Friday, March 28, 2008

Orphans and Boarders

There was something slightly ironic about watching a musical about a workhouse boy with no education whilst seated in the private theatre of one of Australia’s most exclusive boys schools! Settle down now children! Nothing untoward here!.

Thursday night I went with friends to watch a bloody good school theatrical rendition of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver” performed by The Kings School in Sydney and female members of their sister school, Tara Church of England School for Girls.

I was very pleasantly surprised, not least by the professionalism of the troupe who were better than some professionals I’ve seen quite frankly . . incredible! But also the school Theatre! Unbelievable! Seating about 200, there was a suspended gallery for the orchestra, hydrolic sets and scenes, rotating panels in the floor, complete and permanent stage light sound and mixing. Sets professionally made, costuming impeccable. It was like sitting in a miniature version of Star City’s Lyric Theatre complete with pre-theatre Pizza in the science lab (only for those in the know) beforehand and champers at interval for the price of a gold coin! (That’d set you back about $11 at the Opera House!)

I think I became curious about this school after sitting next to a couple of youg boarders in their full regalia . . apparently they have to wear school uniform whenever they mix with the public whether it’s after normal school hours or not. I felt a little sorry that they couldn’t sit like everyone else in their civvies. Instead, they wore the oldest military uniform in Australia. Navy long pants with a red side stripe and a grey marle blazer with epilets and distinctive red trim, white shirt and school tie underneath.

The King's School is the oldest independent (read private) school in Australia. It was founded when the victorious Duke of Wellington dispatched his his protege, Archdeacon Broughton to introduce a "superior description" of education into New South Wales in 1831.

Sited at Parramatta which at the time was the second NSW settlement and the site of the first real agriculture in the colony; it was the gateway to the interior and at the head of the navigable Parramatta river. (Their annual regatta is still called ' Head of the River' even though it's now run at the Penrith Olympic site). The patronage of King William IV was to remind the school of its history and purpose - both of which were at risk in a colonial Parramatta that boasted over 20 pubs, more than 1000 convicts, a female factory and jail (still does) compounded by the prevalence of scarlet fever still in a recovery period from the times of a rum currency.

The injection of both public and private money into schools of this calibre is glaringly obvious – Generally, Private or Independent Schools receive the same Government funding as State Schools then supplement their income either through a combination of higher fees, diocesan donation and private fund raising. Kings is an Anglican school and also ‘private’ so it costs a fortune to send your kid there and there is a strict selection criteria. To ‘register interest’ in just sending your kid to kings, you pay $250! Non refundable. If you are fortunate, you may then complete an application form. Priority of course is given to practising Anglicans, prep school boys and the sons of wealthy politicians, farmers and diplomats or indeed Malaysian or Thai princes. Then your suitability will be assessed and if you cut the mustard, can afford the fees and have the ‘right’ connections . . you’re in whether you’re kid is bright or dumb as dogshit. There is then an acceptance fee of $3,600. Heaven knows what the annual tuition fees are . . .around the $5,000 per term mark I believe.

Little wonder then that the facilities are amazing. This school is big. It has country boarders in motel style dorms and is also open to day boys from years 7-12. It has a preparatory school for children 6-12. It has some serious infrastructure, from a brand new hall and sports centre to the usual labs and classrooms, a full Auditorium and another Assembly hall. It has a cricket pitch currently under refurbishment and 10 purpose built playing fields . .

Finally, that leaves me with the concept of boarding . . Many of the Kings boarders are the sons of wealthy farming families, diplomats, Canberra bound politicians, even foreign princes so boarding is a necessity but some are just there because it's convenient. My neighbour for instance, boards her children 24/7 and the school is only 20 minutes away. I always thought that a little cruel knowing that mum and dad are 20 minutes away and you're stuck in boarding school while they play golf and go to the Hunter Valley to watch the likes of Rod Stewart on the Green at Draytons. She feels it's good for character and dad was an 'old boy' so the prestige is huge. Then again, when they were little, Clare earned plenty babysitting the little brats over the weekend when mum and dad were hardly home.

