Tag Archives: kids

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.

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Is having a Present Box insane?

presents

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?

Seven things mums can do to save the world (that won’t take extra time or money!)

Today’s guest post is from Anna Minns, who runs the Daily Lime.  You can find out more about her amazing efforts to protect our environment, and sign up to her easy to follow tips here.

As a mum of 2 small boys I often wonder (and worry) about what kind of natural environment they will inherit. I wanted to know more about the kind of things I could and should do to be kinder to the environment.

At first I was totally overwhelmed with information about global warming and climate change, which was sobering and depressing – I started to think that perhaps ignorance was bliss.

I found this was the experience of a lot of my friends. When I started to talk about the environment I noticed their eyes would glaze over, and they would shrug their shoulders and say “what can I do about it anyway”. So, I decided to do some research and I discovered there are hundreds of things we can all do everyday to tread a bit more lightly on the planet.

In order to be “green” there is a perception that you must have cold showers, a diet of tofu and quinoa, wear hessian clothes and live in a house made of recycled tyres.

So I set about putting together a list of ‘tips’ of all the things that anyone can do to have a greener lifestyle, without sacrificing the things that they love. I wanted to create a simple guide for (mums especially) who are busy with work, family and just living, to make small incremental changes that are easy, money-saving and fun!

The tips are about reducing energy and waste, reusing, recycling and all things green. I hope you are inspired to subscribe and give some of them a go!

1. Get Swapping: kids clothes

Don’t you hate it when your discover an adorable jumpsuit in the bottom drawer that you’d forgotten about and now it’s too late, because your little one is now not so little! Do the sustainable thing – and get swapping! You can keep your children’s wardrobes fresh and funky as your babies grow by trading your quality pre-loved clothes online – or you can purchase designer label gear at a fraction of the retail cost.

2. Join a toy library

Sometimes, when you’ve got little kids, it seems like you might drown under a sea of brightly-coloured plastic toys. And despite the best of intentions, those plastic toys appear to breed. But there is a way to reduce the amount of fluro-plastic in your life, save money, and save on landfill, too!

3. Buy a quality winter coat

It is estimated that 30 to 40kg of clothing per person is sent to landfill each year because of so called ‘fast fashion’. We all need a comfy coat to get us through the winter months. Selecting quality over quantity is the way to go to take a load off the earth. If you invest in a well-made coat now it will last you for years to come, so you will be saving money in the long run.

4. Too many toys? Get swapping

The average household in Australia with kids has over 100 toys. Do you suffer from regular toy invasions? An annual toy swap can be great fun, reduce the use of resources, and free up your hard-earned cash and storage space!

5. Sharing your stuff on Open Shed

The average power drill is used for 12-13 minutes in its lifetime! Stuff. It’s everywhere. Filling up our cupboards, our garages, under our beds, even in our roof spaces. And most of it is hardly ever used. The best way to enjoy all the latest must-have gadgets, toys and tools and get the most value out of our own stuff is to get sharing through openshed.com.au

6. Recycling mattresses

It’s hard to know what to do with our old mattresses, so most of us throw them out – they are the most common item put out at local council collections. But mattresses contain lots of valuable materials, like steel, timber and foam – which is all recyclable!

7. Replace your air freshener with a house plant

Many air ‘fresheners’ are actually air pollutants. Most contain nasty chemicals like phthalates and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). If you want to clean out the pollutants and toxins in the air and deodorise your home, get some house plants! Don’t just take my word for it – NASA found that they are great at filtering the air!

Anna Minns

More about Anna’s project and signup to the Daily Lime is here.

A little post about school funding, a man called David Gonski and Rob Lowe

You may have read about the debate to change the way all schools are funded.  It’s been in the news a bit this week – here, here and here.

You may have even heard of the man who headed up the review advising the government on how to make changes – David Gonski, a well known and successful business leader.

The Gonski Review, as it’s known, recommended major changes to the way State and Federal Governments allocate their funding to our schools.

The review recommended a $5 billion a year injection of funding into public and private schools and changes to the way money is distributed to ensure it is going where it is most needed.

