A Year On: 10 Learning Points!

When the opportunity came up to move to Australia, I have to admit I was lacking knowledge about the geography, the climate, the culture, political and social issues. I did some research to gain some initial knowledge but it is, of course, living the daily routines in a new country that helps the most. Some things surprised me, others confirmed some thoughts and initial perceptions. I write about 10 main learning points, the ones that surprised me the most…

  1. The sun heat is particularly intense. It feels very direct and hot on the skin. It is not cool to be tanned and not funny either. In fact, people worry about you if you have a sun burnt. People are very cautious about sunshine and heat and particularly sun burns. At the peak of summer, you still tan with 50 factor cream. Hats are a necessity. In fact, in all schools, there is a hat policy imposed from October to April. I don’t live in the most heat affected area, but I can imagine how difficult it may be at 35-45 degrees on most days. I am not sure I could live in these areas. In the Melbourne area, we have noticed some very hot days followed by 1 or 2 cool days, which has been a relief. These days are welcomed. It is impossible to do lots of jobs during the high sun hours. Initially, we were like ‘we must empty boxes, cut trees, etc.’ but it became unbearable to work like that in the sunshine. BBQs have a clearly purpose. On these hot days, it is too hot to cook inside. We need to remind ourselves to drink water…
  2. Similar to Canada, Australia is vast, one hour drive does not get you very far. The states appear very distinct (although we have not travelled interstate yet) with different state governments and particular unique and specific issues. Although we live in a fairly populated area there is space around us, farm land is on our doorstep and we are an hour away to the city.
  3. It is incredible to discover so many new animals and the wildlife. We have been truly amazed! The kookaburras singing make me smile every time as they sound like monkeys. Possums although cute are very invasive and will take every single little opportunity to get in small holes to get through the roof, the garage, etc. Once established it is very hard to move them on, they are at finding new holes, new ways to get in. I learnt a lot about keeping possums out! Seeing wild kangaroos has been great. It is always incredible to see parrots, blue ones, green, ones, pink ones, all coloured, just beautiful!
  4. The nature also truly amazes us all. Palm trees, bushland, native trees, flowers. I love the smell of the forest, particularly the eucalyptus trees. I am looking forward to grow birds of paradise at the front of the house. The sceneries are unique, yellow burnt grass fields and lines of native tress, the farmland and countryside are beautiful. A very picturesque scenery and very unique to Australia too…We love just being outdoors…walking and exercise has to be planned according not only the weather but mainly the heat…
  5. The proximity of Pacific islands, Indonesia, China, Japan brings a different dimension to the news, politics and culture. These countries are well represented in the culture and the news always present key news about these countries. Links with these countries also appear developed in terms of politics. These holiday destinations are also well developed. Foods from these countries are available everywhere. We have had some great Thai and Japanese food. There are also some markets and stores selling these foods in lots of places. You can find nail bars, massage places, everywhere.
  6.  America appears to have a big influence on Australia, more than I anticipated. One 12 hour flight will take you to LA. There are number of American programmes on TV, even more than the UK!
  7. Buying cars is interesting! Cars are advertised as ‘Drive Away’, but you can’t drive them away! A big mistake: buying a car with no air conditioning!
  8. The history of Australia fascinates me, particularly the aboriginal culture, which I would like to learn so much more of and visit areas more in the North. Again a number of incredible similarities with Canada and aboriginal culture, colonisation, subsequent oppressions, dominant discourses.
  9. Pub culture is not so important. People tend to have BBQs or dinners at people’s houses. Parties at people’s houses appear to be popular. Food and coffee are great everywhere in restaurants. There is a big coffee culture…
  10. People are incredibly friendly and kind. People pop in to see each other and spontaneously create a dinner party. We all love the easy going lifestyle and this great sense of community.

Schools in Australia: Same or Different?

In the last year, we have been very busy learning about the similarities and differences of educational settings in the UK compared to Australia. We have had a lot of fun finding our way around these systems because my children are all at different stages of their educational career (early years, primary, and secondary schools) and I work in schools too!

I have asked the children to write down similarities and differences…all their own thoughts and feelings! Well for the early years part, I observed closely! and my little one has also told me how he feels about a few things…of course this is based on our experiences and could be different depending on the educational settings…

  Same Different
Early Years similar early years ‘curriculum’ guidance and motto in terms of promoting self-confidence, a sense of belonging, etc. ‘As a parent, I really miss the key worker approach. It has been tricky to determine who to speak to, particularly when my child had a harder time to settle. Similarly, at the end of the day, there does not seem to be much handover.’

‘E. has mentioned on a number of occasions how he appreciates a male worker at the childcare centre.’

3 and 4 years old have a sleep during the day. Lights out, sleep on mats, with blankets and music. It has thrown E. as he had not slept at childcare for a long time. It took him a while to adapt to that and it really affected his sleep at night. He sleeps much better now that he is out of this routine.’

Primary School ‘Homework same amount as in the UK’ ‘Work was a lot harder in the UK, but here easier’

‘You have lunch in your classroom or outside so it is a little bit different as in the UK you can have hot dinner in the hall’

‘We do more fun homework, but every piece of homework is fun for me because I love school’

‘My school is a lot bigger in Australia, 650 students compared to 120 students in the UK.’

‘Where my school is, it’s surrounded by trees and bushes, as in the UK, it was a little bit in the woods and close to the beach.’

‘International Baccalaureate Primary School which is very different in terms of curriculum. I enjoy all the units of inquiry and we do lots of project based work.’

‘Teachers often team teach. There are no teacher aids in classes, definitely not in all classrooms.’

‘classes have a max of 24 students.’

‘At my school, we have multi-age which means that Reception/Prep to Y2 are all in classes together.’

