Some time ago I spoke to Craig Keating about his plans for a new secondary school in the center of Melbourne. His plan was to focus on the core academic areas and cater to academically gifted students. He had some interesting ideas for his business, one of which was to pay teachers rates that are typical for private schools (higher rates than government schools) but not have any sport programs in the evenings or weekends (private schools typically require teachers to work every Saturday and one evening every week in coaching a sport). This would therefore give an hourly pay rate that was significantly higher than most private schools offered and would thus allow recruiting some of the most skilled teachers.
One of his ideas was to intentionally keep the school small so that every teacher could know every student. One of the problems with most schools is that they take no feedback from the students. It seems that this serious deficiency would be largely addressed if the teachers knew the students and talked to them.
He pointed out that in the history of our school system (which largely derived from the UK system) the private schools had a lot of sporting activities as a way of filling time for boarding students, given that few schools accept boarders (and those that do have only a small portion of the students boarding) the sports are just a distraction from study. This is not to say that sports are inherently bad or should be avoided. He encouraged parents to take their children to sporting activities that suit the interests of the child and the beliefs of the parents instead of having the child be drafted into a school sport and the parents being forced to take an unwilling child to sporting activities that they detest (which I believe is a common school experience).
My own observation of school sport is that it is the epicentre of school bullying. There is an inherent risk of getting hurt when engaging in a sport. Some children get hurt every lesson, an intelligent person who ran a school with an intensive sports program might statistically analyse the injuries incurred and look for patterns. Children who are not good at sport are targeted for attack, for example when I was in year 7 (the first year of high school) one of my friends was assigned to the “cork bobbing” team in the swimming contest – this involved a contest to collect corks floating in the toddler pool for the students who were really bad at swimming. At that moment I knew that my friend would leave the school as the teachers had set him up for more intensive bullying than he could handle. Yet somehow the government still seems to believe that school sports are good!
This is not to say that physical activity is bad, the PE 4 Life program  (which is given a positive review in the movie Supersize Me ) seems useful. It has a focus on fitness for everyone rather than pointless competition for the most skilled.
I have just seen a sad announcement on the Keating College web site  that they will not be opening next year (and probably not opening at all). The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VCRA) announced in November that the application to be registered as a school (which was submitted in March) was rejected.
The first reason for the rejection was the lack of facilities for teaching woodwork and metalwork. As the VCRA apparently has no problems registering girls’ schools that don’t teach hard maths (a teacher at one such school told me that not enough girls wanted to study maths) it seems unreasonable to deny registration to a school that doesn’t teach some crafts subjects and caters to students who aren’t interested in those areas.
The second reason was the lack of facilities for sport and PE. Given the number of gyms in the city area it seems most likely that if specific objections were provided eight months earlier then something could have been easily arranged to cover the health and fitness issues. When I spoke to Craig he had specific plans for using the city baths, gyms, and parks for sporting activities, I expect that most parents who aren’t sports fanatics would find that his plans for PE were quite acceptable.
The third reason is the claim that 600 square meters of office space is only enough to teach one class of 24 students. That would mean that 25 square meters is needed for each student! I wonder if students are expected to bring their own binoculars to see the teacher or whether the school is expected to provide them. :-#
The government has a list of schools that work with the Australian Institute of Sport . These schools provide additional flexibility in studies for athletes and probably some other benefits that aren’t mentioned in the brief web page. I don’t object to such special facilities being made available for the small number of students who might end up representing Australia in the Olympics at some future time. But I think that a greater benefit could be provided to a greater number of students if there were a number of schools opened to focus on the needs of students who are academically gifted. This doesn’t require that the government spend any money (they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the AIS), merely that they not oppose schools that want to focus on teaching.
Currently the government is trying to force Internet censorship upon us with the claim that it will “protect children” . It seems obvious to me that encouraging the establishment of schools such as Keating College will protect children from bullying (which is a very real threat and is the direct cause of some suicides). While so far no-one has shown any evidence that censoring the net will protect any child.
-  http://www.pe4life.org/
-  http://etbe.coker.com.au/2006/09/22/supersize-me/
-  http://www.keatingcollege.com.au/
-  https://secure.ausport.gov.au/asc_internet/ais/scholarships/ais_athlete_career_and_education/ais_ace_-_what_we_do/educational_guidance
-  http://etbe.coker.com.au/2008/11/18/other-reasons-for-not-censoring/