I've had four children go through school over a 30 year period.
I can pinpoint where I could have done better with my two older sons.
I can tell you where I could have advocated more for my disabled son.
I can see my mistakes with my daughter, now that she is 14, and in year 9.
But I can also see where I did the right things. The things that honestly made a difference to their education and how they achieved success both at school and later in life.
And it had nothing to do with going to a 'prestige' school.
I'm dumbfounded that so many of my friends think that sending their kids to a prestige school...and let's be clear here, I am talking about buying prestige, not a 'better education'...will make a difference in their childs' life.
They don't plan to contribute to the school other than in monetary terms. They just want to place their child somewhere where learning is a given, and where the old boys/old girls school network will take over from there. I never wanted my kids to have to rely upon the old boys network to succeed. It's a bit of a slippery slope really. It might get your foot in the door, but the rest is up to you. I know plenty of adults who are products of prestige schools and who are working as used car salesmen and teacher aides. Nothing wrong with that, but I know their parents too, and that's not what the parents had in mind when they parted with the equivalent of $200,000 in todays money for their childrens education.
These are my observations as a Mum, and based upon my 30+ years of experiencing the education system, both state and private.
* As a parent you have to value education. You have to make it clear that nothing comes before homework and study. Not sport, not socialising, not Facebook or Instagram, not television, not a part time job, not even chores. As a parent, I accept that I chose to have kids, and whilst it's nice to have help around the home and important for them to know that they have to contribute, I would rather they contribute to society in a worthwhile fashion by studying hard and achieving good academic results, than by vacuuming the house or taking out the rubbish. Chores around here are done in one solid block of 3-4 hours on the weekend, and are equally divided between indoor and outdoor tasks. These days we pay our daughter an hourly rate for those chores, in preference to having her distracted by a part time job. She's not quite old enough yet, but believe me, the pressure is on! It's hard when everyone else is getting their first job at Maccas and we're saying no. But we want her to understand that school is numero uno, no matter what.
* It's good to be involved. I worked full time when my two older sons were at high school, so I couldn't do canteen roster or sausage sizzle on sports day. I know now that I missed valuable opportunities to interact with staff and teachers, and more importantly to observe how my sons interacted with those same people. I know now that I would have been privy to all kinds of inside info on my boys than would ever have come to light in a ten minute parent/teacher interview with a teacher I barely knew. I know now, that those teachers may have been more inclined to ring me spontaneously with niggling study or behavioural issues if they'd known me better.
* It's vital to read school notes and newsletters. I am ashamed to admit that I never used to do this. I simply didn't have time between two teenaged sons, a disabled toddler, a full time job and trying to pay the bills and keep body and soul together, to give this any priority whatsoever. This meant that often the boys didn't have permission slips, money, correct attire or whatever was needed for school excursions, photos, sport or what-have-you, causing stress for all of us. The absolute depths of this was when my eldest son boarded the bus for Dreamworld in the second last week of year 12, and was removed by the admin staff and forced to remain at the school, because we had a portion of the school levy payment outstanding. This is eighteen years ago, and payment plans had not yet been introduced and furthermore, I was a single mum back then and we'd had a truly awful year financially. Still, I could have attended to this if I'd got the note saying that this had to be paid in order for him to take part in the excursion. Why the school didn't just ring me, remains a mystery to this day. See previous point on 'being involved'. I know he got over this, but I never have.
* Try to cultivate a mind set that says that whilst schools do as much as they can to provide for students, they can do so much more when parents contribute whether it be by paying the 'voluntary' Building Levy, participating in the Working Bee, Fundraising, attending and being a member of P & C meetings or other committee meetings, volunteering for learning support, running sausage sizzles or cake stalls at sports day or election day. I know that my daughter freaked out when I said I was going to volunteer for the high school canteen and the dance committee, along with putting my hand up to make dance costumes. She tried to tell me most vehemently that 'they' didn't need my help. Well, it turned out that 'they' DID need my help, and by gosh, it would be great to have a bit more help. She sings a different tune now. She loves seeing me at Canteen, and told me how proud she was when the Senior Dance Troupe danced at assembly, and she sat there smiling to herself, whilst everyone around her ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the costumes I'd made.