On Monday, the Prime Minister announced her response to the report, and said she would commit the Australian Government to:

Ensure that by 2025 Australia is ranked as a top 5 country in the world for the performance of our students in Reading, Science, Mathematics, and for providing our children with a high-quality and high-equity education system.

What a great idea.   How will she do this?

The Prime Minister says the improvements will be achieved by:

• Lifting teacher quality, including requiring more classroom experience before graduation and higher entry requirements for the teaching profession.

• More power for principals, including over budgets and staff selection.

• More information for parents through My School.

Ok, so what’s the catch?  Actually there are two.

First, the money.   This plan will cost around $6.5 billion and it will take six years to fully implement.  My Miss Three will be well into her school years by then but she’ll still be young enough to benefit from a more ambitious, better funded schooling system. The PM says she’ll find a way to get the money and she’ll cut other things to make it work, but we’re not yet sure exactly where it comes from.

Second, not everyone is agreed.  These changes will need to be supported by State and Federal Governments.  I know!  Frustrating. So you can expect some argy bargy along the way as we debate the pros and cons of the proposals in coming months.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Sam Seaborn, the dreamy fictional character from The West Wing played by Rob Lowe, who once said about education:

Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense.

I’d vote for a candidate who said that! And here’s a little Rob Lowe just to show you what the candidate posters would look like 🙂

Sam Seaborn

Sam Seaborn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kirsten

Stop press. Kids in child care are just fine. Good news for working mums

New research has today confirmed what most working mums already knew – that kids in childcare are just fine.

The research, reported in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, confirms that childcare use in the first year of life has no discernible bad effects.

The research is Australian based and tracked children through to eight or nine.  It found that among two and three year olds in childcare centres, there were no differences in behaviour or adjustment between those who started as babies  and those we started later.  The researchers looked at the evaluations of teachers as well as parents, so isn’t based on parents justifying their own choices.

Making decisions about when to go back to work and what’s best for your own kids is hard, and finding the right centre and feeling comfortable about your choices is even harder.

There’s no way of  getting rid of that nagging feeling that your own choices may not be the right one forever, but you can now know there is conclusive evidence that if you decide to return to work a little earlier than you planned – your kids will be ok.

Feel better?  We hope so.

More information on the study is available here

More on what we’ve had to say about the importance of quality childcare is here.

Working Mums Australia’s guide to online shopping

My friend Serena is one of those friends who gives excellent presents.  Special occasions are important to her, and she thinks very carefully about gifts for many people.

When I ask her how she manages to get such great gifts, her response usually starts with ‘www’.

Like the rest of us, she’s very busy and knows that online shopping saves time on transport and parking, as well as being able to be done at odd hours.

And today, she shares some of her secrets with us.   Lucky us 🙂 .

So when is online shopping actually useful?  What can be purchased online these days?

Everything!  I use it for groceries, alcohol, presents, books, clothes, shoes, baby items, bulk nappies, toys, jewellery, computer supplies, electrical items, costumes for birthday parties, party supplies and furniture.

I will always try and buy something online before I go to a shop to find it.  And I always try and buy from an Australian website/Australian company.  Pretty much the only exception to the online rule is jeans – you need to actually SEE how bad your ar*e looks in a pair of jeans.

With supermarkets, do you go for Woolies or Coles?  Why?

I always used Woolies but they have recently changed their website which has resulted in a few functions that I am not happy with, so I have switched to Coles.

For online shopping, I have no brand loyalty to either company or even particularly pay attention to which items are on ‘extra-extra-extra special sale’ this week.  It is all about functionality of the website and ability to be able to search for items easily and place an order very quickly.

Do you use an app?

Woolies has only just started to allow online shopping via an app.  It is difficult to navigate but as it is only the first version, I am hoping that it will get better.  I suspect Coles will be following shortly.

Do you ‘trust’ it with fruit and veg? 

No, unfortunately not.  I have had a couple of bad experiences.  However, to combat this I have organised (online) for an organic fruit and veg box to be delivered from a farmers co-op, usually at the same time I organise for my shopping to be delivered so I only have to arrange for one period of time where I need to be home.

