Choosing A Secondary School

It is the time of year in Victoria where parents of year six students choose or confirm their choice of secondary school for their child. (Known as high school in some states.) My eldest son is in year six and its his last year of primary school, so we are in this process right at this very moment.

Selection Criteria For A Secondary School

In Victoria, you can choose from three broad categories of schools:

  • Local government secondary school
  • Catholic secondary school
  • Independent secondary school

You can download an excellent PDF here which outlines some criteria and questions you should consider when looking at secondary schools. I have listed an excerpt below:

Some of the factors that may influence your choice are:

  • The size of the school
  • Specialist programs that the school runs, for example, services for Koori students, language programs
  • The school’s resources/facilities
  • The location of the school
  • The academic environment
  • The school’s values and ethos
  • Where your child’s friends are going.

Some examples of the questions you should ask at the school are:

  • What is the size of the school?
  • What are the number and size of classes?
  • How many teaching and non-teaching staff are employed at the school?
  • What support programs are available for children with special needs?
  • What are the schools policies in relation to discipline and bullying?
  • What is the focus of the curriculum (all government schools in Victoria adhere to the same curriculum although their focus and approach may differ)
  • How are the children assessed?
  • What is the policy on homework?
  • How much involvement is expected from parents?
  • Are there any extra-curricular activities?

Some areas for consideration I would add to the list would be:

  • Single sex vs co-educational
  • How do they manage student behaviour?
  • Turnover or length of tenure of teaching staff
  • How does the school interact with the local community ( eg aged care visits, social justice issues etc)

The Dilemma Of Choice

If you want to choose an Independent or Catholic secondary school for your child, in Melbourne in particular, this often requires parents to place their name on a waiting list from birth. For local government schools, it used to be a matter of going to the closest available secondary school, however the choice is not so clear cut as it once used to be. The range and diversity amongst government schools is significant. Some have specialist programs, some have accelerated learning programs and some are so popular that parents determine where they will live, so that they are in a particular zone to be eligible to attend that school.

I was recently listening to a podcast which discussed the school’s choice dilemma parents face. It was an interview on ABC Radio National by Richard Aedy with Helen Proctor. Proctor is the co-author of a new book School Choice: How parents negotiate the new school market in Australia.

This book is based on a major four-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council. The authors, Associate Professor Craig Campbell, Dr Helen Proctor and Professor Geoffrey Sherington are all from the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. The book:

Explores the dilemmas many parents face when choosing a school for their children, and the impact of the growing gap between public and private schools on families, schools and the community.

The big take out for me from this podcast was something that also makes writing this post a little uncomfortable. Aedy and Proctor discuss how school choice for secondary school is predominantly a middle class issue. At its bluntest they say that for those in lower economic brackets, there is not much choice and it is generally the local school option and for the wealthy, their isn’t the financial constraints to worry about in their choice. It is the middle class that have issues with “anxiety and aspiration”.

In the book Proctor et al, venture to define middle class into seven categories:

  • Old
  • New
  • Catholic
  • Cosmopolitan
  • First Generation
  • Self Made
  • Marginal

Our family would cut across a couple of those categories and given the time and thought that we have put into the choice of school for our son, I would have to say that we have been somewhat inflicted with the “anxiety and aspiration” that Proctor noted.

For our family our faith is important and we have chosen a school with faith being a key criteria, along with the schools ethos and values, its academic environment and commitment to community. Choosing a secondary school has been a significant decision to make and one which we have taken seriously. Time will tell how well we have chosen!

I would be interested to hear from others what selection criteria you used to decide on a secondary school for your child.