Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Bear and a Lion and a brand new school

Our world has fundamentally shifted. We have moved schools halfway through the primary years, and our worlds, especially those of our children, have been ruptured and changed forever.

Two posts back I talked of reaching this point. The pain, disappointment and betrayal will have a lasting effect on the way I view public ethics, politics, people and life. There is no softening this. I am also still grappling with twisting mixed feelings about the impact on our children.

Beloved and I were deeply worried about this: I read and heard stories of children swapping schools half way through and finding no new friends, becoming excluded, lonely and sad. Neither of us loved our own school experiences and we both knew what changing schools could feel like.

As a good start, each of them had a good friend who was also changing between the same schools. Then as I quizzed them after each day, new names started cropping up. The locals, it turned out, were friendly, and our kids were getting along fine. Bear in particular is thriving.

I worried the most about her - anyone who has followed this blog over the years would know she's almost ten now and I assumed, with the help of the 'literature' (read: discussion fora and op-eds) that the move would be harder the further we went into primary school. She was becoming a little withdrawn and shy at the previous school and I worried that this might get worse. Our decision to make our move now was partly driven by a decision that any later might be too disruptive.

Bear seems to be thriving. She has definitely come out of her partial-shell. We were stunned when she signed up for school council elections, requiring her to give a speech to her new peers, given she was struggling with public speaking the previous year. She gave the speech and got the reserve role, surprising us even more. She runs off a number of names of new friends she is playing with and smiles as she chats about her days.

Mr Man is also thriving. Confounding my over-analysed expectations he has had the slightly harder social fit, but not by a big margin. He ran into a couple of minor teasing incidents very early on, and one of his (several) new friends seems to phase in and out of being a bit unpleasant to him and his bestie from the old school. I am not sure what is going on there, and we are keeping an eye on it. But he is loving science and drums and his big surprise was signing himself up for a percussion and woodwind ensemble. He is the youngest child there, and is proud of that along with, of course, his drumming.

Coming from a school with significant unresolved wellbeing issues, including low morale in the older years and a noticeable problem with girls not feeling safe, where parents' views were not welcome and where, frankly, a large contingent of parents had accepted a sort of victimhood where energies were pumped into craft wars, to see both kids shining and confidently signing up for new experiences makes me start to feel that maybe we made the right decision.

Academics were never the primary consideration, but we have certainly noticed the difference. Both teachers come across as highly engaged professionals - unfortunately this has not always been our experience. And both kids are travelling very well in classes full of bright, engaged children.

I feel a little sad and guilt. I know now that while I remain a big supporter of the public schooling idea, there are huge issues with some of the schools in Melbourne's northern suburbs (as I'm sure elsewhere). There is a huge gap between what schools deliver, as there are substantial differences in competence and engagement between teachers.

It isn't just funding - if poor quality individuals sit there protected, year after year, that is not funding.

It goes without saying, most of all, that a Principal makes, or breaks, a school.

For those stuck in a bad school, unable to move for a range of reasons, the system - and the terrible bureaucrats who are still untangling themselves from IBAC - lets them down in a big way. It needs to change. Funding is part of it, but now I know that is only part of it. And nobody in the debate is really acting as an honest broker.