Nor do I trust it for any meat other than packaged organic chicken breasts or mince meat.  But that just means the only shop I have to actually go to regularly is the butchers.  I have found one in the back streets of a nearby suburb that always has parking out the front and often that is the only traditional shopping I do, generally on my way home from somewhere else.

Have you experienced any delivery/reliability problems?

No, never.  If anything, I am the unreliable one because I can sometimes arrive home a bit late!  I am lucky to live in an area with a high-level of regular deliveries but I have never once found the delivery times to be a problem.

Is it much more expensive than a ‘regular’ shop?

Absolutely not.  It costs the same.  Although I think it costs a lot less when I take into account the value of my time and lack of stress in trying to manage an uncooperative toddler in an uncooperative trolley.  It also takes so much less time because you don’t miss items and have to go back through aisles you’ve already gone down trying to find the item.  Just type in the word and the item appears!

How long does ‘your shop’ take each week?

It took a bit of time initially, but now that I menu plan and have all my lists of favourite items set up, I can do the entire shop, including payment, in 10 to 15 minutes every fortnight.

What do you look for in online shopping?

Free delivery is a big factor.  I know all retailers have their overhead costs but given most of the places I shop with online don’t have an actual shopfront, I think that free delivery should be standard.  Additionally, I like people to get back to me quickly when I ask a question about a product.  Customer service is incredibly important, even on the internet.

Here’s the question we all need the answer to, what are your top sites for internet shopping?

Thanks Serena!   Mums start your clicking!

Shopping for babies and children

The following six have impressive websites, fair delivery costs, lots of cool clothes and gifts and excellent customer service.

http://www.babysgotstyle.com.au

http://www.urbanbaby.com.au

http://www.kidostore.com

http://www.buttonbaby.com.au

http://www.thehipinfant.com.au

http://ittybittygreenie.com.au

This company’s website is ugly and user-unfriendly but they have some great products I haven’t been able to find elsewhere: http://www.minimee.com.au

Adult clothes

This website is changing online shopping in Australia.  They have a great range of Australian designers, lots of products on sale, and they offer free overnight delivery in metro areas.  Amazingly, they also offer three-hour delivery in Sydney for only $4.95: http://www.theiconic.com.au/

This shoe website offers free delivery: http://www.styletread.com.au/

Gifts

http://www.hampersonly.com.au/

http://www.top3.com.au/

http://www.edibleblooms.com.au

http://www.myfavourite.com.au/

Other sites

For anyone who shops for products on sale, these sites are amazing: www.brandsexclusive.com.au and www.ladybub.com.au

It goes without saying that www.ebay.com.au has changed the way we shop forever.  If you’re a Mum and you’re not shopping on ebay already, you are wasting valuable time and effort.  Once you spend some time on ebay you will become a convert to second-hand goods too.

The best reason to shop on the internet is for those little products that you can’t find in shops but change your life.  These are the sorts of products we should be sharing – the things that were never available to us previously because the big shops didn’t want to stock them.  Some of these products (particularly baby-related) are:

http://prambles.com/ These have allowed me to keep using my umbrella stroller even when my toddler continually gets in and out.  I was getting so annoyed with it falling over I didn’t want to use it anymore.

http://www.kozzzee.com.au/porta-snug.html I love the porta-snug.  It has reduced my travel-cot related packing for trips by half and I was able to have it made in the colours and patterns of my choosing.

http://www.dashbaby.com.au has really cool baby wipes cases.

www.motherknowsbest.com.au/tvstrapsgifts.html are the best gadget I’ve found to keep your plasma TV strapped to your TV cabinet

http://www.jellystonedesigns.com fantastic baby-friendly jewellery

Big retailers

I do purchase from these websites and I really want to support big Australian retailers (if for no other reason than I can stop listening to Gerry Harvey’s constant whinging) but until they spend some serious time and money on their websites, they are fighting a losing battle.  Every single one of the websites is limited in product range and is unnecessarily clunky.

http://www.bigw.com.au

http://shop.target.com.au/

http://www.myer.com.au/

http://www.kmart.com.au/

http://www.davidjones.com.au/

http://www.westfield.com.au/

Get clicking and save time!

