End the elitism

Photo Place THINKJohn Curtin for all

TRACI GAMBLIN founded High School Options for Fremantle, a lobby group calling for a shake-up of secondary education in the port city. After holding workshops with parents, the group now says the only viable option is for John Curtin College of the Arts to take in local students who aren’t part of its elite arts and soccer programs.

Hundreds of Fremantle parents are anxiously asking: to which high school will I send my kids? Will they get into John Curtin?

Over 350 Fremantle-area people filled in our survey, with many saying they would reluctantly send their children to private school or move to another suburb, if they did not get into John Curtin.

At our Community Input Workshop, parents indicated that a high school should meet seven key criteria.

The school should:

• be comprehensive, with the full range of courses;

• have a strong academic focus, with pathways to university;

• be open-entry and non-selective (for the majority of students);

• have a large cohort from the Fremantle community;

• have strong leadership and excellent teachers;

• be safe, with high quality pastoral care; and,

• be close enough for most students to walk/ride/catch the bus.

There is no public high school in Fremantle that currently meets all these criteria.

Tracked students

Our group of volunteer parents has spent countless hours trying to determine how these criteria could be met.

We held meetings with ministers, shadow ministers, other members of parliament, principals, education officials, P&C representatives, election candidates and scores of other parents.

We pored over the statistics, and tracked the public school students in the Fremantle area who didn’t have an automatic, certain pathway to John Curtin.

In the year to 2012, there were 129 students who graduated in year 7 from these schools.

Of those, 33 got into John Curtin as part of the gifted and talented (GATE) programs—selective programs like drama and music. Another 44 chose private high schools. The remaining 52 were spread across schools like South Fremantle, Melville and Applecross.

We’re talking small numbers here.

Even if every public school-destined student took up the option to attend John Curtin, that would be just over 50 extra students per year.

If a few of the students otherwise headed to private school switched to John Curtin instead, this could be accommodated.

So, we believe the immediate solution is right in front of us. It’s John Curtin.

Looking across the key criteria, particularly on academics, which survey respondents and workshop attendees rated higher than any other criterion, John Curtin is well on track.

It only fails absolutely on one: John Curtin is not an open-entry school.

So, what of South Fremantle?

We know that many people are working hard to see new life breathed into the school.

There was strong support for this at our workshop.

We want to apply strong pressure to government and all parties to step up; to commit to arrest the multi-year drop in enrolment at South Fremantle.

We believe the government should invest in South Fremantle, particularly to provide GATE programs and in innovative courses such as marine studies.More active links could also be made with universities to provide additional tertiary pathways.

Furthermore, the government should investigate whether South Fremantle could function as a middle school campus alongside John Curtin.

However, we need to be realistic.  Revitalisation and confidence-building take time.

We sincerely do not believe it can be achieved as swiftly as increasing the local intake at John Curtin.

It would be part of the long term solution.

Many families simply cannot afford to wait another year, and why should they?

Good mix

John Curtin already has a good mix of academic and vocational options, is close to public transport, has excellent GATE programs with a cohort of Freo kids, and already has some local intake from East Fremantle and North Fremantle.

It could quickly become like Churchlands SHS or Shenton College; a comprehensive school with excellent academic credentials that can offer the full range of subjects, yet can remain the best arts college in the state.

John Curtin should open its doors to the modest numbers of local area students.

This could happen for the 2014 intake.

Simultaneously, government must provide South Fremantle with certainty and long term investment in academic and vocational programs to help capture the imagination of the wider community, serving a catchment to the south, particularly with new residential developments there, and with its own distinctive GATE programs.

We believe this two-pronged approach is the only way to effectively address the lack of high school options in Fremantle.

