The heavy responsibility of choosing the right school

The heavy responsibility of choosing a school | The Kids Are All Right

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By Emma Toomey.

As the first day of the school year looms large there is the usual nervous buzz of anticipation – stationery is bought, haircuts are had, uniforms are sorted and old pencil cases are salvaged. But this year at our house there is a palpable anxiety … at least for me. Our three children are all starting at new schools this year – three different schools.

But this year at our house there is a palpable anxiety … at least for me.

Sadly, we had to make the difficult decision to take them out of the independent, co-ed school they had all been attending together, as the fees were already exceeding our initial projections with many years still ahead of us. No doubt the decision would have been made easier if one, or all of them had been unhappy, but this was not the case – they were all happy and thriving. Ouch.

And so began the odyssey of choosing a school for each of them. In the case of our youngest the decision was easy; she will be starting at the wonderful public primary school nearby that her brothers also attended, and we still have plenty of time to work out what to do for high school.

We had to make the difficult decision to take them out of their independent, co-ed school, as the fees were already exceeding our initial projections

We investigated several possibilities for our boys; tests were sat, applications submitted and interviews endured. Conversations were had and advice sought from parents near and far. Our boys were both adamant about wanting to remain in co-ed schools, which cancelled out our local high schools and meant that our search went out of area. Schools, like life, are not one-size-fits-all. How do you know which one will best cater to the unique strengths, talents and vulnerabilities of your child? Do we keep them together or encourage them to go in different directions? The responsibility of getting it right weighs heavily.

Just as we were all feeling good about our decision to keep the boys together at a public high school several suburbs away, we were thrown a curve ball. Our new high schooler was offered a coveted place at another school with a very different focus … a once only opportunity. They needed an answer by the following morning. He decided to take it.

The responsibility of getting it right weighs heavily.

As daunting at times as the whole process of choosing a school has been, it has also been a valuable exercise in resilience and following gut instinct for all of us. The prospect of leaving old friends and of making new ones has at times been tough on all of them. Sometimes we have to stand back and let our kids be brave. We are yet to see how it will all unfold, and the logistics of dealing with three schools will no doubt have its challenges. But change is part of life and adaptability is a vital life skill … so here we go! Wish us luck.

How did you go choosing a school for your child? Was it a difficult decision?



  1. Dinner time conversations at your house will never be boring, catching up with the news from 3 different schools. Great that you have listened to your sons when they asked to remain in coed schools. With such wonderful communication & insight ongoing success is bound to come your way.

    • Emma Toomey says:

      Thanks Helen, to be honest I don’t think there will be a dull moment ever again! We’ve all hit the ground running this week and are fastening our seatbelts. I will be the one collapsed in a heap on Sunday. We’ll get there bit by bit.

  2. My sister and I went to different schools. She chose the smaller, more exclusive girls school because she liked being a big fish in a small pond. I, on the other hand, chose the biggest girls school available because I wanted to get lost in the crowd. My sister’s school also catered to the very academic kids by offering the International Bacalaureat whereas my school had a business certificate that I could complete while also obtaining my VCE.

    It worked out really well for us. Good luck for all your kids as they start the new school year. My son doesn’t start big school until next year but I’m already excited about it!

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  3. Emma Toomey says:

    That’s good to hear Vanessa, thanks. My kids have always really enjoyed school and I hope that continues. More than anything it’s the adjustment to their new environments and getting the balance right between making new friendships and maintaining old ones too. I predict a busy year ahead.
    Good luck to your son next year…it’s a really exciting time.

  4. Best of luck at all the new schools. Sounds like the decisions weren’t lightly made and sounds like your children are all very resilient. Hope they all have a wonderful year!

  5. oohh education decisions are always fraught with anxiety aren’t they? We are facing moving our son from a school all of us love due to relocation later this year. We hope we are making the right decision for him and his younger brother. Being a parent is certainly the hardest thing ever! All the best to your three x
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    • Emma Toomey says:

      Soooo hard sometimes! Change is thrust upon us at times, and we have no choice but to roll with it and let the next adventure unfold. All the best to you and your boys.

  6. Oh boy! I hadn’t contemplated the possibility of an offer being made.. That must have really thrown you!
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    • Emma Toomey says:

      Yes, we were definitely thrown…slowly finding our feet again. Once the dust has settled a bit it will be exciting to watch it all unfold.

