‘I was in tears’: The kids elite school won’t take

 

ONE of Queensland's most prestigious schools is under fire over claims by parents that children with poor grades and learning difficulties are being excluded in a ruthless bid to boost academic performance.

Furious parents, including big financial donors and third-generation old boys, have slammed Anglican Church Grammar School (known as Churchie) as discriminatory and elitist.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they have told of distressed children made to feel dumb and inferior.

They claim that students as young as five are being denied enrolment, while those in older primary are being asked to find another high school.

This fresh scandal comes after The Courier-Mail revealed lower-performing seniors were pressured to stay home from the Queensland Core Skills Test (which helps decide OP scores) this month.

A third-generation parent said the East Brisbane school claimed to be non-selective but was turning away boys with dyslexia or deemed "not bright enough, even for Prep".

"It's about lifting academic performance, but it's wrong," said the man, whose son does not have learning issues.

Another father said he was "shell-shocked" when his younger boy was "rejected".

"My older son was already at the school and I, my father, my grandfather and my cousins all boarded there," he said.

"We were going through the normal enrolment procedure and I said, 'by the way, this boy has dyslexic tendencies, how do we go forward?'

"Never in our wildest dreams did we think he'd be discriminated against, to be told Churchie was not the school for him; I was in tears."

Emails seen by The Courier-Mail confirm the parents were told the school could not accommodate the child.

"My boy was devastated," the father said.

"We know of at least a dozen other families this has happened to, but we are speaking out because we want change."

A new Churchie library opened in 2017.
A new Churchie library opened in 2017.

Dyslexia affects one in five people and creates problems with reading and language, however, experts agree when traditional learning is replaced with other strategies, children can achieve well.

Frustrated parents have even offered to fund a Churchie program to assist dyslexic children, but this has been reportedly refused.

Many have withdrawn their children and sent them elsewhere, including Brisbane Boys' College, St Joseph's Nudgee College and The Southport School, which offer boarding.

A second-generation old boy, who boarded at Churchie in the 1980s, described the situation as "disgusting".

The western Queensland man refused to send his three sons to the school after his eldest, then in Year 6, was "ruled out" due to dyslexia.

"We had an interview and they basically said he's not smart enough; it was pretty degrading," he said.

"Who are they to think they can take the cream of the crop? I really don't like the fact that the school has been hijacked by a mob of elitists with silver tails."

He said Churchie had become "the place to be", attracting powerful parents who valued "social standing", causing the school to "takes its eye off the ball" and stray from its core Christian values.

Anglican Church Grammar School at East Brisbane
Anglican Church Grammar School at East Brisbane

A woman whose son had attended Churchie since Prep was left scrambling for high schools after being told, midway through Year 6 in 2017, that all learning support was being withdrawn in the senior school, and she should investigate somewhere else.

"We were a loyal Churchie family, I had volunteered, donated money, done all the right things," she said.

Her son is not dyslexic but struggles in maths and "learns differently", but Churchie had a "cookie-cutter approach".

"Churchie is a huge financial commitment and you expect to be catered for. They have the money," she said.

"When we pulled him out, no one rang to ask why; it was like, 'See you later, glad you're gone, one less'."

The school's website spruiks inclusivity.

"Our learning philosophy embraces a culture of academic excellence and improvement," it states.

"This culture creates a deep belief that every student is capable of successful learning."

Headmaster Dr Alan Campbell, appointed in 2014 after eight years as deputy, said "high academic and behavioural expectations havealways been part of the school".

Dr Alan Campbell, headmaster at Churchie, is proud of tradition.
Dr Alan Campbell, headmaster at Churchie, is proud of tradition.

"We are proud of this tradition, and are open and honest with prospective parents.

"We are unashamedly a grammar school in the Anglican tradition.

"Each enrolment is carefully and individually considered, always with the intent of advising clearly what the school can offer each boy."

In the 10 years to 2018, the number of high-achieving OP 1-5 students increased from 28 per cent to 44 per cent, according to Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority data.

Tim Nicholls, the State Member for Clayfield, graduated from Churchie in the 1980s, his son in 2017.

While "unaware of selective practices", Mr Nicholls said there was a clear focus at the school to improve academic performance, not only in OPs but also NAPLAN results.

This was endorsed by the board and supported by many parents, he said.

Former Queensland Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls attended Churchie during the 1980s.
Former Queensland Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls attended Churchie during the 1980s.

Dyslexia Queensland's Anne Cupitt said rejecting children who didn't respond to traditional phonics-based learning could have a "big impact on their self-esteem" and create anxiety disorder.

"The more prestigious the school, they're the ones telling kids to stay home because they don't want to wreck the school's 'picture'," she said.

In last year's OP results, Churchie placed fifth out of the top private schools.

Annual tuition for Years 7-12 is $22,736 (excluding uniforms, enrolment fees and almost $6000 in levies). Boarding is a further $24,808.

Famous Churchie old boys

Churchie was founded in 1912 by Canon William Perry French Morris, who told parents at his inaugural address he wanted to "train characters as well as minds".

Notable old boys include:

Paul de Jersey: Governor of Queensland, former chief justice of Queensland

Karl Stefanovic: Gold Logie-winning TV presenter

Clem Jones: Longest-serving lord mayor of Brisbane

David Pocock: Wallabies and Brumbies rugby union player

Stephen Page: Indigenous artistic director, Bangarra Dance Theatre

John Pidgeon: Construction boss (Waterfront Place, Eagle Street Pier, Dockside)

Nick Earls: Award-winning author

Cameron Dick: State minister

Don Argus: Chairman, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Australia advisory board, former chairman BHP Billiton

Dennis Lillie: Former Queensland cricketer and lawyer

Tim Nicholls: Member for Clayfield, former state opposition leader

Bill Glasson: Ophthalmologist, former president Australian Medical Association