An education

Moving to a new country is a giant juggling act. You can’t know everything about your new home from the moment you arrive but you strive to gather enough information about the essentials so that nothing critical falls to the ground and smashes.

Occasionally, you miss something – like when using the wrong type of tick treatment cost Mr Pup an extra three weeks in quarantine. And a few weeks ago, we missed something else that we probably should have known about, but didn’t.

In February, 12 year-old Maxi-CBRbound starts senior school. Had we been living in the UK, about six months ago, we would have received a letter from the local authority telling us which senior schools our son had the choice of attending, and asking us to express a preference as first, second and third choices.

In Australia, or at least, in Canberra, no such prompt arrives. This wasn’t necessarily a problem because the junior school Maxi was attending has its own senior campus too and so nearly all the kids simply feed into the senior campus and continue where they left off.

And that might have been fine. Sure we’ve had our issues with the school – mostly around playground bullying and how it was subsequently handled – but in general, Maxi has settled in well and has delivered a much better set of end of year results than we saw in his last year at international school in Denmark.

But then we got chatting with some other expat parents at a ‘Brits in Canberra’ social event. They told us that their kids would be attending the brand new college that had been built next to Maxi’s existing school.

“But how did you get in?” we asked, unaware that such a thing was even an option.

“We just phoned up, went for a tour, and then told the old school we were moving. Over here, you have to do it all yourself, otherwise your kids stay where they are until graduation.”

We did a little more digging, and it seems that, ostensibly, Australia has what is best described as a three-tier schooling system. First, there are state schools, which are probably self-explanatory. Second, there are Catholic schools, which are best described as fee-paying schools within the state system. Finally, there are Anglican  (Edit: and other aligned) schools, which are fully private and charge much higher fees than the Catholic variety.

It turned out that this new college was a Catholic school.

“But we’re not Catholic,” we said.

“Neither are we. It doesn’t matter,” said our new friends.

So we took a tour of the place. The head teacher spent two hours with us, showing us the facilities, talking about the school ethos, discussing how they handle struggling pupils and address bullying, and in the end, we decided to make the switch.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s the right thing for Maxi. He can be a tricky one where school is concerned, but I feel happier that we at least found out about the options available to us and made a choice with his best interests at heart, rather than just letting him end up somewhere through lack of understanding on our part. At least we can look him in the eye and say we did our best to help him do his best.

If you’re interested in learning more about Australia’s three-tier education system, there’s a very informative ABC radio programme on the subject which is available as a podcast here.

2 thoughts on “An education

  1. Interesting to hear how other countries do it. Just one small point though: there are a few totally independent high schools, with varying degrees of government subsidy (with resultant varying fee scales); the Steiner school network is one example. Elsewhere in Australia there are also independent schools aligned with other religions (eg Jewish, Muslim). So it’s not entirely accurate to state that the third tier is all Anglican.
    Good luck with your boy this year!


    • Thanks for that point. I should clarify that those were the options that were available to us in our area of Canberra. I’m sure there are other options around the country. But yes, the fee structure does seem to vary widely from relatively affordable ‘top up’ fees, to full blown major financial commitments. Thanks for the good wishes!


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