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The Real Disadvantage Of Public Schools Is The Stigma We've Created

Why do state schools get such a bad rap?

01/06/2016 3:16 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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Grundy Television Australia
No, public school kids don't really set fire to each other in the hallway.

When I was 16 I found myself in a meeting with the Year 10 coordinator of my catholic, all-girls school, being grilled as to why I was moving to a State-run, co-ed senior college for my final two years.

I couldn't give her my real reason (boys, duh), so I babbled nervously about being non-religious and needing a fresh start. She pretty much told me that my education was going to go down the toilet.

I had similar responses from friends' parents and parents' friends, particularly those whose kids were in private education. "I've heard bad things about that school," they declared. "Everyone there is a drug dealer or a drop-kick."

Or, a particular favourite of mine: "You'll get distracted by the boys."

Umm, yeah, that is kind of the point.

But the idea of flirting over history notes and kissing in empty corridors was only part of the appeal.

I wanted to go to a school which cared more about my education than its reputation. I wanted teachers who were interested in my marks because they were interested in me, not because it was good for their KPIs. I wanted a school which allowed me to choose subjects I was interested in, not ones that fit with its ideology. I wanted management which was more focussed on the quality of the teaching more than how short my skirt was or whether or not I wore my blazer on the bus.

And that is exactly what I found there.

While it's often taken as gospel that private schools outperform public schools across the board, this actually isn't the case. What the research really says is this: The up to $30k a year you're spending on your child's education is what's really going down the toilet.

In April 2015, Save our Schools published a detailed analysis of 15 years of research which revealed that, once socioeconomic factors were taken into account, there is little difference between private and public school results.

Studies also show that publicly educated kids do better than privately educated kids at uni -- and that's comparing students with the same tertiary admissions ranking. It seems all that spoon-feeding comes back to bite you.

When I went to a state school, I didn't derail my education, cut class or get high behind the toilet block. My classmates didn't deal drugs out of their lockers or vandalise the desks. Sure, there were a few kids who were wild, but you'll find those in any school -- the private kids just wear fancier uniforms, drive nicer cars and take more expensive drugs.

At my public school, where people warned me more class time would be spent dealing with delinquent children setting fire to the science labs than teaching algebra, I had teachers who believed in me in a way I'd never experienced before.

They didn't inflate grades and they certainly didn't baby us, but they taught classes that were engaging and thoughtful, ones I looked forward to instead of dreading. And if you knocked on the staff room door at any time of the day they'd be happy to spend an entire free period or lunch hour re-explaining simultaneous equations or essay structure or where you went wrong in your last exam.

At my public school, where people said the staff weren't great, not once did a teacher waste an entire lesson lecturing us about wearing too much makeup or having holes in our tights. They concentrated on teaching, which (correct me if I'm wrong) is kind of the point of school. They were passionate about education and they inspired me to learn.

At my public school, where I was warned I would be dragged into a world of illegal raves and dirty house parties, I met friends who are some of the kindest and most caring people I know. People who, if you're interested, all went on to go to uni and got jobs because, go figure, there's nothing wrong with a public education.

At my public school, where I was told nobody would give a toss, I had a principal who knew the name of every single student, admin staff who would ask if you were okay when you were late instead of shouting at you, and a community who supported me in all of my endeavors, academic or otherwise.

Sure, our skirts may have been shorter and our canteen lines longer. We may not have had state-of-the-art theaters or tennis courts or design studios with more Macbooks than a genius bar. But we had a bloody good education.

I'm sure not every public school teacher is as wonderful as the ones I was lucky enough to have, and not every public school is as wonderful as the one I was lucky enough to live near.

But please, stop perpetuating the stereotype that all public schools are crap. Because the real disadvantage of going to a public school is the stigma that has been created by people who don't go to public schools. We have enough inequality in our world.

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