Schoolies Week Returns and Australian Education Standards

This is a post that was originally an article in Australia and New Zealand magazine. I usually reprint articles about a month or so after they’ve appeared in print, but this one was featured in the magazine’s February 2012 issue. I’ve been holding back for a reason, because this week is Schoolies Week.

Now, at this point I should have a picture of schoolies frolicking around and having fun, just like the magazine did…

schooliesBut if I had have driven down to the Gold Coast with a camera and taken pictures of said schoolies jumping up and down and enjoying themselves, I would have been a toolie. So instead, here’s a picture of a cuddly koala…

A cuddly koala… and if you don’t know what I meant by “I would have been a toolie”, read on…

Schoolies Week

What do I think of schools in Australia? A lot of people tell me they are concerned about the quality of education here, believing it can’t possibly be as good as back in the UK. Not true. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a highly respected organisation which evaluates education systems worldwide, Australia is doing pretty good. They release their quite comprehensive findings every three years.

When I first wrote about them, their latest figures were from 2006. At that time, Australia beat the UK and the USA in science, mathematics and reading. I’ve just checked the 2009 reports and Australia wins all three again. Better than that, my daughter Elizabeth has now completed 3 full years at school. She goes to school smiling; she comes out of school smiling. She loves it! So, if you’re concerned about education and schools in Australia, there is nothing to worry about.

Oh, except for this. Schoolies! When your child leaves school, as in leaving for the very last time to go and join the big wide world, they celebrate. They celebrate big! The event is called ‘Schoolies Week’; those who go are called ‘schoolies’ and it’s a bit of a tradition in these parts. Kids from schools all over Australia have a one week holiday away from their homes and their parents, probably for the first time in their lives.

Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, for example, is a top destination. Thousands of school leavers descended upon that particular hotspot at the end of the last school year. Boys and girls, 17 and 18 years old, away from home; partying late into the night; drinking as much alcohol as they can get their hands on; all of them from different schools from different parts of the country.

Is this an act of madness?

For a start, 17-year-olds consuming alcohol is against the law and that law is enforced during these celebrations. So there’s one problem. But surely that’s only the beginning?

Drunken kids from hundreds of difference schools all in one place, staying up late! That can only lead to one thing; street brawls on a massive scale. But strangely, here, it doesn’t. Strangely, the kids have a great time. They are helped by an army of adult volunteers who have all been cleared under the Blue Card system.

The task of these volunteers is to “support and assist schoolies to have an enjoyable, but ultimately, safe time”. There is also a huge police presence and they genuinely want the schoolies to have a good time too. Not everyone is there to help though. Some people, who have long left school, turn up and try to join in on the fun.

They are called, amusingly, ‘toolies’.

The event isn’t trouble free; there are some arrests, but not many. The highest number I’ve seen quoted for last years event was 140, mostly for public nuisance or alcohol related offences. That’s pretty good out of an estimated 35,000! And as a rule, there are usually more toolies arrested than schoolies.

Schoolies is controversial, not everyone is a fan. Some people want it banned; they think it IS an act of madness. In some countries, it would be, but here, it seems to work.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Kathryn November 26, 2012, 10:11 pm | Link

    Good bit of advice, Bob. I also think people should be warned about the “Toolies” which is the name given to older boys (in their early to mid 20’s) who frequent the well-known celebratory areas for the Schoolies, ie the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. The Toolies are known to “prey” on the young, vulnerable female schoolies (who are generally aged around 18). I am not sure how things are up in Queensland but there have been documented problems with predatory Toolies down here spiking girl’s drinks etc. Young schoolies are vulnerable because they are impressionable, think they are bullet-proof, their judgement is impaired because of their age and the ill effects of too much alcohol (and/or illegal drugs) and the fact that they are, by and large, completely unsupervised by responsible adults. There has been a lot of tragic incidents in the news lately (with kids falling off balconies and getting into fights). When my kids left school, I refused to let them go to the Gold Coast or Byron Bay (the two worst areas) and, instead, permitted them to go to the quieter areas of the south coast of NSW where they were not influenced by huge unruly crowds of uncontrolled Schoolies. Of course, it is impossible to tie your children to apron strings once they hit 18 but, hopefully, they are made aware of the dangers out there and that they don’t take silly risks (fingers crossed).

    • BobinOz November 27, 2012, 11:52 pm | Link

      I think when I looked at the figures last year, more toolies got arrested than schoolies, that tells a story in itself. I have also heard that some kids fly out to Bali to celebrate schoolies week, if that’s the case, all of sudden the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and the like all seem much better options.

      For most schoolies, it’s just a fantastic week. For a very very small minority, it can end badly or, as you mentioned, even tragically for one or two. But tragedies happen every day, probably to 17 and 18-year-olds, whether it is schoolies week or not. So no, we can’t tie our children to apron strings at this age, l think should allow them to have this week of celebrations. For all parents though, it’s a very long and worrying week to live through.

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