"It’s not just schools that have lost their way. I think we all have."

Truth bombs are never easy to drop.

The School Captain from one of Sydney’s most elite private schools has used the end-of-year Speech Day to launch a blistering attack on her school’s obsession with money, image and advertising.

Sarah Haynes spoke about private schools putting their image ahead of the welfare of their students.

It was a very public smack-down and one that received a standing ovation from the audience.

You can watch said smack-down here:

Video via Popular Stories


It’s not just schools that have lost their way. I think we all have.

We’ve become seduced by school academic records and sparkly facilities.

I think we’ve forgotten that the real goal in high school is to get our children through emotionally unscathed.

Isn’t real goal making sure that our children walk out of their school gates for the last time – be private or public – brimming with excitement, having had six years of inspiration, nurturing and guidance?

We want them to graduate with a sense of their place in the world and an understanding of the importance of social justice, the concept of privilege and the responsibility to give back.

We want them to understand that their behaviour has consequences, that integrity is everything and that they should strive to remain curious throughout their lives. We want them to leave high school with strong minds and open hearts.


Remind me again what that has to do with world-class aquatic centres and academic perfection?

Sarah Haynes attended Ravenswood School For Girls.

At what point did we all start falling for the brochures and believing that a beautiful uniform, a Latin motto and an Olympic sized swimming pool was the biggest gift we could give our child? At what stage did so many of us agree that a happy high school experience could only unfold in a high school that boasted a “zone” netball or rugby team?

This is not about choosing private or public. Both can be wonderful. This is about digging deeper and making different factors a priority if you are lucky enough to be able to go ‘high school shopping’. Let’s start by putting inclusion, respect, balance and community service at the top of our list.

Ask how the school – private or public – “lives” its motto? Do they celebrate only academic achievements and sporting prowess? Or do they also celebrate the students who show resilience and empathy in extraordinary circumstances? Is there a sense of warmth and creative energy at the school? Does it feel welcoming and inclusive? Are they involved in giving back to the community?

“Those who were haunted by high school hated it because they were bullied, or humiliated, lonely or misunderstood or worst of all sexually or physically abused.”

If each of us go back and think about our own high school years, we know this is true.

Nobody hates high school because they failed science or legal studies. In 2015 nobody’s life is truly derailed because of low grades. Now, more than ever, there are countless pathways to get to where you want to go.


Those who were haunted by high school hated it because they were bullied, or humiliated, lonely or misunderstood or worst of all sexually or physically abused.

And those of us who loved high school did so because we felt respected, accepted, inspired and engaged and because we found a terrific friend along the way.

By all means – choose the school you want. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that expensive fees and sandstone halls mean anything in isolation.

Instead, ask what qualities you want your child to have as a human being and then go looking for a school that is your perfect match.



You can buy Rebecca Sparrow’s new book ‘Ask Me Anything’ here.

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