School Choice – At What Cost?
Wednesday February 1, 2012
Children are expensive.
I’ve said it. I’m putting it out there.
Having just come through Christmas, holiday activities, purchase of new school books and stationery, new uniforms, sports activities, teacher’s gifts and class presents, and so many other things, I don’t know about you, but this time of year can be financially challenging. It’s expensive.
My three explicitly clear priorities for my kids are their health, welfare and education.
We parents tend to spend more willingly for our children's health, welfare, and education, than for any other purpose, and so our expenditure in these areas is justified. When it comes to parking fines, council fees or even my own doctor bills – I’m not happy at all. (Please note that I also take full responsibility for the parking fine being entirely my own fault and my responsibility – but they’re still frustrating and annoying and one of my New Years Resolution is to use a timer on my phone to avoid those pesky white tickets on my windscreen!). With two rapidly growing boys my grocery bills are increasing exponentially, shoes and clothing are rapidly outgrown and need replacement, as well as books, toys, activities, doctor, dentist, orthodontist and hospital visits – phew!
And then there’s Education. Education is one of the biggest expenditures, because this is an investment which parents rightly see as extremely valuable.
In crude terms, how can parents ensure that their expenditure is minimized, or at least contained, and returns maximized when it comes to education. Even making reference to ‘returns on investment’ and ‘expenditure’ will not still well with some parents as this reflects education in terms of consumption and economic rationalization. We evaluate all other spending against these measures, why are we uncomfortable about these when it comes to our children, their education and what is a substantial investment over a long period.
Campbell, Proctor and Sherington published – “School Choice. How parents negotiate the new school market in Australia” in 2009 to examine this interesting notion of “School Choice” in Australia and the drivers behind this “new regime of school choice”.
Many parents are fearful and anxious about the future for their children and place enormous importance on school choice. Parents increasingly give early and thorough consideration to the choice of school their children should attend for ‘securing of safe futures for their children’.
If you are making these decisions at birth or in your child’s first year, as part of a longer term strategic planning process, (and to get on the wait-lists of independent schools you will need to be completing applications at birth in many instances), you won’t how your child’s personality will develop or have any clues about their interests and abilities!
And yet, you will still need to budget for the $100-250 per school for each application fee. Many families don’t’ take this expense into account in their budget planning. I have many families come to me in a panic when their children are in Year 4 or 5 and lament that either didn’t put their child’s name down on wait-lists early enough, or didn’t apply more broadly to schools so they have limited choices for secondary education. My advice is to plan and budget early for the admissions applications fees and canvass broadly if possible. You won’t know when they are six months old if a single sex school will be right for them, if they are going to need a specialist tennis or music program because they have a talent to be nurtured. Early planning and budgeting here is the key to keep options open.
In your planning and budgeting also look out for and anticipate ancillary costs such as:
- school uniforms,
- book fees,
- fees for music, arts, or sports,
- sports uniforms and equipment
- club memberships,
- parent association fees
- extended hours care
The decision making is always complex and I emphasize to parents that there is no ‘best school’, only the ‘right school for their children at different ages and stages of their development.
So what is the cost of ‘choosing the right school’ for our children? What is the cost of us not making the ‘right’ decision for our children?
School choice is an area where we can’t afford to ‘waste’ money. Getting it ‘wrong’ will come at a cost – financially and on the impact on our children and their happiness.
As I head off to look for sales bargains to purchase our new lunch boxes (old ones were so shabby – embarrassing!), socks and jocks (can never have enough as the socks seem to disappear in a black-hole at our place), sunscreen for their school bags (I encourage my guys to take responsibility for re-applying each day so the teacher doesn’t have to remind them) in preparation for the start of 2012, I acknowledge that raising children is expensive.
Research, planning, advice from experts and detailed budgeting along the way are helpful.
Most importantly though, is that the start of a new school year is exciting and exhilarating in anticipation of what new learning and growth will take place, and if you’re like my boys and I, we get a thrill out of new books and stationery (and interesting quirk they’ve inherited from their Mum who still loves seeing a full set of Derwent pencils and a crisp, new notebook).
Enjoy the start of the new school term and relish the stories that will come home each night, listen to the school-tales carefully and have fun with the reading, the homework and the activities and the development. That makes it all worthwhile.
Article by Pauline Duncan - Knowledge Box
Pauline is obsessed with ‘barracking for kids’. Providing support, programs and strategies for children and families has driven all of Pauline’s consulting and projects throughout her career.
Pauline was Head of Junior School at Wesley College when she was 26 years of age, and now works with parents and relocating families to help them with decisions about choosing schools – there’s more information out there than ever, yet more confusion for families. Schools get Pauline’s strategic advice to develop communication and marketing plans and she mentors executives and education professionals.
All pro-bono work is devoted to Lighthouse Foundation and Impact for Women. Pauline’s most important role is Mum to Duncan (11) and Alec (9).
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 School Choice How parents negotiate the new school market in Australia. Campbell, Proctor and Sherington. Page 1.
 School Choice How parents negotiate the new school market in Australia. Campbell, Proctor and Sherington. Page 16.
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