The Full-time Boarder is a boy who resides at the School 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (7 days a week? That’s cruel and unusual punishment)

A Weekly Boarder is a boy who boards during weekdays but returns to his normal residence generally following his sporting commitments each Saturday. (at least he gets a hug from mum and

The Flexi Boarder is not usually a boarder but due to family circumstances will join the boarding community on a short term secondment or for a regular one or two nights a week (so that mummy and daddy can have a couple of evenings of respite and pop along to the ballet)

A Day Boarder will use the boarding facilities during the day and early evening, but does not stay overnight in a boarding house. (sort of long day care for big kids)

I have friends who loved being boarders (not at Kings but other schools), others who despised it but none who were ambivalent. There's a little bit of Oliver in them all! And if you want to send your kids to this school, you'll have to pick a pocket or two!


16 comments:

Thriftcriminal said...

I went to boarding school. It was grand really, and it was nothing like as exclusive as the one you describe, but did have some good facilities. It was 80's Ireland after all. Each year there used to be an opera (show really) put on at Christmas time. I still feel there is something missing in the run up to Christmas these days and have realsied it is the buzz and preparation for said show, even though I was never involved (tone deaf).

Baino said...

Boy you're quick of the mark, only just posted. Then it's 8pm on a Friday here! Glad you enjoyed it! Have to say these kids were spectacular. It helped that there was a plethora of year seven sopranos! Did you board because you were distant from home or just to keep you out of trouble?

Nick said...

Have to say I was a full-time boarder from 13 to 18 and loathed it - I felt isolated and out-of-place and it was also a very authoritarian school. I'm not against independent schools in principle but there are so many in Britain they seriously undermine the state schools many of which have become notorious hellholes full of drugs and gangs and abysmal educational standards. I'm in favour of the truly independent, free-thinking schools like Summerhill, and there's also an increasing trend in Britain for home schooling.

Baino said...

Hey Nick: See! polarising already. Boarding school isn't common here unless you're a country kid or the child of an old 'boy'/'girl'. State schools in my area are OK. I have a theory that a 'good' student will do well in either environment but those prone to sway may have trouble in the State System. It's a problem where I live, it's an affluent neighbourhood and private and independent Church schools WAY outnumber their state counterparts. Parents can/will afford to send kids to better resourced schools which have the ability to get rid of disruptive elements which is attractive to middle class families. Mine went to an independent Catholic school, (marriage thing) not as expensive but they definitely had more opportunities than in the state system - at a cost! I did feel sorry for these little lads sitting next to me, looked about 13 and in their school uniform at 8.00pm but they looked happy enough.

Thriftcriminal said...

Well it kept me away from my explosive activities :-) I was raised by my grandparents and I was a handful, so I guess they wanted someone to put manners on me and ensure I got a decent education. I like to think they got what they paid for, though they weren't paying but that's another story....

Quickroute said...

Thankfully never went to boarding school. Many in Ireland were run by the church and you've heard what many a priest did to pass the time!

ian said...

Baino,

Are you sure it's only AUS$5000 a term? That's only €2,900 or about £2,100.

Full boarding at my kids' school is nearly €7,000 a term and in England I have heard of people forking out around £30,000 a year for boarding education. I

Ireland is much cheaper than England because the State pays the teachers' salaries in all sectors. Does the Oz government do the same?

Anonymous said...

Jeez, the Gub'mint paid for my education and I turned out great. What's wrong with that?

Baino said...

Ian no that's just day boy tuition. Boarding for 4 terms is between $31,000 and $38,000 (22,000 euro) so it's cheaper than Europe, with 10-15% sibling discounts. I think the teachers are paid through a combination of Government funding and the private sector. Government funding of private schools is a major source of contention with public education lobbyists.

Anon: So did I but I was a diligent student. You didn't turn out that well, you can't spell Government for a start! Put your name on the post! (as if I don't know who it is!)

Thriftcriminal said...

You have an lol cats image waiting for you on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I also believe if a child will do well, they will do so at whatever school they attend. However, sending them to exclusive schools ensures connections already made for their future success that might not otherwise happen no matter how clever they might be. But you have to pay!

RED MOJO said...

Sounds like a great school. It must be nice for those who can afford it, and the boarding situation seems very flexible.

Baino said...

Anony: That's certainly the case with Kings. Our old IT outsourcer dude sent his kids there for business networking purposes!

Red: OK for the country kids but I feel sorry for local boarders

steph said...

Baino,

I was a day boarder at a mainly boarding school and I always reckoned this option gave me the best of both worlds. The boarders used to be insanely jealous that I got to socialize at night while they had to go to bed!

My other half was sent off to an all-male English boarding school at aged 8. He is severely dyslexic and hated team games so you can imagine how well he fared!!!

steph said...

I meant to add - I love your new upsidedown avatar! You funny honey bunny!

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