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When it comes to a decent education, location isn't everything

Opinion

Providing shiny new school buildings is one way of improving education outcomes in Queensland. But it shouldn’t stop there, writes Madonna King.

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Brisbane State High School is a victim of its own success – and it holds a lesson for the city’s two new public high schools.

Those families living inside BSHS’s clear catchment area have benefited from state-of-the-art facilities, low teacher-student ratios and a mightily-engaged parent body; resources not always available at local public schools.

But allowing out-of-catchment enrolments, through a huge number of selective entries, has meant that it has built up its reputation across academic, sporting and cultural endeavours.

For the first state secondary school established in Brisbane, that process has taken decades.

As its reputation has grown, so has the innovation around how families have attempted to secure enrolments. Properties have been purchased, with real estate agents told the only requirement being the address had to fall inside the catchment zone. (And you can see the ridiculous differences in house prices between streets inside the catchment area and just outside).

Students, as young as 15, are living in a unit away from their family – Monday through to Friday – so that they meet the criteria, and can attend BSHS. Other parents have employed tutors for 12 months, before their child sits a selection exam.

The end result – beside sky high property prices – is that BSHS is bursting at the seams. And that’s behind the Palaszczuk Government’s sensible decision to open new schools, in the city centre.

But the revelation this week – that a huge chunk of the enrolments at the new schools in both Fortitude Valley and Brisbane South are not local – should not surprise anyone.

BSHS is like any top private school; it competes against many of them in competitions, rivals them in academic league tables, and offers as many extra-curricular activities as you can imagine.

The big difference comes down to money: annual fees at many of the city’s private schools dwarf a good overseas holiday. Charges at BSHS are closer to the cost of dinner at South Bank.

That means cashed-up families unable to get into BSHS are more likely to send their children to high-end private schools, than the new Brisbane South State Secondary College and Fortitude Valley Secondary College.

That won’t always be the case. But here’s the pinch. Opening two schools doesn’t mean automatic enrolment queues, as we are learning.

The selection of a school is one of the most important decisions parents – and their children – will make. Location used to be king, and only remains so at primary school level for family convenience. Students can find their own way to and from high school on public transport, so the location of a school is no longer important.

It comes down to what it offers.

And that’s where some of our public schools fall behind what we should be providing – and what is offered in private schools.

One stellar example popped up during Covid, where educators needed to pivot quickly to deliver lessons remotely. In one Brisbane suburb, a private school was able to deliver lessons to upper primary students within a couple of days.

The teacher was at one end of the computer, with her charges in kitchens and lounge-rooms and studies in a dozen or more suburbs. And lessons, and all the fun that comes with them, continued on.

In the same area, two teachers at a local public school nutted out how they might continue the education of their students. They popped into Officeworks, photocopied lessons, divided up the class and dropped the lessons off in mailboxes – hoping parents would find the time, in busy schedules, to work through the curriculum.

Education needs to be a partnership between parents, schools and the children they both educate.

Two new schools open the door to opportunities. The quality of the education, however, will be found inside. And it’s the latter, not the former, that will prompt the enrolment queues.

 

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