Public school activism has finally jumped the fence at Melbourne’s hipster ordeal
Parents’ uprising against the decline of public schools in North Melbourne is both uplifting and depressing. Edifying, because following a disruptive federal election result, here is another example of people signaling to governments that the status quo will not suffice. The depressing part is the need for such fuss in the first place; what it says about the scandalously classist society we have become.
As age reported last week, a new local group called RISE is calling on the state government to step in with a public education plan for the area. Enrollment in public secondary schools in the northern suburbs has fallen 20% since 2014. Families voted with their feet against local secondary schools Pascoe Vale Girls College, John Fawkner College and Glenroy College. With the latter two, the lack of confidence would reflect weak and declining VCE results. A vicious circle operates in such scenarios: middle-class families avoid school as scores drop, then scores fall further, causing more families to avoid or drop out of school, and so on. later, until the only families left are those who cannot afford to go. somewhere else.
And if you’re inclined to see such a scenario solely as a blow to social justice, then, again, for the (broken) record: Australia’s unique education system is believed to be contributing to the sustained decline academic results of our 15-year-olds compared to their international peers, as well as the country’s weak economic growth.
John Fawkner draws 61% of its student population from the most disadvantaged quartile of society.
The above sentence is repugnant, however, because it implies that it is axiomatic that poor children, who start the race for education further back, will finish last. The implication is also inaccurate: every VCE batch gives impressive examples of schools overshooting their socio-economic weight – and more than a few examples of underperformance in wealthy private schools. John Fawkner’s recent school council president says the school’s ‘vibe’ has been boosted by the arrival of a new executive director of University High, a school of choice for inner-city elites .
The lesson here is surely that authorities must show zero tolerance for fatalism and complacency in public education. The teacher, principal or departmental bureaucrat who burdens poor children with another handicap, being the low expectation bias, must be re-educated quickly – or fired.
Perhaps there is also a lesson in the trend that accompanies the decline in secondary school enrollment: an increase in enrollment in Islamic secondary schools in the region. I do not deplore this trend any more than I deplore the drift towards private schools in general, although I would like to believe that an unparalleled strength of a well-resourced public education system is the promotion of social cohesion.
RISE, the parent group, insists that the growing demand for public primary schools in the region shows that the appetite for public education is strong.