A judge ruled in the mother’s favour in a dispute with her ex-husband over whether their child should attend a public or private school.
A judge ruled in the mother’s favour in a dispute with her ex-husband over whether their child should attend a public or private school.

Public v private: Parents' school fight boils over in court

A DIVORCED mother who complained about the "toxic football culture'' of private boys' schools has won the right to send her son to a state high school.

A judge ruled in the mother's favour in a dispute with her ex-husband, who argued that a private education would give their 12-year-old son "routine, discipline and support''.

The woman told the judge that "coeducational schools teach children to understand and relate to both sexes in a much better way than single sex schools.''

She claimed that boys' schools "can develop toxic cultures arising from male chauvinistic attitudes which laud Australian rules football and the machismo culture associated with the sport''.

The father - who had attended a private grammar school - told the judge that a private school education is "inherently preferable to a government school education''.

"He was fortunate to have received a private education and he is aware of the long-term life benefits of the same and wants to afford his children the same opportunity,'' Judge Jillian Williams said in a newly-published Federal Circuit Court judgment.

"(He said) a private education would provide (their son) with routine, structure, discipline and support''.

But the mother insisted the boy attend a coeducational state high school near her Melbourne home.

She told the judge that the Catholic boys' school had a strong football culture and her son "should not attend a school which elevates sporting achievements over academic achievements''.

She said she was an atheist, the father was not religious, and their son had not been baptised.

Their son "should not be overtly or subtly pressured into adopting the Catholic faith'', she told the court.

Judge Williams said it would be "unrealistic and onerous'' for the boy to travel an hour each way on public transport from his mother's house to reach the Catholic school, when he could walk to the state school 500m from her house.

She also had to consider the impact of a religious education.

"I do not consider that it could possibly be in (the boy's) best interest to place him in a school profoundly at odds with his mother's atheism and his father's lack of religious conviction,'' she states in her judgment.

"The benefits for (the boy) attending a school in close proximity to his mother's home and with his friends and children with whom he has attended school for the last five years are considerable.''

Judge Williams said the boy had attended a public co-ed primary school near his mother's house.

But the father said the mother had moved suburbs and chosen the primary school without consulting him.

Judge Williams said the parents had planned to send their children to a more expensive Anglican co-ed high school, but could no longer afford the fees following their divorce seven years ago.

She said the father had offered to pay the Catholic school fees but the mother could not afford to pay half the cost of uniforms and excursions.

The mother felt "that it is important for boys to learn to respect and develop friendships with girls and that is an essential life skill best learnt at a formative age''.

"She is opposed to what she describes as the toxic culture developing at a single-sex school, and in particular one that enthusiastically adopts and lauds the culture of Australian Rules football,'' the judge said.

The judge said there was "no suggestion'' that either school was unsatisfactory.

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