some strongly held myths about ‘good’ schools

The following is a list of things that DO NOT deliver better education outcomes for students.

There is no advantage in education outcomes when it comes to:

  • private vs. public schools
  • mixed vs. same sex schools
  • size of school
  • class size
  • composite or multi-age classes
  • streaming or tracking students according to ability
  • teachers with post-graduate qualifications
  • teaching experience, except for those with less than 3 years in the job (see page 3)
  • school ranked against Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) or Overall Positions (OP Qld)  scores.

In terms of private schools there is no advantage in education outcomes when it comes to:

  • how much you pay
  • whether it is a religious school or not.

Many people might want to argue any of the points above because of their own experience, the ‘spin’ of education conversation, anecdotal evidence, and the parent peer group pressure when it comes to discussing schools and one’s own precious child.

However study after study has shown that the things listed above do not ‘shift the needle’ to deliver better academic results. In Free Schools each point is laid out in detail with supporting evidence.

So what does matter?

First and foremost YOU

High expectations consistently deliver high results. Parents who expect a lot from their kids invariably create kids who expect a lot from themselves.

The biggest indicator of whether a child will succeed in school is actually a  game of chance – the parent lottery of who they get.

If you are bothering to read this then your child is already significantly advantaged – you care about their education.  So give yourself (and/or your partner) a pat on the back if you:

  • believe in education as a method to self-improvement and pathway to success
  • set the standard that doing your best in school matters
  • have completed Year 12 and tertiary studies
  • are economically comfortable and/or have a degree of financial ‘choice’
  • have high expectations of your child and yourself

If you answer yes to any or all of the above – congratulations – your kid is already a winner!

If parents have high academic expectations for the child and have the skills to help them attain those goals, then the child will perform much better than if they have parents that don’t.

In turn parents with high expectations develop children with high expectations.

Students who have high expectations of themselves are capable of managing their own time and are motivated to do it.

What shouldn’t you worry about?

Here are two things that plenty of parents worry about, and industries have established to service and profit from that anxiety.

  1. ‘Hot housing’ pre-schoolers – babies, toddlers and young children do not need to do flash cards, education videos, leap pads or other expensive education toys. Do it for fun but don’t stress if you don’t. These things won’t change education outcomes or give them a leg up for school.
  2. Private tutoring – countless studies show that these won’t produce any better outcomes than what they were going to get anyway. They may help them rote learn for exams, or prepare them for the OC or selective test (which may give the 3% difference that gets them in) but it won’t help them stay there or flourish.

The bottom line is hot housing and tutoring won’t deliver a significant effect.

The two critical things that matter in ANY school

  1. Teachers

If I wanted to teach you something, whether you learnt it or not would depend on just one thing: my ability to teach.

The job of a good teacher is to accelerate and guide our innate learning. Good teachers can eliminate disadvantage.

Humans are natural learners – it is how we develop. Education and teaching should nurture this pattern of self-learning and provide the environment, tools and challenges for student to extend themselves far beyond what they could do on their own.

Teachers that are passionate about teaching, about learning themselves AND about learning about teaching is what is most important. Teaching qualifications and time in the profession doesn’t matter provided they have a passion and commitment to improve how they teach and add value to student learning .

The only caveat is with teachers who have less than three years experience. Those teachers need to be in an environment where there is mentoring of them, feedback and support – not left alone for deep end learning.

The best education systems that produce the best student outcomes have a focus on teacher development throughout their teaching career and intensely when they enter the profession. Professional development of teachers is not just one-off courses or doing post-graduate study. It is best done as both informal and formal program within the teaching environment, within schools and in the pursuit of teaching excellence.

Leadership: namely Principals but also the leadership team of a school

It is the School Principal and their leadership team that will have the biggest influence on a school.

It doesn’t matter if that school is in a small regional town or a bustling outer urban area. The school leaders who have the most positive effect on student outcomes take an instructional leadership approach. This approach has five elements:

  1. Implementing a hard-core teacher improvement agenda
  2. Closely monitoring teacher performance
  3. Hiring the right teaching staff
  4. Maintaining peace and order
  5. Setting goals and expectations

A leader like that will not only be actively working to ensure the school has effective teachers, they’ll be trying to make them even more effective.

David Gillespie boils down the measurement of a principal to one key question:

How do they manage their teaching staff?

 A good leader will answer that they don’t have a magic solution. They do the best with what they have [teachers and students] and they have a plan for incremental improvement.

