Every Friday, Crikey’s mole by the microwave in a middle suburban state high school staffroom will document the ins and outs of the sometimes rewarding, always underpaid, often challenging life of the secondary teacher.

Week two: Pondering education funding theorems

We daily commuters are so habituated to the usual arrangement of the train carriage (the city gent who shakes his newspaper into shape like Laocoon wrestling with the sea-serpent, the young secretary washing down her morning McMuffin with Coke Zero for healthy) that a strange face can seriously upset the feng shui. Except that the particular face that presents itself this one morning is wholly familiar.

“Hello, Mr Diogenes,” the student ventures.

“Hello there.” I smile bleakly, recalling the kid who had enlivened the previous year’s History class.

As a teacher it is hard not to favour the bright ones who do literally shine. Now here was bright Apollo (looking a tad sheepish it must be said) in the smart new uniform of his selective entry high school. The irresistible thought was how the form group he left behind had been bedimmed by so many degrees. Sigh. It might have been OK for blind Milton, but the dark is really not light enough.

At least my young luminary has remained within the public system. It seriously rankles when the private schools in the near vicinity trawl for the best and the brightest. They offer scholarships to those proficient of brain and limb whose feats are calculated to accrue to the greater glory of the poachers. It will also swell already bulging coffers, thanks to federal funding. Few of us at the chalk face profess to understand the formula behind the funding of schools by the Federal Government but what we do know is that private school students receive subsidies five times greater than their government school counterparts.

In the case of some private school students this can amount to an annual windfall of $9000. Go figure, as Pythagoras once said. And you do (or as best as the humanities teacher can). Four fifths of $9000, you think as you avail yourself of the malodorous toilet facilities known to all as Downtown Calcutta. (Not for the first time you wonder at the diet of your colleagues at stool or what strange alchemy transforms same on the way through.) That’s $7200 per student, you calculate as you wash your hands and head for the common room, an area that appears to have been designed as a diorama of life in the tenements of Dickensian London. (Look how people once lived! Imagine!)

So multiply the $7200 by the number of students – Sh-t! you think, and it has nothing to do with Downtown Calcutta. Sh-t. With that sort of moolah surely anything is possible. Then the bell sounds for the end of lunch and with Tarquin and Vulnavia waiting to torment you in Room 303 the vision splendid evaporates quicker than the summer’s meagre showers.

Peter Fray

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