3 responses to “End the elitism

  1. Hi
    My daughter recently undertook the Gate entrance into John Curtin. It was hard work, and yes it was stressful but the outcome was she is justifiably very proud of the achievement. From what i can gather if the next viable option for most parents in the Freo area is to move to a private school then they should just do so. The Fremantle financial demographic has shifted since we went to school 15-20 years ago. If you can afford to go private then do so but please dont diminish the achievements of those who were successful in the Gate program by making it “all in”. It seems some parents are buying houses in the “Zone” to enable their children to be local intake to JC, many may argue that that is financial elitism . Indeed i found most parents at primary school level were very clear from grade 1 even that their children would be “moved” to private school, the local “south Fremantle High School” deemed unworthy. As you say the government should focus funds on South Fremantle and that would be
    fantastic and would certainly accommodate the public school shortfall in the area, if the government could assure parents that the future of South Fremantle High school is being committed to financially.(i went to the open day/evenings at the school and personally know a number of teachers there and it is a great school!)

    Personally i think it is an amazing thing that JC is a specialty school,
    developed for students who would be overlooked at conventional public schools, particulary if their families are financially challenged. The GATE program exists for such students and such families

    I think the biggest aspect of this story that no-one is speaking about is that the education system is no longer like it was when we were little, that you just went to the local school then local highschool. I have mourned the loss of this since my daughter joined the W.A system 8 years ago. Its a shame our Fremantle kids cant walk to their local school but the truth a good percentage of JC kids travel a long way by bus/train everyday such is their committment to their specialty subjects. Yes its a sad thing that not all public schools are fantastic and equal in their level of education, meeting the needs of all our children.

    I’m very proud of the students at JC. Its a high achieving school because its students really want to be there. I think that is grand thing, instilling focus and passion for things that you love to do. You work hard, you achieve.

  2. End the Elitism? Traci Gamblin’s thinking allowed is more about maintaining a perceived elitism….don’t let the facts get in the way….and give my kid access to the elites. If Shenton or Churchlands are the perceived benchmark there’s a pretty simple fix: move there. They are schools that have their share of GATE and Approved Specialist Programs but they are also local intake and their populations and programs probably reflect their local enrolments.

    She talks about South Fremantle SHS having more elite programs like John Curtin’s Arts & Soccer programs. John Curtin is GATE for its Arts but its Soccer program is an Approved Specialist Program the same as South’s Music, Marine Studies and Baseball programs, all select entry. Where South differs is that beyond these 3 programs it is a local, socially inclusive, comprehensive high school offering VET and ATAR (university) pathways. Traci listed seven criteria that a good school would have. South ticks all seven boxes.
    Is South comprehensive, with the full range of courses? Yes it is
    Does it have a strong academic focus, with pathways to university? Yes it does with clearly defined ATAR and VET pathways. ATAR is expanded through a partnership with local schools.
    Is South open-entry and non-selective (for the majority of students)? Yes it is. Proudly local.
    Does South have a large cohort from the Fremantle community? Yes it does.
    Does South have strong leadership and excellent teachers? Yes it does: committed to the school and passionate about their subjects and students’ success.
    IS South safe, with high quality pastoral care? Yes it is and it provides a 1st class Student Services to support all students, whatever the issue.
    Is South close enough for most students to walk/ride/catch the bus? Yes, comfortably.
    So what stops Traci considering her local high school as an option? What does she think a massive injection of government funding will do to change the perception of local community families. I suspect not very much. The substance of her story is more about prejudice, more myth than fact.

    I have family who work at South and the children of friends are enrolled there. I am saddened when I hear the frustration expressed by my family member and moreso when I hear my friends’ children internalising the toxic message that the Traci’s of the world amplify.

    So to Traci and her little gang of agitators, get down off your horses, join the P&C at your local high school and get involved. The facts might surprise you. And you might actually discover the rewards a truly local, socially inclusive school, with its rich mix of kids and demographics, offers its community. And hopefully, along the way you’ll discover that real sustainable learning should be built on a bedrock that is socially inclusive, compassionate and open minded, whether it is university, TAFE, apprenticeship or work bound. We need the mix to function sustainably.

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