Thursday, April 17, 2014

The australian public school vs private school dillema

I can't name a private school in Edmonton.  If we still lived there today Olivia would be in a public school and it's very likely that we would rave about it as we did the program she was in run by the Edmonton Catholic School board before we left.

Schooling in Australia is very different.  You have 4 (that I know of there might be more) types of schools.  Private, Catholic Private, Independant Public and Public schools.  Mention to the right person an intention of sending your kids to public school and you will get a gasp akin to the announcement that you have decided to have your children raised by wolves.

So my question became:  Is this reaction valid?  Are the public schools that bad?  Is it really necessary to spend 14 - 25K per child per year for private school?

Our first decision was made easier by the fact that the company that brought us to Perth would pay the cost of Private School.  Why take the risk?  We had a suspect discussion at a public school where we were living and were able to find a spot at the closest private school: Wesley College.  Wesley is an old boys school that have begun introducing girls.  A family one time initiation fee of around 6K plus 13K in annual dues would get Olivia into the kindy program (4-5 years of age). 

A mural displayed at Wesley College in South Perth
This year things are different.  We do not have the warm cotton blanket expat package to fall back on. Olivia would cost 14-15K and Owen would start pre-kindy at 7-9K.  Take into account the Australian taxes and I have to earn nearly 40K just for their private schooling and this number would rise quickly as they grow up.

And so after much debate (Angie is a teacher by profession), research, reading, discussion with other parents we decided to try public schools.  Two months ago Olivia started at a Independant public school in the area we're living in.

I plan to continue to update my observations on this little experiment but here are my initial observations:

Facilities:  The facilities at Wesley and many of the expensive private schools are over the top impressive.  They are in pristine condition, contantly being added to, well landscaped and remind me of small universities or Harry Potter's Hogwarts rather than children's schools.  The public school we have Olivia at has seen better days in terms of condition.  Maybe much better days.  That's not to say that it is a dump, it just has a need for maintenance in certain areas and is not nearly as grand.  

Private schools are marketing machines catering to parents emotions:  Every piece of literature, every communication at Wesley was "prettied up", had gone through a marketing agency, was printed on thick paper stock and drove the message that you were in an elite, storied place that created elite leaders of tomorrow.  You feel special there.  You get to say "My kids go to Wesley"  You rub elbows with other elite parents (doctors, lawyers, bank executives etc).  They send countless e-mails, massive newsletters printed like high end annual reports from forture 500 companies reinforcing the greatness that is the Wesley experience.

Private schools are never done asking for money:  You've paid nearly 20K for tuition, so you're done right?  Yeah, right!  Fund raising events at 50-100 bucks a head, emails asking for donations to keep the storied history alive, 400 / term for violin lessons, mandated uniforms double the price of public school uniforms the same quality.  It never stops.

Public schools are for students:  You will not get big fancy propoganda books.  I haven't been invited for a champagne charity event overlooking the city.  We have however already had an assessment of Olivia's reading skills and the areas the teacher will be focused on.  Want to send the teacher an e-mail.  You can but she only reads them once per week.  She'll be happy to talk to you when you come in though.  So far I see a focus on the accademics that I didn't see at Wesley.  (Keep in mind Olivia is very young.)

The base curriculum is the same:  I think this often gets lost.  Private schools like public schools are bound by Australian laws as to what they must teach.  They can add, but they can't subtract.  Private schools and independant schools appear to have some flexibility in how they present certain materials vs the pure public schools.  For example the pure public schools are still teaching the font, Victorian modern cursive which I'm not sure I had even seen before.  I'm sure as we get on there will be elements of the Aussie curriculum that will drive us crazy but nothing that we can't top up at home.

Teachers appear more strict at the public schools:  This is an observation shared by other friends of mine in discussion.  The private school would have us believe their more carefree approach is their method of driving leadership characteristics.  Time will tell....I think Olivia can use a little more authority as seen in her new school.

Either way, good teachers matter:  I liked Olivia's teacher at Wesley.  She was relatively new to teaching but had a gentle way about her and I think Olivia learned some life skills from her.  Her new public school teacher is clearly experienced and very strong.  Watching her assess students is quite impressive.  She is a no nosense, get the job done kind of person that I think we will reflect on fondly in years to come.    

We're two months in and only comparing one young student across two schools.  I'm going to continue to share my observations on this as we're talking about the two most prized things in Angie and my life: Olivia and Owen.    

My friend Alan said something that has stuck with me:  "No matter what school you put your child in, one thing remains true.  The bright ones always rise to the top."

1 comment:

  1. Hiii...
    I like your article...keep posting buddy..
    A lot of people we know are applying to privates and parochial schools but we only toured one independent and one Catholic and didn't feel either would be a good fit for us.
    The cost was too much and didn't have a strong passion for it or their philosophy/approach.
    There were things I liked in both schools but, in the case of the high priced independent, almost thought it was a bit over the top and too much of a bubble. Would be curious to get others impressions however.
    Thanks for sharing...