your experience and school choiceHere’s your challenge as a parent – when it comes to choosing a school, think different! Whenever we talk to parents about school choice one thing stands out – their own experience of school. And that’s because ‘school’ is an experience product – you really can’t know whether a school is right for your child until you choose one and they experience it. It is also true that most, if not all, of us have an experience with school contributing to some understanding of what it is about and how it works. BUT your experience begins to age the moment you leave the school gates for the last time, so is it relevant today when making decisions about school for your child?  Are you making decisions based on what was, not what is?

Your school experience plus time = the more things stay the same, the more things change

As an example:

  • Fred has a child due to start school in 2020 and is currently looking for a school.
  • Fred is 35, he will be 37 by the time his child enters their first year of schooling.
  • He left school at 18. So his ‘experience’ of his last year of school is already almost 20 years old – his experience of what it was like in his first year is almost 30 years old.

Think about everything else around you that has changed in the past three decades – phones, television, the internet, media, housing, energy sources, banking, shopping, food and diet, exercise, work, sport – just about everything! And yet, often, as parents, we make decisions about school that assumes school is just as it was when we were there. When it comes to being a parent with a child AT school, it’s often worse – if something occurs that we haven’t experienced, we might not believe it or question its validity.

So let’s talk about how some schools are doing it differently today.

The Trade Training School

You don’t have to leave school anymore to get an apprenticeship. There are a number of schools around the country where senior secondary students can attend a trade focussed college to complete their senior education and start their school based apprenticeships. Take a look at St Patrick’s Technical College in South Australia or the Australian Industry Trade College in Queensland for a couple of great examples.

The Specialist Arts School

Is your child is interested in the Performing Arts? Most states have specialist schools offering an arts focus. In WA, the John Curtin College of the Arts was one of the first Independent Public schools in the State and is Western Australia’s only Selective Arts College. On the east coast, the Australian Performing Arts Grammar School in Glebe NSW, is an example of a specialist school in the non-government sector. Other ‘traditional’ high schools may also have a particular specialist focus in their curriculum offering, Brighton High School (Music and Volleyball) and Marryatville High School (Music and Tennis) in South Australia are two examples.

The Online School

One of the largest schools in Australia is the School of the Air. Operating since 1951 and servicing students in remote and rural areas, the school has two sites and a broadcast area of more than 1.3 million square kilometres, overlapping the borders of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. They also have the capacity to broadcast overseas through to China and have conducted conferences with students in Sweden and the USA as part of their learning programs. Closer to suburbia, Open Access College is an R-12 government distance education school for students who cannot access a local school, or who want a broader curriculum. Your child can also access a huge range of online learning resources like Eddie Woo’s maths channel, WooTube on You Tube, Kahn Academy, or the site Bill Gates love so much he helped to fund it, Big History.

The Eco School

There are 263 schools registered with Eco-Schools Australia. These schools have a focus on ecological sustainability and education and are part of a global network of 40,000 schools in 60 countries. Check your local school to see if they are part of the program, some will have a simple focus on litter reduction, some may have taken it further and have recycling programs, water and energy saving schemes, kitchen gardens, greening activities and so on. Appin Public School, Narellan Public School and Belair Primary School are all examples of schools with an eco focus.

The Co-ed School with single sex classes

The number of single sex schools in Australia is declining with recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicating the popularity of single-sex schools in Australia is waning, and signs, if the trend continues, of no single-sex independent schools by 2035. There are some schools however who offer single sex classes within a co-ed environment and others where a single sex school co-exists with a co-ed school on the same campus like Roma Mitchell Secondary College in South Australia.

The Rule Breaker Schools

Letting students choose when they start school and what subjects they do – anarchy or brilliance? Take a look at Templestowe College, a school according to its website that is “a Victorian State school in Australia … regarded internationally as one of the most innovative progressive schools focused on student empowerment and student centred learning.” Author John Marsden created Candlebark School twelve years ago – a school described as ‘no uniforms, no rules and no bullying.’ The school motto is Take Care, Take Risks. Gunbalanya School in the Northern Territory flipped its approach to the traditional school terms to ensure maximum attendance for students. To accommodate students’ education requirements along with their customs the school rearranged its school calendar to align more closely with the indigenous calendar allowing students and families to undertake traditional ceremonies during the dry season by commencing school earlier in the wet season.