The great trek to prep: The city kids travelling up to 30km for school

BURNSIDE ,AUSTRALIA 28 JANUARY 2018: Photo of Nermein Gouda ,Ramy Gouda (Dad) with their children, Marcus Gouda 5 yrs with his sister Martina Gouda 9 yrs, wearing their Wesley College uniform outside their home in Burnside on Sunday 28 January 2018. Photo ; Mediaculture/Luis Enrique Ascui
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Marcus Gouda will have to wake up at 6am on to get to his prep class on time.

On a good day, the 30-kilometre trek from Burnside Heights in Melbourne’s outer north-west to Wesley College’s St Kilda Road campus takes 45 minutes.

On a bad day, it’s a 1.5-hour crawl.

“The long-distance travel can get stressful, but we somehow manage,” Marcus’s father Ramy said.

The family has a seamless morning routine which it perfected when eldest daughter Martina started at Wesley in 2013.

Lunch boxes and bags are packed the night before and clean uniforms are laid out. There’s no last-minute homework at the breakfast table.

When the clock hits 7, Marcus and Martina will jump into the car with their mother Nermein.

Nermein, an occupational therapist, found work in Prahran to make the commute more viable. “My vision is to provide the best education for my children,” she said.

“I enjoy the trip now because I get to spend a lot of time with the kids talking and discussing different topics. They also do some reading or watch movies.”

As thousands of Victorian children return to school from Tuesday, Marcus will be one of the many students who are bypassing their local school in favour of one further afield.

A 2017 Auditor-General’s report revealed that 52.3 per cent of state primary enrolments and 53.3 per cent of state secondary enrolments come from outside the local school catchment.

The latest Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity found that the average distance for primary school journeys is four kilometres, which increases to seven kilometres for secondary school travel and 19 kilometres for tertiary travel.

But it’s not known how many students are prepared to travel as far as Marcus to attend the school of their choice.

Ramy said his family can’t afford to live closer to Wesley. He believes the education his children are receiving is a good pay off for the lengthy commute of up to three hours a day.

“Like any family, we want our children to achieve the best,” he said. “If we don’t do the best for them we can’t take the time back.”

Marcus isn’t fussed by the travel. “I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and doing homework,” the five-year-old said.

Emma Rowe, a lecturer in education at Deakin University, said n parents were willing to make great sacrifices to access their school of choice.

She said perceived gaps in school quality had created a marketplace, where families shopped around for the best school. But she warned that this could lead to segregation.

“They will see one school as a no go, and then another as very high quality, and will put all their time and energy into it,” she said.

“It’s a bit of a fantasy that a school will offer everything. All the teachers come from the same place.”

On the other side of town, the Gillies family is about to restart ts 15-kilometre school run from Footscray West to Fitzroy North.

This year, Mason Gillies will start prep at Fitzroy Community School, an independent, alternative primary school that his older brother Cooper already attends.

The children have created Spotify play lists for the 45-minute car journey, which involves whizzing down back streets to avoid peak hour traffic.

Their mother, Jackie, was initially concerned about living so far away from the school. But she said weekly afternoon teas at the school, sporting events and a once-a-term potluck dinner for families had made her feel part of the community.

She was attracted to the school because of its focus on the whole child – “not just the academic side” – small classes, diverse student cohort and free lessons, where children can pursue their own interests.

“It operates a lot like a school in Finland,” she said.

The daily commute is set to intensify once the children reach high school.

It’s likely that they will attend John Marsden’s Alice Miller School in Macedon, a trip that will involve a V/Line train journey and then a shuttle bus into the bush.

“People are willing to look for a style of education for their children that matches their values,” Jackie said.

“Travelling is the easy part if the kids are happy.”

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