For parents this means the principal can:

  • articulate that plan
  • outline the objectives the school and teachers have set
  • demonstrate how that is being tracked, measured, evaluated and plans adjusted
  • be transparent about the process
  • explain how they mentor staff and improve teaching methods
  • ensure student performance data is used to monitor every child and provide feedback to teachers
  • talk about how they select and retain their good teaching staff (where they have opportunity to do so).

A checklist to assess a school

A good school has…. effective teachers and leaders

The two critical things Questions to ask – things to consider
1. Teachers
  • Is there a monitoring program of students that informs teacher performance and planning
  • What informal/formal mentoring system is in place focussed on improving teacher performance?
  • How are new teachers mentored/developed?
  • (If a high school) What student feedback is conducted on their experience with teacher effectiveness?
  • How do teachers ‘teach to student’ so that all students are challenged despite various abilities in a single class?
  • Is there a culture of high expectations of both teachers and their students?
2. Principals and/or school leadership team
  • What is their leadership approach?
  • Do they have high expectations of both teachers and their students?
  • Do they have a plan for continuous improvement?
  • Can they articulate it?
  • Does it involve real measurement of student performance? What are the   KPI’s and is there a plan to address underperformance?
  • What is their approach to improving teacher effectiveness? Is that   linked to student outcomes?
  • What is their personal track record? Don’t just look at the school   they are in – which schools did they come from, what improvements did they   oversee in education outcomes. This point is especially important for   Principals new or less than 2 years in a school.

The most telling element of the above is how teachers and leaders shift or add education value to lower SES, disadvantaged or lowest quartile of students. If they have done this in their previous school and have plan in place for their current school – then this is a sign of a very good leader and a good school.

A great school has … up to 11 things that make a real difference to education outcomes

11 other things Questions to ask – things to consider
1. Learning to learn If students are taught the most effective ways to learn – they can   drive a lot of their own learning and it sets them up for life.

  • How does the school teach and embed learning skills in students?
  • Do they teach study skills, planning skills, research skills,   goal-setting and how to self-evaluate?
  • Do they require discipline to embed strong learning habits from the   earliest stage and is this reinforced?
  • Does the school foster a ‘love of learning’ culture from the principal down to the student body?
2. Extracurricular activities – especially music Music is very important. The good news is it doesn’t matter the type, how much or the level of music studied.  Any learning and participation that engages students in music results in   better educational outcomes.

  • Does the school offer music programs for all abilities?
  •  Is music integrated into the standard curriculum program or do you have to choose it as an elective or additional component for your child?

Other activities that encourage participation, allow kids to learn   new things and take risks in a safe environment and set high expectations for   trying add value to education outcomes. On top of music if could be sport,   drama, visual arts, community involvement or leadership activities. Schools   don’t have to provide everything just some of the above.

And DO check if it is participation that is valued more   than competitiveness. Some schools – either due to size or desire for success   – may limit participation through auditions, tryouts or minimum levels to be   included in some activities.

3. Languages other than English – applies from K-12 Learning a language – no matter  what language and to what intensity – improves results in other curriculun  areas, especially maths. So any school that includes language as part of its   core curriculum will give your child a leg up. Once again good news – they   don’t need to be good at it. For whatever reason the learning of language   other than one’s native tongue helps improve a child’s other curriculum   areas. For a sustained benefit the research shows it is best if the language   instruction starts early and keeps going. Note – this does not have to be the same language.
4. Effective use of technology Technology is a tool – short and   simple. Technology should not be used to replace teachers. Schools that use   technology to supplement classroom teaching AND provide students   opportunities to practice and receive individual feedback produce the best   education outcomes.

Schools that adopt things like Mathletics and Into Science which allow kids to drill and practice, self-pace, reinforce curriculum and classroom activities, cement foundation knowledge   and extend learning are great.

Effective teachers and schools use   technology to support what they are doing. Children do not need their own   computer. In fact using computers in pairs produces optimum learning   outcomes.

  • How does the school use computers? What access do students get to IT?
  • What is done at school and what is done at home?
  • How is technology used to monitor student progress and how are parents   and teachers informed of this?
  • What software programs does the school use and in which curriculum   areas?
 11 other things Questions to ask – things to consider
5. Effective behaviour management One of the clearest signs of an effective teacher is how they   control disruptive behaviour in a classroom. A school with teachers who set high   standards for student behaviour, which is reinforced and supported by parents   at home, produces the best results.