* Attend parent/teacher interviews and take your childs most recent report card with you, along with a list of any other issues you might like to raise. Do this even if you have a 'good' student. You'll still find out things that you might never otherwise know. At our recent parent/teacher interviews, I saw teachers sitting there without parents or students to interview at all. I know a couple of the teachers reasonably well, and they confided that some families make appointments then don't show up, and others never show their face in the entire time their child attends the school. In a school of 1400, that's hard to fathom. It seems that many parents only show up if there are problems. I guess that's something. They were all, without exception, delighted that the parents of a 'good' student had made the effort to meet each teacher and discuss the students progress.
* Make sure your child has the necessary requirements. Everyone seems to know that the kids have to start the school year with stuff. But often we neglect to check whether this stuff needs topping up. USB's get lost or damaged, pencils and pens wear out, sports hats get lost, school bags break. It's hard for kids to keep up, never mind excel, if they're missing vital pieces of equipment or clothing. Stock up when things are cheap at the start of the year and keep a few little things on hand to distribute when your child comes to you at 8:10am and says 'Mum, I've got sport today and I can't find my socks', or 'my pencils are all used up'.
* Involve your child in something where they can excel, and do it early. Having said that you need to value education, not every kid is cut out to excel academically. But EVERY child can excel at something. Whether it's football (Oztag/soccer/AFL/Rugby League/Rugby Union), netball, golf, hockey, lacrosse, cricket, baseball, volleyball, water polo, swim squad, athletics, cross country, creative writing, debating, sewing, building, cooking, dance, playing an instrument, horticulture, drama, voice, animal care, academic pursuits, or whatever. Let them try things when they're young, let them find the 'thing' that's their 'thing' so that they can achieve in that area and then support them in getting as good at that thing as they can possibly be. Who knows. Being truly excellent at their 'thing', might result in an offer from a selective or private 'prestige' school, if that's your aim. That said, I'm all for letting state schools have their fair share of the students that might bestow 'prestige' somewhere down the track too. And it doesn't have to be something costly. Becoming a cross country champion for example, requires little, other than immense fitness, and that is something that all of us could work on with our kids for FREE!
* Choose the right school for your child. We thought that sending our daughter to a little local private high school was going to be right for her. It wasn't. Her interests are so varied and complex, that the little local private school didn't know what to do with her. We looked at several other schools, 2 private, 2 state. We visited all of them. She chose one of the state schools, and she's never looked back. It's not the school we thought she'd choose, and it's certainly not a 'prestige' school, although it's considered a 'good' school, but she knew in her gut that it was the right school for her. Some schools are just better at, and better resourced for some interest areas than others. This one is well resourced, well staffed and well respected for achievements in the performing arts. Some are well known for a sport, or instrumental music or other co-curricular activities. Ask around, especially of other parents at the place where your child might already be excelling. Someone might have information on which schools in your area cater for a child with special abilities or talents.
* Be particular about how your kids look when they leave home in the morning. Are they just doing the minimum in terms of grooming and wearing the uniform, or do they make a bit of an effort? Private schools are very particular about uniforms. I mean, state schools are too, but it seems harder to enforce, perhaps because it's not something valued by parents and students the way it is with the prestige schools.The prestige school students seem to almost wear the uniform like a badge of honour, whereas our state school kids wear it because they have to.That's a real grass roots, historical thing at one end of the spectrum, where the school has to be an institution that instils a sense of pride and belonging in the student population, which requires a broad range students who excel, something that is lacking at some schools. It's easier to be proud of your school when it's generated doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, judges, elite athletes and professionals in other areas for generations, and is expected to continue to do so for generations to come. So maybe schools, even the most humble in the most disadvantaged areas, need to FIND things of which to be proud. And I know some of the ones near me, do exactly that. At the other end of the spectrum, it's a simple thing of parents ensuring that clean and tidy uniforms are available, and that they themselves see their kids out the door with a better than just acceptable level of presentation.
That's about it really, although it's not an exhaustive list. I wrote a little more about it, although not in such detail on my external blog...
I'd be interested to hear other opinions on what you think makes for a great state school education for our kids.