What are your favourite shopping websites?  Do you have any favourites you like to share?

Online shopping tips for working mums from Natalie

As a single working mum of Madison (6) and Angus (4), I find online grocery shopping a lifesaver.

Wrangling a trolley around the supermarket isn’t my idea of fun at the best of times, but add tired, hungry kids at the end the day and frankly, I’d rather poke my eye out with a sharp stick.

I’ve been buying my groceries online  for about 6 years now. My provider of choice is Woolies Homeshop, because they were operating in my area when I started and a few friends had recommended them. I’ve never had any major problems and no reason to change.

COST

Online shopping is more expensive. But for me, the sheer convenience makes it a no brainer. It’s totally worth the extra money. Having said that, I don’t think it’s very much more expensive  – and in some ways online shopping saves me time and money too.

A lot of the specials you will find in-store are now available online and are often easier to find than in a regular shop. There’s a Specials section and Homeshop currently has a ‘Half Price’ and a Buy More, Save More page with multi-buy deals. You can also save money by buying things in bulk like toilet paper and washing powder without having to think twice about the logistics of lugging them home, because they will be delivered to your door.

I also think I sometimes spend more during a ‘regular’ shop because of impulse buys, whereas with an online shop, I’m much more likely to stick to a list.

TIME

Then there’s the time saved. I keep a shopping list on the fridge and add to it as we run out of things. Before going online, I have a quick think about meals and lunches for the coming week and add the things I need to the list.

When you log on, you can go to your saved lists and select all the items that you regularly buy. They keep a list of your ‘favourites’ which keeps everything you have ordered on it, or you can make and save your own lists. This is super convenient and means that you then only need to use the search or browse functions to look for new things or specials.

There’s a nifty new Reminder that suggests a few items that you regularly purchase that you may have forgotten just before you check out and whilst I would usually frown on this sort of suggestive selling, it actually has helped me to remember something that I had left off my list on more than one occasion.

The beauty of online shopping is that you can place your order anytime, anywhere. I regularly place my orders using the iPad now. I often do it in front of the tv after the kids are in bed. Once I placed an order whilst having a pedicure (that’s multi-tasking for you!).

An online shop takes me 15-20 minutes if I’m fully concentrating or half an hour if I’m multi-tasking!

DELIVERY 

Obviously one of the costs of online shopping is delivery. Homeshop has a sliding scale from $13.00 for a small shop (less than $100 value) through to free if you spend more than $300.00. For me, delivery usually costs $5-$7 but for the convenience of having the groceries delivered to my kitchen – that’s money I’m prepared to pay.Woolies has recently changed their delivery windows though to 3 hour windows which I find less flexible than the old delivery options. In the old system you could pay a slightly higher delivery fee for a shorter delivery window.  This was very convenient because the hardest thing can be trying to coordinate your availability to be home.

If I want an after work delivery window, it now means booking in a 6pm-9pm delivery window to make sure I can be home in time. Usually this works out but I have had one delivery after 8.30pm which isn’t ideal. It can also be hard to commit to be home for a 3 hour window on a Saturday with sport and parties and all the things busy families have to do on weekends.

I always include fruit and veg in my order and have generally been pretty happy with the quality. Only once was the fruit quality poor and in that case (it was mangoes which were very ripe), they didn’t charge me for them and sent me double the quantity I had ordered, so I blitzed the pulp up and froze it in portions – mango smoothie anyone?

TIPS AND WARNINGS 

One thing you do need to watch is how you set up your substitution options. As a general rule, I select no substitutes. I order the brand, size, flavour of a product I want because that’s the one I want and if it’s out of stock, it’s out of stock. My sister recently received a men’s moisturiser as a substitute for the out of stock men’s deodorant they had ordered?!? Sometimes, I will allow substitution for essentials like bread or milk, especially if it’s a night delivery and I know I need the product the next day.

My kids always eagerly await the arrival of ‘the Woolies man’ and they help me pack away the groceries and check the items off the list as we go. For me, online grocery shopping is a time and sanity saver that takes some pressure off and gives me more quality time with the kids and as such, I highly recommend it.