  7. I think some schooling decisions are taken out of our hands by the prohibitive costs of some the schools in our area. It then becomes a balancing act to find a school that you can afford, is good and one that your child will do well in (and ideally with a friend or 2 to accompany them).

    All schooling decisions have been left solely up to me – my husband has never got involved, so the burden to get it right, can weigh heavily. I have chosen the high school (private) and hope that its the right decision, but really only time will tell.

  8. I’ve tried not to think its about finding the right school as each will have their ups and downs. Totally agree with giving the children choice and trusting their judgement. We have done that. And yes it’s good for us all to be brave sometimes.

    • Emma Toomey says:

      Being brave and sharing our experiences is definitely helpful. You’re so right Seana, no school is perfect. We need to be guided by our children too.

  9. It is such a hard decision to make and unfortunately sometimes it is only in time that you will know if you made the right decision or not.
    K went to public school here and in South Africa for the first 3 years. In year 4 she moved to a private school – recommended by just about everyone we came into contact with when we came here on our LSD trip – and she was really happy there. During year 10 she had the opportunity to move to a school which taught in a very different way – they targetted the kids in the top 5% of the state. She was accepted but I sit back now and wonder whether it was the right move or not. She has been going to uni part time for 3 years and now wants to drop out and try to get into the police force. I wonder if she had stayed at the private school whether she wouldn’t have had the issues she had and been more settled – who knows ? All we can do is deal with what happens now.
    Good luck with the decision !
    Have a great weekend !
    #FYBF visitor

    • Emma Toomey says:

      Thanks for your comments. Yes, we can only ever deal with what works now. I’ll post again as the year unfolds. Best of luck to you and your daughter.

  10. Beautifully written, Emma… You’ve been on a journey. Three different schools now? Xf

  11. My eldest started middle school this year. We went with the local public one. It wasn’t easy but at the same time we didn’t have a lot of choice.
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    • Emma Toomey says:

      Hi Rhianna, it’s really hard when choice is removed from the equation. I hope it’s all working out well for her. All the best.

  12. So well written Emma – and that is why your kids will succeed and be incredibly resilient! Something they will need in their future. As a teacher I will be passing this on! Your kids will be fine!
    Michelle xx

  13. Hi Emma

    I just saw this post. I understand your anxiety. While I only have one child I stressed about which school to send her to. It’s such a personal decision that I found touched a whole lot of nerve centers in my life – my politics, finances, friends and of course number one – quality of education. Over the past few years I’ve been doing some post grad work in education and came across some amazing research in the field of belonging and school. It spoke very clearly to me about what the right school is for each family – its about the sense of evlong they feel, and the emphasis a school places on such notions. When a school generates a sense of belong for kids, they thrive – take less sickies, become more self determined, grades improve, wellbeing thrives. I wroe a blog about it about September last year (or sometime around then,that includes a link to the research). I hope your kids do really well and you feel at peace with your decisions. Kim
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    • Emma Toomey says:

      Thanks Kim, your research sounds really interesting – it’s such a fraught issue. I hope it’s all going well for you.

  14. Coming late to this, but it’s a constant topic of conversation in my world. I live surrounded by a gazillion awesome public primary schools, so it starts with parents agonising over which fab school to pick. Mine have all gone to an infants school to start, so then there’s the “where do they go in year 3?” conversation. I kind of half heartedly joined in that one, because we live very close to one of the awesome primary schools, so they were all going to go there really.

    But now we are contemplating high school, and it’s lots harder. We are also surrounded by single sex schools, which my kids have so far dismissed out of hand. The closest co-ed has a focus which doesn’t suit my eldest, so it looks like he’ll be going to the co-ed several suburbs away. There’s also the selective co-ed, but I don’t think he’s suited to such a competitive environment (and that’s assuming he’d get in anyway!).

    This school thing is tricky, But then again, maybe we make too much of a deal of it. I went to a pretty ordinary high school, and I missed out on some things, but I gained other things. I learned to learn on my own, without much support and to motivate myself. I learned to deal with lots of kinds of people, including some pretty awful ones (some awful by circumstance, some awful by choice). It’s probably more important to help our kids get the most out of whatever environment they find themselves in than finding the perfect fit.
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  15. Emma Toomey says:

    Hi Shonias, thanks for sharing your experiences. I think you’re right…we need to remember that schooling, although important, is only one component of the bigger picture in terms of raising happy, healthy and self-determined teenagers.



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