Grab a coffee and have a seat – I’ve got a guest joining us today. The writer of this article is known to me but has chosen to remain anonymous for reasons which will become obvious. Thanks to Brand Meets Blog for bringing her here today! Bec x
My daughters attend a state school-not state school. It’s in the heart of Brisbane’s exclusive inner west and its post code alone makes it “the place to be”. It also boasts all the facilities of a ritzy private school and has the pick of any teacher – everyone wants to teach in this postcode.
My daughters benefit from a school where parents fund what the government can’t. They get the very best technology and facilities. Their fetes are star studded events with posh stalls and Ekka-worthy attractions. They have a “Newstead” agency that does all their fundraising in house, because someone’s dad owns the agency.
How we came to be out of catchment parents
We live five suburbs out where the schools are firmly in the NAPLAN red zone. We’re on the cusp of some of Brisbane’s worst performing catchment areas and our own local catchment school is devolving daily with tales of failing programs and underfunding.
When our eldest daughter was ready to start prep, we were stressed. My husband and I both went to private, religious schools and decided that we wanted a secular education for our girls. There aren’t many (any) choices out there for private secular primary schools so we investigated our state school options.
We decided we wanted an Independent School – a state school where the principal had discretion to pick and choose how the school runs. We decided that a great principal would make all the difference because s/he could better tailor the curriculum to the students needs.
Of our local schools, two were Independent. Both however had spent every penny of their “tailoring” to programs that didn’t apply to our daughters. Our girls were keen on drama and music, there was nothing to attract us locally. So we looked further afield and found the “posh school”. The catchment was strictly enforced and we figured we had no chance of getting in without renting an apartment in the area to have a “lease to show”.
As it turns out, the catchment is so expensive that even families where both parents are employed in a well-paid profession (that’s us) can only dream of residing in the post code. It’s strictly for captains of industry and their wives (yes that sounds sexist, but more on that later).
We thought about it. We really did. Joining the queue of “poor people” begging for entry to the executive lounge. We put in an application (late – we were awarded place 43 on the waiting list) and kept looking. We toured four schools (the posh school not only doesn’t offer school tours, we were told specifically that we were not to enter the school grounds unless we were accepted – any information we needed was on the website).
There’s more to catchment schools than MySchool Results
We toured schools that look bad on paper (and on MySchool). What we found, though, was that schools with unique challenges focus very much on the children’s wellbeing. They were all about inclusive communities.
The kids on a whole seemed happy and excited to be at school. The funding they received was spent on the most vulnerable students to increase their chances of success and the whole school rallied around these kids to help them grow into the curriculum.
The limited facilities and options were an issue for us but any sport, music program, arts program or computer class could be obtained privately – and we were lucky enough to be able to afford such things.
The teachers, although maybe not the top graduates like the posh school, were passionate and had achieved some amazing things with kids who would otherwise be targets to “end up in the system”.
Two of the schools were especially impressive so we applied for placement at two local state schools. We were accepted immediately.
Five days before school started we were contacted by the posh school. They invited us in for an interview. Good old lucky number 43… It turns out that if you’re a Captain of Industry, you tend to opt for some of the exclusive junior colleges nearby. If you’re not a Captain of Industry, you can’t afford to live there. On the year of our application, they took four out of catchment kids. At number 43, we were surprised to get the call.
The interview was nothing to do with our daughter. In fact, she played in the corner while we were interviewed about our attitudes to education, parenting, study and discipline. We were asked about our jobs, our university experiences and our commitment to the school.
Two days before school started, we were accepted to Brisbane’s poshest public school. Us, good ol’ number 43.
Little to our knowledge, in the coming days there was a flutter of talk about the upcoming admittance of “out of catchment kids”. Everyone was dying to know who they were. I was asked by the bookshop lady, the librarian, the office receptionist and every parent I met “so are you in the catchment?” Every time I replied no, I got the feeling they were preparing to mock me when I left the room. It’s possibly a bit of paranoia, it’s possibly my Mazda dirtying up the car park full of Beemers.
The benefits of a high performing school
School started and my daughter thrived. Thrived. She came home every day with gleeful tales of amazing things she’d learned. I hadn’t expected this. Her reports on kindy had been “I don’t remember”, “it was OK”.
She was learning fast. Far faster than I’d expected. Far faster than friends’ kids in other schools. Her teacher was AMAZING. She was full of energy and, thanks to the plethora of teacher aides (read: private helpers that attended the classes with various posh children to ensure their unique learning needs were being met – I kid you not) my daughter, and all kids were getting so much one on one attention that they couldn’t help but learn.
The class sizes were the legal minimum that the state government required. It was everything we dreamed of inside the classroom.
At the school gate however, it was a different story.
The dis-benefits of high performing schools
I say the school gate but it resembled more closely a Lorna Jane catwalk. And I mean CAT walk. The “catchment housewives” were friendly enough, but from the car I drive to the clothes I wear, to the work I do, it was obvious I wasn’t one of the in crowd.
Within a few days it became obvious that very few of the catchment mothers work. Those who do, send their full time nannies to drop off in the Merc truck (the one with the car seats) and I have never met them. Not once.
It was with these nannies and the other out of catchment mums, that I came to sit at school drop off. The catchment mums were friendly. One of my fellow out of catchment mothers was the prep liaison after all. They were relying on her to remind them when they needed to bring $2, an obscure historical costume, a designer label fascinator come Easter bonnet or a professionally produced video of their time in Tibet for show and tell.
Let’s just say that my daughter wasn’t the grandest lady in the Easter parade. Very few cotton balls and tiny yellow chickens were sold in catchment last year!
6 important things I’ve learned as an out of catchment mum
- Playdates are Stoli and Boli occasions. Lamingtons and a watermelon doesn’t cut it.
- Thailand gives a better package for fake boobs than The Philippines
- Eastern European nannies have the best English but eat too much compared to Asian nannies
- Lorna Jane doesn’t do 16+
- Dress up day is DRESS UP DAY. Full costumes or latest designer gear is the only acceptable option
- When someone’s husband is a well-known TV personality, it’s NOT OK to disagree with the politics of that program
I am committed to seeing my daughters have an incredible experience at their out of catchment school. I am committed to being the only Mazda-driving-lorna-jane-free-saggy-boobed mother at the school gate.
Luckily, my daughters are thriving in drama and art I have no fecks to give about drama and wine.
Are your kids attending a school outside of their catchment area? What’s your experience been?