John 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.
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?
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.