Research shows that the most effective way a school can manage   disruptive behaviour is with credible punishment combined with positive   reinforcement. What is credible punishment for students? Telling their   parents!

If a school is communicating with parents when a student doesn’t
meet behaviour standards and the parent and school show a united front to the   student then behaviour patterns shift.

Given that schools contain active children from diverse   backgrounds, that ratios of adults to students is usually quite high and that   in high schools you are dealing with teenagers there is always going to be   behaviour issues. So what do you want the school to have in place to best   address this constant issue?

A behaviour management plan

The plan does not involve reasoning with disruptive children

Includes an element of punishment and an element of positive   reinforcement

It escalates quickly to involve parents when necessary

 6. Homework policy – where it matters Many, many, many studies show that homework or no homework does not really impact educational outcomes for  children – except for the higher school years.

So it is not about whether the school requires homework it is about what that homework is and how it is conducted.

Parent involvement in homework is   actually the biggest contributor to improving student outcomes. This is NOT parents   doing the homework. It essentially boils down to parents demonstrating a   serious interest in their child’s education, reinforces high expectations,  shows that you care about your child and their school work.

Excessive homework in primary and   junior high school years is not a good thing and doesn’t make a difference. In higher school years, if there is a foundation of ‘learning to learn’ skills   and allowing kids to practice and drill the learning areas they are studying it will positively impact their academic performance.

7. Effective parent communication This is a very important area that   schools are not always known for. So what makes the communication effective? Direct and regular communication with parents – beyond the meet the teacher sessions and biannual school reports.

This needs to be more than the   email/call/meet me ‘anytime you are concerned about your child’. It has to be   a communication program that can engage all parents and see them as part of   the learning community.

  •  How do schools let you know what is being taught and why?
  • How do they keep parents in the loop of teaching as it is occurring –  so you can reinforce it at home?
  •  Is the homework program explained to parents so they can supervise and   support their child to reinforce classroom learning?
  • What resources do they provide to parents to assist them support their   children?
11 other things Questions to ask – things to consider
11 other things As involving parents in a child’s learning produces much better results schools need to give parents the resources/guidelines to help them understand what is being taught. Many parents haven’t studied since their time in school or lack confidence (especially in science or maths subjects), which can prevent them, getting involved. There are lots of online resources now that can help (i.e. The Khan Academy).

A school that invests in supporting parents to better support their kids is a great school.

8. Primary schools that use phonics approach to literacy Learning to read by the phonics methods has been proved hands down to be THE most effective method. As literacy is the building block for the   rest of our school learning it is critical the program your school offer is   phonics based. Note: the hugely popular ABC Reading Eggs is phonics based.
9. Avoid streaming according to academic ability Tracking or streaming kids   according to ability does not improve their educational outcomes. In fact it can have a negative effect – especially for those who are tracked at a lower   ability as it sends a message of low expectations. It can also reinforce   inequities, polarise the student body and impact negatively on school spirit.

David says it best “When you take into account that is   delivers absolutely no academic benefit (for anybody), it seems a big price to pay for parental bragging rights (or making some teacher’s lives a bit easier).”

10. However ‘acceleration’ is good HOWEVER schools and teachers that   ‘teach to student’ are effective.

Meaning if you have a gifted and   talented child, or a student that is exceptional at a particular subject then accelerating their learning is a very good thing. That doesn’t need to be in a selective school or a streamed subject. Good schools and effective teachers can teach students of varying abilities within the same class. Acceleration means that students can be paced at a greater speed through the curriculum. They could be assigned in subjects to higher year levels. Gifted kids that get accelerated through the curriculum outperform streamed/selective kids.   And in case you’re worried about the ‘social’ effects, research shows there   is no downside. It does not harm younger children being accelerated through   higher grades or subjects in their social or interpersonal development.

The question for the school is:

  • How does this school ‘teach to student’ so individual learning needs   are met?
  •  How do they extend and challenge children that do well overall or in   subjects?

Can students that are gifted be accelerated?

11. Caters for special needs if you need them Finally if you child has special needs then you need to investigate how the school will meet those needs and   support your child’s learning. If you are that parent you are better placed then   I to list the questions you need answered.

For parents with children NOT   requiring special needs but concerned a school has children with special needs mixed in with your child know this:

The research shows that there are many benefits of a school that includes children with disabilities and   diverse background especially improving the social skills of all children.   Provided that teachers are appropriately trained and resourced there is no negative effects on your child’s academic performance.

