A Move To Make Selective Schools Application Fairer

selective school test and selective school campus

There are ongoing news stating the the New South Wales government is changing some rules with regarding the results of selective school test. This news got a mixed review from parents. There many who are in favour for it while many are also not in favour. 

According to The Conversation, the state government of New South Wales has just announced a comprehensive revamp of its selective school program. As of the 2023 incoming class, up to 20% of the available spaces will be reserved for students from underprivileged backgrounds. This is in reaction to long-standing complaints that these prestigious public schools were dominated by pupils from privileged families. But is this modification sufficient? How else can we assure that all kids have an equal opportunity at a coveted spot at a prestigious school?

What do selective schools entail?

Selective schools are public high schools that require pupils to take an entrance exam in grade six in order to be enrolled in grade seven. In New South Wales, the exam assesses English, mathematics, and “thinking skills” (largely based on logical reasoning). It is exceedingly difficult to obtain a spot. Many parents consider selective schools as a road to success due to the fact that they rank among the state’s top 12th grade test performers.

The number of applicants to elite high schools rose from 14,961 in 2019 to 15,660 in 2023 for 4,248 available spots. The first selective high school began in 1849, and among them are some of the oldest institutions in New South Wales. Since the 1980s, the number of selective schools in the state has expanded, and there are presently 51 completely or partially selective institutions (this is compared to just four in Victoria).

Their goal is to provide brilliant children who may not receive the same stimulation in a traditional classroom with a stimulating atmosphere and a group of like-minded peers. While the curriculum may be expedited, the school’s structure is identical to that of any other public school. Both the teachers and the facilities are public school personnel.

Selective schools favor just a few talented pupils
selective school test applicants in a classroom

According to the findings of a research conducted by the Department of Education in New South Wales in 2018, the admissions process for elite schools desperately needs major updates. It was determined that “unintended barriers” in the application process may prevent certain students from applying, particularly those students who come from households with low incomes, students who are indigenous, students who have impairments, and students who live in rural or remote areas.

Researchers, including myself, have also pointed out how selective high schools are among the most “socio-educationally” advantaged institutions in the state, surpassing even the most prominent private schools in terms of this advantage. An individual may have a socio-educational advantage depending on their parents’ level of education and career, as well as the geographical location of their school and the percentage of Indigenous kids enrolled there.

An important announcement

This news, taken as a whole, is a very big and positive move overall. Since the release of the 2018 study, the state administration has not made any attempt to meaningfully address these equity concerns until now. This is the first time they have done so.

However, this is not the full solution, and it is important to pay attention to the specifics.

One of the most important issues is developing new targeted campaigns with the intention of encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to submit applications for exclusive spots. For instance, in April, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the number of Indigenous students who applied, were offered, and accepted places was at its lowest level in four years, with only 29 students accepting a spot in 2018, compared with 48 in 2018. This was a significant decrease from the previous year’s number of students who accepted a place in 2017.

The success of this whole initiative is dependent on the students actually submitting applications to these colleges in the first place. If they don’t put in an application, then these positions will be open to the general public again.

The Department of Education in New South Wales has a “program of work in place to enhance awareness […] in under-represented communities,” according to a representative for the department. However, because this modification has only just been announced and will take effect immediately (beginning with the students who will enter the program the following year), there has not been an opportunity to inform students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their families about the new regulations.

What about the many methods in which one can apply?

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If there was a wider variety of techniques (other than the application procedure) to identify candidates, this would increase the likelihood of students coming from a wide variety of different backgrounds being accepted into prestigious institutions.

One solution would be to give elementary schools the authority to recommend pupils with exceptional abilities or promise who may not otherwise apply. After all, there will always be a subset of low-income families who just won’t think about filling out the application or studying for the test.

After that comes the examination.

The exam has been modified in order to make it less “coachable,” with less of a focus placed on mathematics and more of an emphasis placed on English. But what I’ve seen through my study is that the coaching business has reacted, for instance by giving students access to hundreds of sample questions designed to test their “thinking abilities.”

Kids who are skilled at testing and who have been coached to complete this specific exam are going to have an advantage in the admissions process since the criteria favor them. In and of itself, this is advantageous for families who have the resources (time and money) to prepare their children for the examination.

The test only measures a limited scope of abilities, despite the fact that the “potential” ability is defined in the high potential and gifted education policy of the New South Wales government as including not only intellectual capabilities, but also creative, social-emotional, and physical capabilities. The exam that prospective students of prestigious institutions take does not identify those individuals who possess these qualities.

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