Class divide: Rural parents scream disadvantage amid boarding school blow-out

Rural parents who send their children to boarding schools want it known they aren’t all rich graziers with the means to choose an elite education.

Mar 31, 2023, updated Mar 31, 2023
Rural parents who send their children to boarding schools generally work to a shorter school year. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

Rural parents who send their children to boarding schools generally work to a shorter school year. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

In most cases they simply have no other option but to pack up their children and send them thousands of kilometres away to schools in the cities where they may not see them for weeks at a stretch.

It has always been an emotional wrench, says Tambo mum Louise Martin, but now the finances are also taking a blow, with government subsidies for living away from home not increased beyond CPI since 2015.

“People have this idea that we’re all wealthy landowners who have money lying around to spend on our kids’ education,” she said.

“Like everyone else we have to save, we go through hard times when seasons and prices are against us and costs are rising.

“And not everyone who lives rurally lives on the land. There are residents living in 27 per cent of Queensland who do not have access to a secondary school.

“If you’re the local council grader driver and your partner works part-time, how are you going to afford to send your kids to boarding school? What options do they have?”

Martin, who is the president of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association of Queensland, was in Brisbane recently with fellow members to lobby for an increase in State Government support on the steps of Parliament.

Her organisation is calling for a one-off payment per student of $4000 to relieve the immediate financial pressure and to stop the exodus of families leaving the bush.

“If we don’t get this fixed, more families are going to leave because they can’t afford any other options,” Martin said.

“And once they go, they don’t come back and they take their skills and their economic contributions with them, leaving our communities worse off.”

As Martin explained to InQueensland during her Brisbane visit, when children reach secondary school age in remote Queensland, families are faced with life-changing emotional, social and financial decisions that parents in the city are often not required to consider.

Do children continue to live in social isolation by doing distance education?

Does the entire family leave their jobs, home and community to access school?

Does the family split, with one parent staying at home on the property while the other relocates, either renting or taking another mortgage and more debt, to be closer to the school?

Or do the children leave home for boarding school, some as young as 11 or 12 when they start Year 7, where they will remain for the next six years with only occasional visits and end of term breaks?

“The emotional sacrifices made by remote families to educate their children are enormous, only to be compounded by the extraordinary cost of education in a country where education is meant to be free,” Martin said.

Most families on average, she said, were out of pocket at least $20,000 per student per year when tuition fees, boarding fees, extra-curricular activities and travel expenses were tallied.

Amanda Walker, who runs a cattle property at Tambo with her husband Andrew and sends her two sons to The Southport School, travelled with the ICPA delegation to tell her story last week.

While acknowledging that she is in a better financial position than some, which allows semi regular visits to see her sons during term and attend their special events, the cost pressures continue to mount.

She has made two trips from her central-west Queensland home to the Gold Coast so far this year, each costing more than $2500 which includes return flights from Blackall, hire car from Brisbane and short-term accommodation.

“I try not to get anything too close to the beach to keep my costs down,” she said.

“But seriously, this is on top of what we already pay for our sons to attend a very good school, because every child deserves a great education.

“And we have to trim our costs wherever we can, including doing all the cattle work on our own so we’re not paying wages. And this is when the seasons and cattle prices are good.

“If we head into another drought this year the financial pressure will be that much worse.”







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