What else? What can you do?

When all children reach their potential, the academic performance of a nation as a whole improves.   A rising tide raises all boats.

I’d encourage you to take a look at the schools in your area. You’d be surprised how many local schools – including comprehensive public schools – have all or some of the above.

If your school isn’t measuring up think long and hard before moving schools – the research shows it has a big impact and can significantly impair performance.

So if you don’t have the perfect school what can you do? The best thing is to get involved. The parent community can have a big impact – from an individual, to a small group, to the P&C.

Make it clear that you expect the school to deliver on strong leadership with a plan to create and maintain effective teaching and address the 11 other factors that makes a good school great.

Start with demanding better parent communication and engagement. Through this process you will learn a lot about your schools ability to change, its expectations, its leadership, what it teaches and how it teaches.

This is not someone else’s responsibility – this is all parents’ responsibility to demand better for our schools and our taxpayer funded education systems.

My husband and I truly believe our kids are precious, special and deserve a great education BUT so does every other child.  I’m not prepared to have mine benefit at the expense of others. Unfortunately our current system encourages this. I am a passionate advocate of public education and I am prepared to put my kids where my advocacy is. Not at their expense but for their benefit.

I respect other parents’ choices. I do want better transparency and honesty about why choices are made.

I do not want the concept of ‘choice’ to mask other underlying motivations or reinforce inaccurate perceptions of what makes a good school.

I also want recognition that individual choices that parents make can help or hinder the quality of our education system as a whole.

If we want Australia to perform better internationally – and all our systems have been failing over recent years – then each and everyone one of us need to do our bit.

I expect a lot from you – you can do the same for me.

I hope this helps,

Carla Stacey

Parent of three primary school kids and an education enthusiast with high expectations of everyone

A final word on My School website and NAPLAN results

The My School website is a mine of lies, damned lies and statistics dressed up as information every parent should know. It purports to tell parents which schools are performing and which schools aren’t using a neat little colour-coding system. And while there’s very useful information buried in the pile of steaming data, its not obvious and it’s not where you might think it is.

In Free Schools there is a detailed section on how to use the myschool website in an effective way that tells you something. I won’t go into it much here but recommend you read this section if that is what you are relying on to compare schools.

In short:

  • do NOT compare two schools by comparing their average performance of NAPLAN – to compare like for like you need to compare ‘similar’ schools – otherwise the results tell you nothing real
  • do not use ‘league’ tables it is completely misleading about judging a school’s success.

How to find schools with effective teachers using My School?  Use the ‘Student gain’ item under the NAPLAN menu. This will show where the school has added value to the student cohort they got – beyond what the students would be expected to do. In other words, how the teaching at the school accelerated their students learning.

This must also be considered in context. It will always be historic data – not current data. So if the school has recently changed leadership (Principal) or has introduced a new monitoring program to improve teacher effectiveness and student outcomes then that school will be implementing changes your child will benefit from and this won’t show up in NAPLAN data for another 12-24 months.

Schools should be judged on what they do with what they get. Not what kind of student, parent or class of people they attract.

Many schools unfairly benefit on performance judgements simply because of the nature of the student body they recruit or attract. You can assess their marketing skill by who attends does but not how effective they are at teaching.

One of the telling things about reviewing the research is that those schools that are, or can be, selective on the students they accept are actually not performing to a level their talented student body shows promise for.

So use the My School information with caution and use the checklist of the two critical items and the 11 additional items as you main assessment tool against considering schools.

There is one more thing can’t you control – your child’s IQ

A child’s IQ is another significant indicator of their capacity for academic success.

Are working mums better workers than other employees?

My old boss ( a woman who at the time wasn’t a mum) used to say working mums make great staff because they are the most efficient people on the planet.

It seems the clever folks at the Huffington Post agree. They’ve published Ten Reasons Why Working Mums Make Kick-Ass Employees

Apparently our creativity, financial acumen and ability to multi-task are in demand, along with time management and negotiation skills.

Unfortunately the perception is all too great that working mums come as a cost to business rather than as an asset.

I completely understand it’s annoying when we have to leave on time or else our kids will be left on the footpath, but there are definitely benefits.

Are working mums good employees?  I know I’m biased but I think so 🙂


Kevin’s Rudd’s plans on before and after school care – the details

As we mentioned as it broke this afternoon, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has targeted families – and working mums in particular – in his first formal policy announcement of the election campaign, announcing $450 million for out-of-school hours care.

