LIVING in Sydney's eastern suburbs, I naively thought there would be a plethora of great public schools nearby. Why wouldn't there be? Living under Malcolm Turnbull's watch, surely he would safeguard the education revolution, keeping a keen eye on its progress in his own electorate. Besides, if public primary school was good enough for him, then it was good enough for my kid.
Being such a staunch advocate of the public system, I didn't feel the need to investigate other options. There is no way I wanted my daughter to grow up feeling entitled and heck, from all the NAPLAN results, public schools are nailing it right?
Full of optimism and a smug bourgeois attitude, I held my 5-year-old daughter's hand to the local public school's Welcome BBQ. We were pumped. The next six years here were going to be fantastic.
As I spoke with other equally smug parents about our worthy decision to send our kids to public school, a young girl ran up to me and tugged my skirt. "Your daughter's around the corner on the ground and she's bleeding!" Cue shock. Exiting the virtuous haze and processing what this little person was saying was like a slap across the cheek. "What?"
Being led to where my daughter was, howling as she crouched on the concrete, clutching her bloodied knees I asked her "What on earth has happened?" In between gasps she said a group of boys had asked her for money and when she said she didn't have any, they shoved her to the ground and kicked her. My jaw couldn't have hit the ground any harder. I struggled to provide her with logical response. It wasn't like I could say "Oh it was just an accident" or "They were just playing". I kept a stiff upper lip for her benefit and told her that behaviour was not acceptable, meanwhile writing mental notes about what I was going to say to the principal the next morning.
A few days later - arranged at 9am sharp as the job-sharing co-principal had other meetings - I expected to hear all about what policies the school had to deal with bullies and how this behaviour would not be tolerated. However, I was told that because the incident happened outside of school hours, there was not much they could do about it. With her head cocked to the side, the part-time principal said she understood how quickly things could happen when our backs were turned and how difficult it was for new mums and their children to adjust to "big school". Walking out of the principal's office completely flummoxed, I started to question whether perhaps I was making too big a deal of it.
I expected week two to be better, however I found out from another parent that our daughters had "gotten lost" from the classroom earlier in the week. How convenient the school "forgot" to mention this and their flippant response did nothing to appease me. I was told "sometimes when we do headcounts we get it wrong, it happens when there are so many of them!" Thankfully the girls were eventually found wandering the school grounds and didn't mosey out through the unlocked gates. Yes public schools are at capacity, splitting at the seams in fact, but this shouldn't diminish their duty of care.
At this point, the glossy veneer of the public school system was rapidly losing its shine. From the foul sewage-smelling toilet block with no hand towels to the designer activewear clad, trout-pout Mummy cliques, to the P&C which considers a $2000 Thermomix a wise investment, the cracks are sharply coming into focus.
Trying to speak with the job-sharing part-time teacher - who it felt like spent more days off sick than at school - was harder than becoming a politician with dual citizenship. In a 10-week term, my daughter's class had an impressive count of six different teachers.
But the final straw was after my daughter came home hyperventilating, sobbing that the principal made her sit outside her office for half an hour by herself to think about her bad behaviour. Now given the kids who ganged up and physically assaulted my kid weren't given any punishment at all, I was deeply concerned as to what crime she has committed. Murder? Nope. She allegedly asked another classmate if they had money for the canteen. The irony was not lost on me.
Yet this wasn't witnessed by the teacher, but occurred after a complaint from her classmate's Mum. The mother of the child didn't think to contact me directly to discuss what happened, because that would be far too sensible a solution. I've learned now that Kindy parents should make things as acrimonious as possible. The fallout from our public school experience has been a child who thinks she is "bad", that school is "bad" and a disillusioned parent forced to throw down the state school flag and concede they're not what they're cracked up to be.