- The importance of workers in outside school hours care isn't always recognised
- Educating the school community about their roles led to a range review for educators
- Some of the programs instigated by outside hours care have been taken on board by the whole school
Visiting the Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) area at Brunswick North West Primary School means wading into well-organised chaos. Bags and bike helmets are dumped on a growing pile outside the doors as dozens of students rush in to rummage through dress-ups, settle around huge trays of Lego, grab a guitar or join the homework club.
It’s a complex business catering for kids aged five to 12, but with some kids there five days a week, the educators at Brunswick North West OSHC feel strongly about providing a meaningful program for the students in their care.
“When you go home, the buck stops with us – behaviours, medical emergencies,” says OSHC education leader Andrea Marshall. “Also, we have a big variety of educators, some studying to become teachers, with an interest in supporting students’ learning and contributing ideas.”
That’s why, a few years ago, the program leaders felt it was time the skills and knowledge of the school’s OSHC staff were properly recognised. At that time, all staff – other than the Level 2 coordinator – were employed either at Level 1 or as casuals.
“We got industrial advice about awards and conditions, then we could present the union’s position, which the principal took seriously.”
Andrea says they started with the budget. “Our income is very secure and we believed we could pay people the appropriate amount based on the figures.”
The next step was educating the school and school council on what they do. “We’re a big service. We can get up to 100 on a big day and an average 68 kids a day across the week. We run a complex program for a diverse range of students. The level of responsibility of the role is at least Level 2.”
As part of this, they encouraged the school’s principal Hannah Reid to attend some training run by the local school community childcare about what outside of hours school care services do – “and it was just gold!” says Andrea.
OSHC coordinator Bernadetta Martella agrees. “Before doing the training, the principal had no idea what a big job it is. It is not just babysitting; although it’s recreational, we do provide an education program. We had to educate the school community about what we do. Now, every time we ask for help from the school and school council, they listen.”
With AEU support, the pair set about seeking range reviews for several OSHC staff. “The whole process took a lot of negotiation,” Andrea says. “We got industrial advice about awards and conditions, then we could present the union’s position, which the principal took seriously.”
They argued that the coordinator should be recognised as a professional role, given the complexity of managing 18 employees. “Even in a small service, it’s a business manager role, managing all the accounts, correspondence and budget items.”
Once the coordinator role was recognised at Level 3, it seemed reasonable to employ educators on Level 1 contracts, then negotiate for them to be translated to Level 2, explains Andrea. “Our educators are managing casual staff and taking responsibility for running the service when the coordinator is not in the building.”
The result is that five OSHC educators are now employed at Level 2, with the Coordinator at Level 3. But the benefits of this process have gone far beyond better pay and recognition for employees, says Bernadetta.
“We are part of the school. Our connection is now very strong. We attend any relevant staff training with the teachers, for example on restorative justice. We pass on information to our staff about the school program. We also attend numeracy and literacy training as we run a homework club.”
The OSHC staff have also implemented a formal scale for measuring a student’s need for behavioural support, along with a reporting pathway, which allows them to have a serious conversation with a student’s teacher if needed.
“One of most significant things that’s changed,” says Andrea, “is that if we had a student ‘red-zoning’ – so, very agitated or upset – they often arrived here at 3.30 with no information or support. Not all teachers would think to sit with that child till they were ready to come to after school care. Now we have a plan for the transition from teacher across to educator support.”
Some of the external programs that Brunswick North West OSHC have put in place have since been taken up more widely, such as sexual health awareness program Body Safety. “We were concerned that if we overheard something we were concerned about, we weren’t trained to have a conversation in a safe way with students,” says Andrea. “So, Body Safety is now working with the whole school.”
They are also doing training in better understanding autism, given the high percentage of students on the spectrum, which they will share with the school staff more broadly. “It’s good to compare notes and bring twice as much knowledge and experience,” Andrea notes.
The process has had an “enormous” impact on the morale of OSHC staff, several of whom have gone on to become teachers. “You can get overwhelmed very quickly in this role. It’s means a lot to feel that sense of respect,” says Bernadetta.
“At the start of the year we discuss what focus each staff member wants to bring to the program and they do training based on their skills or strengths. Sometimes they are investigating an area at uni – for example, one who was training to be a science teacher set up a science club with a parent who’s a scientist.”
Andrea and Bernadetta attend network meetings in the region, and they are “constantly amazed” by what’s happening in other, usually private-run, services: “Children arriving who they don’t know anything about and no information about what’s happening in the school.”
They say legislation changes have led to too many schools resorting to for-profit Outside School Hours Care services. In an ideal world, all schools would run their own in-house OSHC, with better support from government, Andrea says – particularly when it comes to helping schools comply with complex regulations.
“Especially for kids with high needs, it makes all the difference to have a service that’s part of the school.”