The funding will allow schools to either extend and improve their existing program or to establish a new program. Up to 500 schools and 345,000 primary school children are expected to benefit.

Mr Rudd told a press conference that, “This is designed to help families with cost of living pressures and to help deal with the time constraints of daily life.”

He said schools could offer “music programs, supervised sports, homework clubs, the practical stuff which makes that time before or after school useful and a fun place to be as well”.

“Organised homework is part of it but we have also seen great programs around the country whereby there is supervised physical activity, kids are taken out from behind the computer, putting balls through hoops and doing all that sort of thing,” he said.

Mr Rudd also said the funds would help encourage more women to stay in the workforce after having children.

Let’s hope that means that there are no plans to change the childcare tax rebate system or childcare benefits too. We’ve written previously about how important  these are to help mums stay in the workforce.

The Government says that the out-of-school hours care sector has increased by 64 per cent since it took office in 2007.

There are currently 8,413 services available – which is great except if your school doesn’t have one.  Hopefully this announcement will help.

Other details as announced by the Prime Minister today are available here.

The Coalition has promised to tackle childcare availability and costs by instigating an “urgent” Productivity Commission inquiry.

Let’s hope we see more from both parties for working mums before September 7.

Breaking – Kevin Rudd promises $450million for before and after school care

On the first official day of the election campaign, an election promise to help working mums.

Kevin Rudd has just announced an additional $450million for before and after school care.

Minister Kate Ellis has said “Not every job finishes at 3pm when the school bell rings”. Absolutely.

Up 500 schools and about 345,000 children aged 5-12 are expected to benefit.

Details at this point are sketchy, but we’ll have more detail and analysis for you soon.

Do you use before and after school care? Is it hard for you to get a place? Too expensive?


Schoolkids Bonus – coming to bank accounts soon

In news just in from the Australian Government, the second instalment of the Schoolkids Bonus for 2013 will be paid in July to lighten the load of mid-year education expenses.

The Schoolkids Bonus replaces the old Education Tax Refund.  The same families are eligible, but there’s no need to keep your receipts and claim them separately, the money will just appear in your bank account

Centrelink customers will be paid from 4 to 17 July (note, the payment will not appear in your Online Services account until the day it is made) and DVA (Department of Veterans Affairs) customers will be paid from 8 July.

If you receive Family Tax Benefit as a lump sum the Schoolkids Bonus will be paid after your Family Tax Benefit claim is assessed. If you haven’t received your payment by 18 July, but think you’re eligible, Centrelink recommends you get in touch.

For those who don’t know much about the Schoolkids bonus, here’s a little info.

How much is it?

  • $410 a year for each primary student ($205 paid in January and $205 paid in July)
  • $820 a year for each secondary student ($410 paid in January and $410 paid in July).

Who is eligible for it?

If you are receiving Family Tax Benefit Part A, and have school aged children, you should be either receiving it or clicking here to find out more.

Can I still claim school uniforms on my tax?

Unfortunately not.  The Schoolkids bonus is a replacement payment and therefore uniforms can no longer be claimed on tax.  The upside is you don’t need to keep receipts any more.

How can I spend it?

However you like.

How do I apply to receive it?

Contact Centrelink or click here.

Where do I get more information?

Try the government website here

What will you spend your bonus money on?


Mums driven back to work early

A survey in The Daily Telegraph today says that mums are going back to work early due to financial pressure.

According to the paper, official figures show the average period of leave is 32.4 weeks (between 7  and 8 months) but their survey showed only a third of mums now take 12 months or more leave.

The article by Lisa Power also said:

Most said they resumed work out of financial necessity once paid leave ended, although 62 per cent were not ready to return due to breastfeeding, difficulty sourcing childcare and exhaustion from night-time feeds. More than 80 per cent would have stayed home with their newborn longer if finances allowed, the survey found.

Even though the figures used by the paper and the official figures don’t exactly compare – so both could be right – it is possible mums are taking less leave because of economic pressure.

Most mums I know start thinking about going back at around six months, but it does depend on their workplace, availability of care and the health of the child.  Many of us use lots of holiday leave and any long service leave with our first baby and if you go back part time, there isn’t much of either left for subsequent babies.  So back to work we go.

How old were your babies when you returned to work?


Is having a Present Box insane?


Over the weekend I replenished my ‘Present Box’. I remember hearing about Present Boxes before I became a mum and thinking such people were completely bonkers.

