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Arabella works hard to reach top

Means test selective parents

Web watch a net gain

Class list
SMH – Sunday, 4 Mar 2012 – Page 7

ARABELLA NOAKES will sit the selective high school placement test with almost 14,000 other students.

The year 6 pupil at Stanwell Park Public School will compete on March 15 for one of the 4127 selective places available in NSW.

Her mother, Jude, is taking a relaxed approach to the exam, encouraging her 12-year-old but not placing undue pressure on her.

‘‘ She seems reasonably comfortable with the idea of doing the test because she quite likes a challenge ,’’ Mrs Noakes said. ‘‘ She’s not too stressed at the moment but she might get more nervous as the days tick by. She hasn’t said she’s worried about it.’’

Children sitting the test can list up to four selective schools on their application. The Noakes family favours Smith’s Hill High School in Wollongong because it is close to their home.

If Arabella misses out, Mrs Noakes says ‘‘ it’s not the end of the world because there are a number of other high schools in the area which are very good’’ . The family attended an open day at Smith’s Hill and ‘‘ Arabella really liked it. I don’t think Smith’s Hill has some of the pressures of the other selective high schools.

‘‘ I didn’t want her to go to a selective school and then have all this pressure to work, work, work.

‘‘ I wanted her to have a broad education. That way she can do all the things she loves such as sport and drama and music and art as well as the core subjects.’’

Rachel Browne

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
THE families of children attending selective public high schools are among the most affluent, prompting questions about the equity of the system and whether parents should face a means-tested levy.

Entry to a selective school is based on academic performance, but data from the federal government’s My School website shows that children whose parents are from higher social and educational backgrounds are over-represented , while those from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly under-represented .

Educators call it apartheid within the public school system, and a leading private school principal, Timothy Hawkes, has suggested wealthy families with children in selective public schools should make an extra financial contribution to the education system through a means-tested levy.

My School publishes every school’s distribution of students across the different quarters of socio-educational advantage from top to bottom. For example, At James Ruse Agricultural High School, the state’s top performer academically, almost 60 per cent of its students come from the top quarter while only 4 per cent come from the bottom.

Hornsby Girls High School has the highest proportion of students from affluent backgrounds in the selective system with 68 per cent. Just 1 per cent of students come from the lowest quarter.

Normanhurst Boys High School has a similar profile with just 2 per cent of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and 66 per cent in the most advantaged.

Selective schools in less affluent areas of the state are not immune from the pattern. Penrith High School takes 5 per cent of its students from the bottom quarter while 56 per cent come from the top.

A strong supporter of public education , former principal of Asquith Boys High School Chris Bonnor, now fellow of the think tank Centre for Policy Development, said equal access to the selective system based on academic merit was a fallacy.

‘‘ There is a bit of an urban myth which has been peddled that selective schools take students from a wide range of social backgrounds but in reality they don’t ,’’ he said.

‘‘ There is a disproportionate number of children from high socioeducational families in selective schools and that doesn’t change when you look at selective schools in middle- to lower-class suburbs.’’

The social status of children attending selective schools is similar to those attending some of the state’s most exclusive private schools.

Mr Bonnor called for a review of the selective school system.

The headmaster at The King’s School in Parramatta, Dr Hawkes, said the wealthy parents of children attending selective schools should make a fairer financial contribution through a payment that would work in a similar way to the Medicare levy.

‘‘ There is an imperative for parents who send their children to selective schools to make a contribution if, and only if, they have the financial means to do so,’’ he said.

‘‘ There is no question that there will be a number of families who are doing it tough and have children in selective state schools.

‘‘ These examples will invariably be trotted out and presented as a reason why this idea is inappropriate but these sorts of parents are often in the minority.’’

NSW has the highest number of selective schools in Australia with 17 fully selective schools, 25 partially selective schools, four selective agricultural schools and an online selective program.

A specialist in school systems at the University of Melbourne, Professor Richard Teese, believes the high number of selective schools in NSW has led to a two-tier public system.

‘‘ It’s a form of social segregation based on academic selection,’’ he said. ‘‘ Selective high schools are a way of multiplying social advantage.’’

‘‘ There is an intensification of disadvantage at the other end.’’

The deputy chairman of the Public Schools Principals Forum, Brian Chudleigh, said David Gonski’s federal school funding review, which recommended a student-based , rather than school-based , funding model would help close the gap between the haves and have-nots .

‘‘ In theory, enrolment at a selective school is based on academic merit,’’ he said.

‘‘ Unfortunately, that nexus between socio-economic status and enrolment in selective schools is plain for all to see. The Gonski approach to funding would go a long way to helping that situation.

‘‘ It’s clearly an equity issue. Children from less fortunate backgrounds , while they may be just as intelligent as children from more affluent homes, struggle to compete right from the word go.’’

iPad — The roll call

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
When My School was launched in 2010, the demand was so great the website crashed within hours. From a particular school’s performance in the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests to its income and the socioeducational backgrounds of its students, the data is there for all to analyse.

A lecturer in education at the University of Sydney , Dr Helen Proctor , said: ‘‘ On one hand I think it’s really damaging to rank schools, especially when you consider the small number of subjects that are being ranked. Statistically , 50 per cent of schools will always be below average.

‘‘ On the other hand, the site provides a rich seam of information which will hopefully helps policymakers create a fairer education system for all.’’

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald

The distribution of students at selective high schools ranked on socio-educational advantage by My School.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald