From the outset, let me say this: I, too, am privileged.
I attended a Sydney private girl’s school in the exclusive Eastern Suburbs for seven years. I started in Year 6 as the recipient of an academic scholarship.
Regardless of that, my parents wanted me to have the best education possible and were willing to sacrifice everything. I come from a modest family. We don’t value material items, but do value travel and experiences. I grew up in Kensington, a cosy suburb admittedly in the east, but what feels like a world away from the mansions many of my peers lived in.
And with that, let’s first talk about the financial costs of attending a private school. Tuition alone at many Sydney private schools costs over $30,000 per annum. What people don't talk about enough, is how that's only the beginning. We then had strict uniform policies, meaning parents had to fish out thousands on blazers, bags, sports uniforms, hair ribbons and felt hats (yes we had to wear them and yes we looked like Madeline). You get the picture.
And with an expensive uniform came high standards. Breaching any rule (for example: not wearing our blazers or hats in public, eating or drinking in public, dress above knees) would land us a Friday detention. There were times where teachers would make us kneel before them to measure our dress lengths. I found that truly humiliating.
By the end of Year 6, I had settled in to the school, but I cannot deny the environment changed me. I developed a serious eating disorder and suffered from anorexia throughout Year 7 to Year 9. Like most young teenagers, I felt the pressure to look 'skinny'. There were lunchtimes where girls would sit in a circle and eat nothing, and I just joined in. This goes for many girls-only schools, and while it's not necessarily a causal effect of having gone to a private school, my environment did seem to have a toxic influence on my self-esteem.
There were also expensive school excursions. In Year 10 for a commerce excursion we went on a Sydney Harbour Cruise and had three hours ‘free time’ to explore Harbourside Mall in Darling Harbour to ‘collect data’ about small businesses. Ultimately, students just ended up buying clothes, jewellery and food for the day.
Art and History were trips offered to Europe, as they often are at private schools, costing a small fortune. I must admit, I did benefit from the private school connections. In Year 10, I was selected for an exchange programme, where I lived in a tiny German town for three months with a host family and developed my German skills. This is an opportunity I might not have had if I'd never attended a private school.