And now I’m one of them.

I like to think of myself as a thoughtful shopper. I love the idea of spending hours thinking about presents for the special people in my life; their habits and personal style or something they might really need at the moment.

Given that consumer goods are so cheap these days, many more people simply buy what they want when they recognise a need, hence the popularity of ‘experience presents’ and vouchers for services like a massage. (I always think such vouchers need to come in pairs; here’s a voucher and here’s some time in your diary to have it!).

Over the last year, I have come a convert to online shopping . And now I have a Present Box.

Friends will be pleased to hear that it’s not as thoughtless as it sounds. Rather than (as I had imagined) a set of generic ‘adult female’ type presents, if I see something you might like now, I buy it immediately and have it ready for your birthday. Last Christmas was my easiest Christmas ever.

There are some more generic style presents in my Present Box, like things for newborns and new mamas, as as well as presents for Four Year Old Girls. Simply because those invitations to parties from day care can sometimes stay in the bottom of the bag until the day before!

I also really hate trying to rush in shopping malls. In fact I hate entering a shopping mall and the Present Box has helped.

Here’s my system for how it has simplified my online shopping.

1. Create a ‘shopping’ folder on your favourites on your browser. Then if you find a good site you can start browsing on sites you’ve already enjoyed previously.

2. Once you’ve found a few sites and browsed them a little, set yourself up for a session with credit card and calendar handy.  While most Australian sites I’ve used deliver within a week, I like to prepare a couple of months ahead.

3. Working through birthdays and other celebrations I simply shop online as I would in a mall, working through my priorities, leaving a tab open if I am unsure about something and moving onto my next choice.  This is a good thing to do if you’re considering several purchases from the same store.  It not only saves on delivery costs but makes receipt of packages a lot easier too.

4. I also keep all of those annoying emails that you get when you join any kind of loyalty program in one email folder.  I then scan it for ideas when I am looking for something in particular; reminded of brands and stores I have frequented in real life.

5. Once I’m finished, I then check my stocks of wrapping paper and cards to check that they cover the same time period I’ve just shopped for. Nothing like realizing you’ve left out something important at the last minute.  You could do the fancy personalized photo card if you’re really keen, but I find most people are happy with something drawn by the kids or one of those cheaper ones from places like Big W.

6. For my recent Present Box replenishment, I used My Favourite.  I’ve found on previous occasions that their delivery is very quick and the products are made of high quality materials. (Not sponsored, I just like them)

7. I’ve also started to keep a Christmas List around this time of year, mostly to keep track of what I have bought and who is left.  Last year I was pleasantly surprised to discover most people had been covered off through ‘incidental shopping’ through the year.

Do you have a Present Box?  Do you think people who keep them are thoughtless – or a little bit mad?

Would working from home make your life easier?

My friend Lindy Edwards has a terrific piece in The Age discussing the importance of working from home for making all of our lives easier.  She writes:

Once upon a time men did the paid work and women did society’s unpaid work.  When women entered the paid workforce our consumption expectations increased  and so did our mortgages. Now, for many families, the response to increasing  financial pressures is for mum to work more hours.

But the problem of unpaid work remains, and is growing as people are caught  looking after both elderly parents and young children.  The crunch is hitting  women the hardest. It is putting them under enormous strain, and the whole  family is feeling  the pressure

She says working from home would solve a lot of these problems for many families.

These days a lot of unpaid work is also time-critical rather than  time-intensive.  It is about being there at the right time for the school  pick-up, the medical appointment, when the plumber is coming, or to put on the  washing.

I couldn’t agree with her more.  I’m very lucky to work from home one day a week.  Avoiding a commute automatically gives me an extra hour in the  morning, which I spent exercising and an extra hour in the evening, which I get to spend with Miss Nearly 4.

It also takes the ‘pressure valve’ off our daily lives on a regular basis.  When it rains at the weekand there’s a load of washing we didn’t get through, I hang it out on Tuesdays.  I can collect something at our local post office, and get a haircut during my lunch break.  None of this detracts from my work – and in fact having a day at home to read or write longer documents can make me enormously productive.

It doesn’t work for every job – and there have been weeks when fitting in the meetings in my in-the-office days have been tricky.  I had to come into the office yesterday for a meeting with an interstate visitor, but on the whole it works brilliantly and makes our two working parents scenario much smoother.

You can read the rest of Lindy’s ideas here.

Do you work from home?  Do you wish you could?