Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Your school + my school = same/same?

The Big Smoke came to visit the Fibro today. One of my ‘mums’ from the old neighbourhood brought her girls over, and it was like no time had passed. We attended a crazy church playgroup together, our kids went to preschool together, and Mr6 and Miss 7 would have started school together had we not moved away.

We talked about people we knew, places we used to go, real estate prices (well, it was a Sydney conversation). Since we moved, our former suburb has become The New Paddington. My friend and I both laughed hysterically at this. As T pointed out, it’s still the same place. Only the house prices have gone up in the world.

As we talked, I did have pangs, I admit. I miss her. I miss my old gang of mums. In the Big Smoke, I wasn’t the oldest living mother in the history of the world. Down here, I sometimes feel like I’m pretty close. There are mums my age with kids in Mr6’s year, but it’s their fourth and even fifth kids. Not their first.

But school conversations are universal. The P&F, the school reports, the teachers, the playground stories, fundraising nightmares.

A wise friend once said to me: “No school will ever be good enough. Go for the one that’s closest.”

It’s only early days, but I think she’s right. When you talk to mums from different schools, the complaints conversations are the same. Which makes you wonder why we waste all that time and effort looking for the right school for our kids. It's like going out searching for The New Paddington when maybe, just maybe, it's under your nose the whole time.

What do you think? Is the closest school the best school? What do/did you look for when choosing a school? I’d love to know your thoughts.


  1. This is a topic close to my heart at present.
    I don't think you have it over there but we have the whole private/state school conundrum going on. Our local school for infants and juniors up to the age of 11 is great - our son's been very happy there and I'd like our daughter to go there too.
    But the secondary one from 11 onwards is not good (and that's an understatement) and so we are contemplating moving. Yes, moving. When we've just finished doing up the house. There is a 38% chance he will get the school we want unless we pay for him to go private which is ludicrous and so unfair. It is all we talk about at the moment - well, nearly all.

    Every child should be able to go to their closest school I think - to walk, to get the sense of community, to play with friends in the vicinity. To bus them off to schools miles away because the local one is failing doesn't seem right. There is the argument that if all the kids go to the failing local school it will make it better, but when it's your own child is that a risk one is prepared to take? I am confused.

  2. @Deer Baby - The conundrum of which you speak is also universal I think. People pay a lot of money to live in suburbs near 'good schools'. There is also a lot of current debate about selective high schools. I completely understand your problem with sending your son to a school that's perceived as failing - why put him through it?

    Our local high school is the same high school that I went to as a kid. It was fine. There was no alternative in 'my day' so we just went. Now I worry at the thought of sending my boys there, even though its reputation is now pretty good. What's my problem? Not sure.

    There are alternatives now, so I need to explore all of them. At least I've got a few years up my sleeve. I don't think any school will ever be good enough.

    Good luck with your conundrum. I hope you don't have to move.

  3. I had the same dilemma when moving down from the Big Smoke. There are two schools close to us. One is a private Anglican school with wonderful facilities and a good academic reputation, not to mention a nice uniform.
    The other has a high proportion of kids from disfunctional backgrounds, and from what I hear, the nice kids are distracted by the bad behaviour of the unruly kids. One of my friends teaches there and says she spends more time disciplining the kids than teaching them.
    The third choice was a state school a bit further up the road which is the :country school from central casting. I agonised over sending Princess7 there but got won over by the shiny new musical instruments at the better resourced private school.
    It also has its drawbacks and I'm often left wondering if I made the right decision...

  4. We have a school at the end of the road and my son isn't going there when he starts in Sept! It's really to do with us being non-Catholic and we have an excellent non-denominational school 5 mins away so it was a bit of a no brainer really. Who really knows if you've made the right decision..all we can do is be there for the inevitable ups and downs.

  5. I think it depends on the kid. We started in a little catholic primary school here (Niamh attends it now) and the boys have just followed the pathways from there. Our public high schools are zoned here so you have to attend the one in your zone. The one in our zone is fairly dodgy and while Michael would be fine, Liam would not.

  6. Wise words, Al. I think most schools are pretty good one way or the other. A lot of the time it comes down to the group of friends your child hangs out with and there are 'good' and 'bad' kids wherever you go.

    I certainly don't think that in a country like Australia you need to go 'private' for your child to reach their full potential. Private schools are probably more 'disciplined' in their approach, perhaps, but I have never found the children from them to be more 'disciplined' in life or attitude. I think people choose private schools for reasons that have nothing to do with education.

  7. I wrote a huge comment and lost it! Grr.
    when we were deliberating over schools it was all we ever talked about. I used to dream about it in my sleep. When the decision was made, it was a huge relief.
    I think it's important to get insider info about the teachers. You can get unmotivated teachers at private schools just like you can in the public sector. Having your child taught by someone they don't get along with is torture...
    Having said that, my daughter goes to the closest school.

  8. How funny, I was only just talking to some Twitter friends about this last night.

    My son is 3.5 so I've started to think (actually, stress) about schools. It recently has become an obsession. Even pre-school proving too much for me!

    We moved from Sydney a few years ago for husbands work, a few hours up the coast to another (smaller) city. As much as I love it, I always saw my kids going to school in Sydney, like I did. If guess it's also what you know.

    The other impossible thing is knowing where you are going to be living in 5-10 years time when kids are in high school. Sadly my crystal ball is broken so I'm not sure. We have grand plans of moving to India one day, but that's a whole other story ;)

    In saying this, I've put both my kids names down at private schools in Sydney for when they are older (as you probably know you literally have to do this from birth), just to keep my options open. My daughter at the one I went to, and my son at the brother school.

