Sydney's Inner West
Choice in education is the reason behind, and the reason for, much government policy at both Federal and State level. Funding and the laws allowing non-government schools are some of the results. But government cannot simply remove funding or permission for independent schools; it needs Catholic and independent schools as it would not be able to provide enough schools otherwise.
Are we really spoilt for choice?
In the inner west it seems we have benefitted from this free market view as there are numerous schools of all colours and persuasions throughout the area. Given traffic headaches and time constraints, it would be easy to think that local would be better. But this approach is too simplistic and individual families need to do their own homework to check whether “local” really is better for them and their child.
There are many schools of all sectors – public, Catholic, independent – in the densely populated inner west but on closer inspection you might be surprised to find your “choice” may not be as wide as you thought.
Local does not mean Convenient
Most families will find they are only in the enrolment area of one public primary and one public high school. If you know these schools and are happy with them, then you need only keep an eye on them and go ahead with enrolment if there are no major dramas.
However parents should know that these enrolment boundaries can, and do, change. You should check what they are every year, especially if your child has not yet started school. The Canada Bay Local Government Area is one the fastest growing populations in NSW as anyone with a child in lower primary or childcare will be acutely aware. Fashionable suburbs in the inner west are also attracting young families who need or want to be closer to the city. Public schools have to enrol students who live within their enrolment boundaries. To cope with increased numbers they will erect more demountable classrooms reducing valuable outdoor space, and also re-examine and re-draw their boundaries. Larger student populations also mean enrolment priorities have to be more strictly enforced meaning that older children may be allowed to continue at a school even though they are an out-of-area student but their younger siblings may not get a place. This was highlighted in newspaper reports last year in areas like Annandale and Summer Hill.
The local comprehensive high school for your address has to enrol your child but look at the commute your child will have to take. A school that seems close enough may take up to an hour to travel to on convoluted public bus or school special routes. Trains are only convenient for those whose home and school are on the train line. Check also the school special buses timetable and any relevant traffic hotspots on the way. A child with activities at school before or after the bell (such as band, choir or sport) will probably need a lift from Mum or Dad or have to get public transport. Most bus routes travel to and from the city meaning it can take two buses and 45 minutes to travel just five suburbs away. Trains are great but only if they are a short walk or bus ride away. Don’t assume local means convenient.
In our family we are making the sacrifice of driving both kids to school. Our older boy has to be at school by 8am and using public transport would mean rising at 6.15am to ensure he gets a bus down Lyons Rd to Victoria Rd by 7.21am. Traffic and crowded buses at this time dictate arriving at the bus stop before 7am. The second bus then gets him to school 30 minutes early. We prefer to car pool with another family and allow the boys to sleep until 7am, leaving at 7.30am to get them there at 7.45am. We’re home by 8am. Our younger boy can get just the one bus to school but there is only one per hour (!) just before 8am. Again we prefer he sleeps longer and we drive him at 8.15am taking 10-20 minutes depending on traffic. We have arranged work schedules to accommodate this and do it because we believe these are the best schools for our boys. Each family has to examine their own needs and the compromises they are prepared to make.
Local does not mean Most Appropriate
In many cases the local public schools are appropriate for your child and in primary school this is more often the case as education needs are more general. Sometimes though, the local high school is not an option because the students who caused problems for your child in primary are likely to be there. Or your child may need a different structure, choice of subjects, specialist or selective support. They may prefer a single-sex environment which may be out-of-area.
Catholic and private (non-government) schools in the primary years might seem more attractive especially if it is desirable as a high school option. Consider though that often younger primary children will not be able to travel by themselves. Logistics becomes a factor here. Travel by car, with a carer on public transport, with a car pool, and/or use of before and after school care may all be needed in a weekly patchwork school schedule. Some private schools have buses which are an additional expense and not always convenient if your child is needed at school before or after the school day.
Parents often need to vary working hours, travel routes or even job/career plans to enable them to transport their kids to childcare. Unfortunately this continues into the school years, even if the school is down the road, as most parents will not let a 5 year old walk to school by themselves, and of course, some parents want to be with their child at the start or end of the school day. The 9am-3pm school day is whole separate issue!
Local does not Guarantee Access
You may live near a single-sex public high school but be out-of-area for enrolment. This means you will need to apply for an out-of-area place which is usually restricted in numbers depending on the popularity of the school. You may have several non-government schools close by but just living nearby does not guarantee access.
Catholic primary schools are all systemic and connected to the local parish church. You can find their enrolment policy at Catholic Education Office. Priority is given to families active in the local parish. A local Catholic high school (if systemic) will give students from feeder schools priority over kids in non-Catholic schools.
Independent schools (Catholic and others) have their own enrolment policies and may take students from all over Sydney. As places are capped, the waitlist gets bigger the more desirable a school seems. The proliferation of private buses sometimes means it’s more convenient for child in the Eastern Suburbs to go to an inner west school than the child who lives just a few suburbs over but has to catch a public bus.
Inner West Parents Need to do their Homework
As in all things, the more you know the better you can plan. Given the restricted numbers within schools and the often limited grounds of inner west schools, once popular public schools start to become less attractive when play equipment and outdoor space is removed to accommodate demountables.
Besides considering what your child needs in a school and what your family can live with; keep an eye on school enrolment boundaries, changes to traffic conditions, and construction of major transport and large housing developments in your area and near the schools you are considering.
Check School Savvy Mum for more information.
Guest Blogger Bio
Helena Tosello is a mum in the middle of everything trying to regain the centre stage of her own life. She lives in inner west Sydney with two boys and a fly in-fly out husband. She enjoys coffee with friends, Kit Kats, reading, organising, researching, sharing, and writing on her fledging blog. You can follow her at:
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