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Which School is Best?

By Bruce Notley-Smith on September 30, 2018 in Other

Coogee Public School’s main building back in 1912, by Ed Ukayshun

Nothing gets that barbecue or dinner party conversation off to a start better than the debate over which school is best. And why wouldn’t it? Every parent or guardian cares deeply about the quality of education their child receives, some to the point of obsession.

Public or private, big or small, secular or faith based, single sex or coeducational, selective or comprehensive, even the prevailing ethnicity of students, are just a few of the choices to be pondered long before little Tarquin or Celeste heads off for their first day of school.

Much has been said lately about secondary education options available locally.

The eclectic mix of schools we have in the Eastern Suburbs today has its origin in the absence of direct government funding, control or ownership until legislative reforms from 1848 to 1880 led to the public school system we know today.

As the population increased in the 1850s, local private schools were established by church parishes or private individuals. St Catherine’s is the only school remaining from this period.

The Public Schools Act 1866 and the Public Instruction Act 1880 delivered government junior schools in Coogee, Waverley, Woollahra and Randwick.

Despite these reforms, few government secondary schools were established; various primary schools were instead used to accommodate intermediate classes or fully con- verted to secondary schools as the need arose. More denominational schools, many of which exist to this day, were established and filled much of this demand.

Post WWII, dedicated secondary schools were built in Randwick, Vaucluse, Dover Heights and Maroubra. The development of large government housing estates across Maroubra and South Coogee, also home to the Endeavour Migrant Hostel, added to the need for extra schools in the south-east.

Despite the continual increase in housing stock that took place over the post war decades, the local population began a steady decline from 1971 until it plateaued in the 1990s. The fall in student numbers left several schools unable to offer an acceptably broad curriculum, re- sulting in their closure or mergers.

Abandoned sites in Vaucluse and Maroubra Bay were sold off, as was Maroubra Girls High, which was acquired by Lycee Condorcet to become the French School, and Randwick North High was repurposed to accommodate the Open High School and the Centennial Park School.

Years after these closures there remains significant spare capacity in the south east’s public secondary schools. Rose Bay Secondary College in the north, a hybrid of Dover Heights and Vaucluse Boys High Schools, has in contrast experienced a surge in enrolments over recent years, providing fuel and profile to the current ‘capacity crisis’ discussion.

It’s a discussion I’m having at the highest levels of government, but most importantly with those in our local community who cherish public secondary education and want to see it continue to grow and succeed.

Finger pointing previous governments and public officials seeking to lay blame don’t solve a problem. If provoked, I’ll call them to account for their inaction and hypocrisy, but my efforts will be focussed on finding a solution and the resources needed to fix it.

Over the many years I have been both a local councillor, a mayor and a member of parliament, I have attended countless school assemblies, end-of-year and other presentation days and evenings, school concerts, P&C meetings and catch-ups with principals.

The great news is that there isn’t a single school in the electorate of Coogee that I wouldn’t happily send my, or your, daughter or son to.

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