    I've already gone off the idea of both.

    On another note, we bought a house about a year ago, and one of the reasons that swayed us into buying was that we are zoned for the primary school I want my kids to go to. It's tiny and alternative. Just want I want. It's well known that many families use fake addresses in an attempt to get their children in. Crazy stuff.

    But you are right, nothing is going to perfect. And no school is going to suit every child. We just have to keep our fingers crossed it all works out :)

  9. I wonder whether any school will be good enough because perhaps parents expect too much? That's the case with our primary school.

    My 3rd child will start school next year and at his interview the principal asked what I thought about the school.

    I was honest, it doesn't offer everything I want my children to experience but what they don't get from school I ensure they get elsewhere. For example, they don't have an inter-school sports competition but my kids do Saturday sport. What it does have is a concert band which is great. You can learn an instrument out of school but how often do you get to play in a band.

    I read an article recently stating if homes were full books then the child tended to do better academically.

    I've also read the book "Beyond the Great Divide" which at the end pretty much said if the largest indicator of student success was how much the parent was plugged into their child and their education. It didn't matter whether the school was private, public, single sex or co-ed.

    And let's face it, educating our kids is so much more than just attending school.

    That was a bit of a rant :-) Now I'm off to read "The Little Engine that Could" to my 4yo.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

  10. I love our daughter's school, but yes, hear some parents whinging at times. There's always going to be something that annoys you about a school - best make it things you can cope with, or help your child deal with. Now our daughter's in Year 5 we have to start considering High Schools. She's keen to try out for the Performing Arts High School which is meant to be fabulous... We'll see...

  11. Parental angst and schooling, most the local schools are excellent, particularly if there is good parental involvement.

    Also I think the advantage of local is their friends live in the neighbourhood. Well if your suburb is the new Paddington, a decent italian and a wine bar thanks very much. Ok if I really was wishing hard, an arthouse cinema!

  12. Great post as usual Allison, very topical!
    We have persisted with the school our oldest was at before we moved "over the bridge" which in Sydney terms was social suicide...and I'm not talking the harbour bridge, I'm talking the Spit Bridge!!
    We stayed because we love the teachers. At times we deplore the parents and some of the kids want to make me eat my arm off in case I reach out to strangle them!!!
    I would like to switch to a local school but keep hearing mixed reviews (sound familiar). Worst part of not being at a neighborhood school is that playdates become infrequent and require lots more effort than if you were just popping round the corner.
    We're sticking with the school we're at for the time being...change is never easy in our house!!

  13. We wanted a Catholic school for our boys, and thankfully, there's one at the end of our street, so....win/win! But there's a down side. It's good because it's small - has a lovely community feel - but sometimes that's not great, esp when kids aren't getting on. There's nowhere to escape. And everyone is in to everyone's business a little. But overall, I'm happy (enough).

    The whole school thing is exhausting. We are in the process of trying to secure a school for the 8yo for Year 5. This will have to be a whole post for me sometime, otherwise, my comment will end up longer than your post!


  14. Great post. Was the 'friend' Ms Kylie Ladd? She said a similar thing to me! I went through a whole 'thing' recently about not only where but when to send my son to school - this year or next. I don't think all schools are the same, but I do think all schools will have their issues and what may suit the eldest child may not suit their siblings. I wanted an all-rounder of a school that focussed on the 'whole child' as much as possible and had a nice sense of community. I also think that if you can get the word in the playground by discussing with other mothers that you meet around the place what schools their kids go to and what their experience is, you start to get a sense of what the various schools are like.
    I tracked down the principals of the three closest schools to ask some pointy questions and clarify my 'playground' research. I already had in my mind which school we would probably choose but wanted to check out the options. The local 'in-zone' public school has no grass and a huge reputation for being very academically driven with a very dictatorial principal and old-school teachers (one apparently regularly falls asleep during class, she is literally old). This failed the 'whole child approach' test for me and don't think it would suit our family. The principal initially refused to meet with me but when I complained via email he said there had been a communication break-down with his staff and would meet with me after all. By that stage I had already decided on the school across the road. The principal there was very generous with his time and I have heard nothing but good reports about the inclusive nature of the school community. The third school was an 'out of zone' public school which looked fine too, but it had to compete with the school across the road, so no dice. I wouldn't consider paying for a private school at this stage, but that may change when high school comes around.

  15. At first our main concern for school for our now-11 DD was before school care and it's ability to get her to school, as work hours were not flexible for me at that time. Fortunately, things worked out and she could go to our local school, 5 mins down the road. For our now-8 DS, the main concern was support for him, as he has a learning disability. Our local school was pretty much our main option for him as it has a special needs school attached. And our DD would have changed school when DS started, too.... Another good point about the local school is that they make friends to play with at weekends in the local areas. Just wait until they are about to start high school, like my DD. Sort of makes me happy that she's following my footsteps, and going to my old school. Some of the teachers are even still the same, 30 years down the track!

  16. I think some children will succeed wherever they go to school and others need the most supportive environment which is the best fit for their individual learning style - public or private.

  17. We have the choice of public or private. But it turns out that the idea of home schooling is quite appealing. As long as we provide plenty of social opportunities (sports, clubs, catching up with family friends etc ) than it looks like we are going ahead with home education. My first son is due to starting "schooling" in 2012.


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