‘There is music before the bells, or often no bells at all, just music to let us know to back to class.’

Secondary School ‘Homework similar amount’

‘Recess and lunches are fun’

‘1 or 2 teachers I don’t like as much’

‘Similar friendship group’

‘Similar size school between 1200-1500 students’

‘It has felt like a recap at school in terms of learning’

‘People are using lockers in Australia. they did not at my old school.’

‘There seems to be a difference how they treat Y7 and Y8 students in Australia. it is more like primary school years. We have teachers that are our tutors and teach us all core subjects such as English and Maths and these two teachers often take us in big groups, they team teach too.’

‘Timetables are a bit different: in the UK 7 subjects/day and in AU 5 subjects a day max., lessons are longer but days here are  a bit shorter’

‘School seems much more sport driven.’

‘it feels like there is more project work.’

‘I have a longer commute to and from school. I walk and take a bus.’

In terms of my thoughts around schools…I feel there are many similarities, but also many differences that I have enjoyed discovering. For example, I particularly enjoy the music getting to class, and the gardens surrounding all the schools I visit. Most schools feel so much more spacious in terms of indoor and outdoor space. This also brings different issues in terms of travelling to and from schools, particularly in more rural communities. Many schools have communal areas for children to work at their ease. There seems to be a number of sporting activities taking place throughout the year too. Overall, I have felt that schools tend to be much more relax, not so much pressure on performance, more enjoyment and easy atmosphere and ethos.


What is it like to work as a Psychologist in Australia?

One of the most important challenge in my recent migration has certainly been to learn about the socio-political contexts and systems which are directing the work of the psychologist in Australia. When one experiences a number of political systems, it becomes clear how these have an impact…Bronfenbrenner makes so much sense then…and it also becomes clear how it impacts on the role of the psychologist. In the light of mental health support changes in the UK, in this post, I intend to explain my role in the different types of work I have been doing to illustrate how systems can have a huge impact on support services.

National Chaplaincy Programme, Mental Health and Care support and Chronic Diseases

Under the National Chaplaincy programme, I have worked in one specific school, one day per week, supporting children who present with different issues, such as friendship, behavioural, self-esteem, adaptation to school, loss, grief. I have been supporting school staff in understanding these emotional issues and implementing different strategies in class. I also supported parents and siblings where needed. Catholic and independent schools often employ their own school psychologists. Similar to the UK, Education Department psychologists, SSSO, are particularly involved in assessing children’s needs. This assessment then feeds in to the system as to whether needs qualify for funding and further support in school. Long-term work is more limited. However, a parallel system exists where psychologists work in schools supporting children under a Mental Health and Care plan.

Children and adults are entitled to 10 individual and 10 group sessions of mental health/psychologist support under the Mental Health Care plan scheme. I work in a number of schools where I deliver this support to children who are experiencing different issues such as loss and grief, parental separation, anxieties, self-esteem, self-regulation and behavioural difficulties, etc. I design the support to the children based on solution focused, cognitive-behavioural, child-centred, play, psycho-educational approaches. Seeing children over a period of time, being able to intervene early, before behaviour patterns have hugely entrenched, have felt very rewarding professionally and highly beneficial to the children. Also, being able to build a relationship with children and families over a period of time really helped to go in to more depth as to what may contributing to issues and difficulties. Being able to discuss parenting strategies and early intervention strategies also feel as it is highly beneficial to families. Mental health is such an important matter which can be supported if taken seriously early, but yet can have such a devastating on an individual or family system. In Australia, the socio-political systems acknowledge mental health and support mechanisms are in place so that children and families can access help. Some may argue that 10 sessions is not long enough, and too many restrictions exist in terms of the support that can be provided, perhaps…But at least mental health is acknowledged as important and deserving support.

Medicare also supports children and adults who have  chronic conditions which may impact on their emotional well-being. The GP will then write a Management plan and pull a care team together to support the child or adult. Psychologists are included in this possible support plan.

Early Intervention, Better Start, Helping Children with Autism 

Other funding streams acknowledge the importance of supporting children with special needs and disabilities early and as part of structured early intervention programmes. The early intervention programme gives the opportunity to children and families to access regular support  either in groups or individualised therapies and key worker support. The weekly support by experienced professionals can make such a difference to children and families.

Early intervention is also available for children with specific medical and/or lifelong conditions such as Down Syndrome to access early professional and regular support .

Different funding streams have been set to support children with autism and their families. Children receiving a diagnosis of the autism spectrum disorder under the age of 7 can access speech therapy, occupational therapy or psychologist support up to $12 000 worth of services. This also includes resource packages such as the possibility to purchase specialist resources which will help with self-regulation for example.

The Medicare system also acknowledges the importance to support children with autism aged 7+. This support is designed as 20 sessions of half an hour to help with different needs such as self-regulation, anxieties and social skills and communication.

Changes ahead

There a number of changes planned ahead. Mainly for all these different funding streams to be  simplified and also to review current practices and services (Medicare and NDIS). Many families access private support as the Medicare system provides rebates and/or families have private health insurance. There is no doubt that this is a complex system. However, this is a system which acknowledges the importance to support children and families’ mental health and care and promotes early intervention. Coming from other socio-political systems, I have been fascinated to be learning about support available to children and families. It has allowed my professional practice to evolve in such a creative way. For example, I bring a box of Lego, little people and animals to school. I have enjoyed drawing and talking with children, listening to their worries and trying to find solutions with them. I have enjoyed developing individualised and group resources for children and their families. A lot of the resources I used in the UK have been particularly relevant and I had to refresh many resources too. The system is allowing me to work over time with children and families, that’s what changed the most! There is a definite feeling that it is having a more in-depth, targeted and supportive impact to the children and families…