I open my eyes and see the gleaming multi-story building looming before me. 

It’s an awesome design, polished metal meets gleaming glass, a glistening sign proudly announcing itself: “RICHMOND HIGH SCHOOL”.

A staircase beckons and I follow it.   Anticipation, excitement and butterflies in my stomach. 

Could this be all that I hope for, all that my child needs?

I flash forward.   My eldest son Jack stands proudly on a stage receiving his graduation certificate, soaring above the state average.  Like most of his classmates who represent the full social spectrum of our community, he looks relaxed, confident, ready for the rest of his life and whatever that holds.

We’ve done it, the school and everyone involved in its realisation has done it - we designed a school for 21st century learning, and it delivered.  Society’s promises of a innovation and excellence in education fulfilled.

I open my eyes again and realise I’m standing in front of an empty lot - with only the promise of what it might deliver and the same old questions come back to haunt me...

• What is a good education?

• How much do I need to pay for it?

• How do we build schools that deliver it?

• What’s at stake if we fail?

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela

As a parent of two school-aged children, worrying questions play on my mind constantly about the state of Australia’s education system, particularly in the wake of frequent reports indicating that Australia’s education standards are slipping.  As a documentary filmmaker, these questions inspire me to discover the answers and start a social conversation that will have real repercussions on Australia’s future prosperity.

I live in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Richmond and have two boys.  Richmond is on the doorstep of Melbourne city and home to international landmarks including the MCG and Rod Laver Arena, as well as local points-of-interest like the Dimmy’s, The Corner Hotel and The Skipping Girl.  It’s the beloved home to Australian icons like Molly Meldrum, Hamish Blake, Mick Molloy and in generations past Dame Nellie Melba, Saint Mary McKillop and Squizzy Taylor to name just a few.  The suburb is one of Melbourne’s most dynamic, creative and diverse, boasting an infectious sense of community, culture and heritage. 

My family and I love living here.  It has a strong community spirit as well as fantastic pre and primary schools.  But there’s no state high school for boys in Richmond, or anywhere nearby, other than the academically selective Melbourne High or independent single-sex schools like Scotch College and St Kevin’s.  Many of the other parents here are grappling with the same problem.  Some have girls who can go to the sought-after Melbourne Girls College, but anyone with boys is really stuck. 

These families are contemplating a reluctant move to the outer suburbs or bracing themselves for the realities of private schooling - which in this context generally means expensive wait lists, baptism and Catholic primary schools for pragmatic not spiritual reasons, and the reality of after-tax education bills exceeding $500,000 per child.

That was also our reality until recently when the Victorian State Government confirmed that a new high school was to be built in Richmond at a budget of $43 million, the largest single investment into a school of its size in Victoria’s history.  In our household, we celebrated having an option and dared to dream what the prospect of a completely new school might hold for our children.  I quickly visited my local member, Richard Wynne MP, and was inspired by his enthusiasm to build a multi-lingual school of innovation and excellence on my doorstep.

However, the reaction of the other local parents was muted at best.  At Saturday Auskick, on the oval that would be at the doorstep of the school, the news was met with suspicion: “Will it be any good?”, “What will the facilities be like?”,  “Who's going to send their kids there?”

All of these questions have a common subtext, which is: “Will this school be different?  Will it innovate?  Will my kids be safe?  Will they excel?”  It appears that most of us intuitively understand that without innovation in education, we will slip behind in an increasingly connected, complex and changing modern world.

Innovation High is an original series designed to answer these questions. It is aimed at an audience of Australian students and parents, as well as a broader demographic interested in educational excellence.

I hope you enjoy the series and feel inspired to join this social conversation starter about the future of education in Australia.

Mike Hill,
Filmmaker, Moonshine Agency