School Days are the Happiest of Your Life

”You’ll look back on your school days as the happiest days of your life”.

Is that what your parents said to you when you were a child?  It’s all too easy to look back with rose-coloured glasses, isn’t it?  But it’s a somewhat different perspective to that often portrayed by authors and scriptwriters.  A brief foray into the way school life is depicted in some books and films reveals a more complex picture. 

There Are Worse Things I Could Do1

Let’s start with the acid-tongued Betty Rizzo, the teenage leader of the Pink Ladies in the 1978 musical comedy film, Grease, who worries she might be pregnant. Then there’s Jenny, the lead character in An Education, a 2009 film based on the bestselling memoir by Lynn Barber, which tells the true story of how she was seduced as a 16-year-old schoolgirl by an older man and almost threw away her university career.

In perhaps one of the earliest stories of school life, Tom Brown’s School Days; we follow Tom, who becomes unruly and is frequently in trouble after his bullying by an older student.  And in if … a British drama film set in late-sixties England; Malcolm McDowell plays one of three non-conformist boys who enact a chilling revenge after being persecuted by older boys. 

The quick mention of four well-known book and film portrayals of school life is simply meant to illustrate that the move from school life to work or tertiary education isn’t always plain sailing.  In 2020, school life has been anything other than straightforward.

Will Bayside’s students look back on recent school days as the happiest days of their life? 

For a large part of 2020 face-to-face school learning didn’t happen.  Schools remained open only through virtual learning on Zoom or similar platforms. 

According to an independent report by consultancy Learning First2, student absentee rates increased week on week during Victoria’s first phase of remote learning.  Absentee rates for secondary school students were about one in seven for students in years 7 to 10 by week eight of remote learning. In some cases, across Victoria, where students were not engaging, school staff were required to visit children’s homes after parents failed to return calls or emails.

Even before the recent disruption, we knew from a 2018 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that only 81% of boys stay in school until the end of Year 12 compared to 89% of girls.3  It’s not difficult to identify that, even before this latest remote home study period, a significant number of students are dropping out of school before completing year 12. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?4

There are many reasons why students leave school early.  There’s no one dominant factor; although, family factors, such as family grief and loss, parental unemployment, family break down or relationship conflict, play a big role.5 We’re certainly not suggesting that the storylines of Grease, An Education, Tom Brown’s School Days or if… throw any light on the matter!  

Zero School Dropouts

Beaumaris Rotary decided earlier this year to provide financial support to assist ‘at-risk’ or ‘disengaging’ high school students in Bayside.  Was that timely or what? 

We want to see all young Australians complete year 12 basic education and be better prepared for employment or further education opportunities. Because we’re ambitious, we’re calling it our ‘Zero School Dropout’ project.

Let’s be frank; although, we have a number of former principals and teachers amongst our Club Members, we are not the experts.  We recognise that a range of solutions is needed.  That’s why we are giving our local schools full autonomy to identify what’s needed to assist ‘at-risk’ or ‘disengaging’ students. 

It’s not a ‘hands-on’ Rotary project.  It’s funding, which goes a little way towards some of the things that are needed to improve student engagement. The school will decide how they invest the funds: the provision of one-to-one counselling and support, recruitment and training of wellbeing staff, group programs, parent consultations and more. And, until they tell us otherwise, we respect their request for confidentiality about which schools and how they go about making things happen! 

Let’s finish where we started — with Grease.  Remember Rizzo? The ‘tough girl’ hiding her vulnerability, struggling to find her place in high school, and worried she might be pregnant?  Things worked out well for Rizzo despite a lack of support.  She was lucky.  And like all the cast, she finished high school.  As we know, real life doesn’t always have a Paramount Pictures ending!

Want to get involved and ‘Make a Difference’?  For a casual catch up and to learn more about Rotary, please contact Megan: Tel: 0418 578 114

Megan’s our Beaumaris Rotary Membership Director.  The title sounds a little formal but trust us, she’s the friendliest person you’ll ever meet! 

1 There Are Worse Things I Could Do  performed by Stockard Channing

2 Learning First is an education research and consulting group. 

3 Source:

4 Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? by The Clash

5 Source: Australian Govt: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Family factors in early school leaving. Elly Robinson & Veronica Meredith. July 2013.