Winning is nice, but it isn’t everything…

05 Aug

Take Sydney Boys High School, for example. Today’s Sun-Herald tells the sorry story: Rugby battlers face trying times.

Sydney Boys High is losing its rugby games against elite private schools by as much as 100 points, but it won’t be dropped from the GPS competition.

GPS headmasters have pledged to keep the sole government school in the competition despite crushing them week after week.

High has been struggling to field teams for years as its academically gifted students turn to soccer or other less violent sports. Last weekend Scots first XV beat High 102-0. Yesterday High was only able to field 10 teams against King’s School, which has 34 teams. High, the oldest government school in NSW, is up against $20,000-a-year private schools where rugby is virtually a religion.

High’s students are ethnically diverse and have to pass tough tests to get into the selective school. Because of the mismatch in size and skills many of High’s teams play lower ranked teams. Yesterday High seconds played King’s sixths and the under-16 As played King’s under-16 Es.

But the chairman of the GPS headmasters committee, Shore headmaster Timothy Wright, said the GPS kinships among schools meant High would stay in the competition. “We would never contemplate excluding High from GPS rugby,” Dr Wright said. “Sydney High is a much valued and treasured member of our sporting fraternity.”

Some GPS fans have called for High to get the flick as its teams haven’t improved despite five years of effort. In 2002 High withdrew its top teams from playing against King’s after losing 114-0 against St Joseph’s. High old boys raised money for rugby coaching and training.

High Rugby Friends secretary Rob Girdler said junior teams were showing promise and hopefully the school’s rugby fortunes would improve next year.

Back in 2002 there was a kerfuffle about this issue in the media and I found myself mentioned in dispatches.

One of Sydney’s selective high schools is at the centre of a row with a decidedly racist tinge. Gerard Noonan looks at how the controversy has raised the broader issue of who should make it to our top state schools.

The conversations usually begin with a familiar disclaimer. “I’m not being racist, but …” and then plough deep into a minefield of ethnicity, parental aspirations thwarted, middle-class competitiveness and deep-seated fears and concerns about childhoods won or lost. For many Sydney households with primary school age children, it is a debate which rebounds around the dinner table, consuming anxious hours as mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters, even visiting friends wrestle with its emotional contours…

Most of the participants in the debate have insisted that race or ethnicity is not in play here. They say the Sydney old boys debate is about differing attitudes among the school population regarding parental involvement in weekend and after-hours sports.

But others see this lament over a lost world of all-rounded “Australian-ness” as simply code for resentment about “Asian-ness” becoming the dominant school ethos. The most recent edition of the old boys’ bulletin carried an article quoting an old boy concerned that the demographics of the school were fast evolving with “year 7 currently 90 per cent Asian”.

The debate has raged in the letters pages of this newspaper. Some very prominent citizens, including judges and former judges who are old boys of the school, have weighed in.

It has also sent the school into a spin – Sydney Boys’ High’s Web site is engaged in its own lively debate, complete with calming messages from its well-respected principal, Kim Jagger, as well as letters from anguished parents from Asian backgrounds who feel they’ve been denigrated.

One Herald letter writer was Sydney High teacher Neil Whitfield debunking the idea that the school was 90 per cent Asian or that “Asian-ness” – whatever that meant – somehow affected student involvement in the school’s activities.

Whitfield, who manages the statistics about the language backgrounds of students at the school, noted that 78 per cent of the school population came from a non-English-speaking background (NESB), but that figure covered up to 40 language or dialect groups.

“Sydney Boys’ High has long been a school that attracts migrant families who wish to see their sons prosper in their new land,” Whitfield wrote…

Some of that 2002 Web Site (and media) debate is now on my Big Archive, including a rather delightfully cheeky letter from The Rabbit. Noonan later told me that such was the heat generated by his stories on the subject that he actually received a death threat! It was all very interesting…

My own record as a student there included the words “took an interest in Rugby”, which, being translated, means “spent perhaps a month at age 12 as a linesman”… While not criticising those who love their Rugby, I really find the devotion of some to a code which must be a mystery to most people south of the Murray River quite odd. Nonetheless, I am here to tell you that those who do play the sport at SBHS are actually very keen and enjoy the game, if not the results. Checking the school site reveals SBHS is creaming the GPS in Volleyball, however, and debating — well, there is a story in itself!

The whole issue of selective schools is something else again. Recently there was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on the subject, revealing the hardly surprising fact that in HSC results the selectives do rather well, in fact better than most of the expensive private schools.

…Last year, Sydney Girls was ranked third in the top 10 HSC performers, behind James Ruse, at No.1 and Hornsby Girls. Baulkham Hills and North Sydney Girls were fourth and fifth. The private, academically selective Sydney Grammar School was sixth and Ascham seventh. Sydney Boys and North Sydney Boys took out eighth and ninth positions, with an independent school, Reddam House, in 10th.

The rankings should not be surprising considering that selective high schools can cherry pick the best students.

The question the Government has been reluctant to answer is how much value a selective school adds to already excellent students. Comprehensive high schools such as Burwood Girls and Cheltenham Girls are blitzing some selective schools in helping students to improve their performance in tests…

But it is a moot point whether the emphasis on the selective school system is really good for the education system as a whole, or for the long-term survival of public education. Those matters are further discussed in that Herald article.

I obviously like SBHS for quite a number of reasons. At the same time, some of the most brilliant people I have ever taught came from Wyndham scheme comprehensives (Cronulla in particular) in the 1960s.

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Posted by on August 5, 2007 in Aussie interest, Education, immigration, Observations, Personal, racism


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