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The Case for Selective Schools

Posted on 1 August 2018
The Case for Selective Schools
Rather than contributing to inequality in our public schools, selective schools are highlighting the average standards that our community accepts from our public education sector.

While the University of Melbourne's recent study on selective schools suggests there may be only a few marks' advantage for selective school students over what they would have scored in a regular school, let's now spare a thought for the myriad of graduates who lose a university placement due to the dreaded half mark. Marks do matter and moreover they should matter to every student. The difference between regular high schools and the selective school is not just a few marks; it is the culture of learning that underpins them.

The two big cohorts from which selective school students hail from is no surprise. Immigrant children from Asian or Middle Eastern backgrounds are often encouraged and coached by their parents, who know what real life looks like without a first-world education.

They unapologetically declare that after finding peace and freedom in Australia, all they want is an education for their children. To this end they reap exactly what they sow and deserve every success they create for their family and our community at large.

Another large group of selective schooling recipients comes from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

These students, who are typically raised by at least one universityeducated parent, are exposed to every advantage: from a wider vocabulary, more books, music, the arts and the extra academic extension they can pay for.

In the end, the selective school culture upholds the value placed on education by the parents of the students they produce. Parents expect the teachers to be specialists in their fields and to go above and beyond a usual 8am to 4pm teaching day. They expect respectful behaviour from all students who are prepared to put in the hard yards.

And this is exactly what they get.

If every school had teachers as academically capable, experienced and as committed to a culture of learning as selective schools we would all be better off.

And in support for the toughest teachers who spend more of their day in crowd control than actually educating, every single parent has to get on board. Too many parents still congratulate their children on average, half-hearted work. Others refuse to take responsibly for their child's behaviour when they continually interrupt the learning of their classmates. For this generation of children who will enter a job market alongside robots and technologies yet to be invented, a strong work ethic will be essential.

In every school, parents need to question why their child is not performing to their personal best.

Parents have the right to pressure administration to raise the collective bar and move the nonperforming staff on.

Schools need parents to insist on a respect for academic achievement and the teachers who facilitate it.

While students continue to muck about, standards will continue to fall. It is no surprise that in a community with such low expectations, teachers lose the incentive to do their best work.

The selective school community knows that the "near enough is good enough" attitude to education is outdated. Until we raise our expectations we will get exactly what we settle for.

From: Age, Melbourne  by Cynthia Fenton

19 Jul 2018

Cynthia Fenton is a writer and humanities and performing arts teacher.

Tags: curriculum
Michael Lee 80 days ago
I was surprised to find this piece on our website given that if flatters one of the most exclusive and elite forms of schooling available,all fully funded by taxpayers ,few of whom have any chance of getting their children into those schools even if they live across the road. The comment about the quality of the teaching is particularly ignorant and offensive.The students are selected,not the teachers and those who choose to teach there are held to the same Award,standards,PL and registration standards as teachers elsewhere in that sector and in other sectors.Granted the students and parents who access these places may place many more demands and expectations on the teachers. Year 12 results are always a time of hubris,spin and statistics along with celebration and some disappointment.Are we to be so surprised that schools that only take the top 1% of students are really going to dominate the league tables? What should be researched is what happens to the students at those places who don't achieve at this level.These schools have a real gift for turning the top 1% into the top 15%.That deserves to be subsidised by the tax payer doesn't it. Selective schools meet the needs of some students.In doing so they distort cohorts of students at other schools in public education and within our own system,perpetuate a self full filling belief about "excellence" and create a culture quite removed from equity,opportunity for all and the all rounded learning environment that other schools know better contributes to the common good. At a time when parents in our own schools are being judged by the government about " capacity to pay", these schools are populated with some of the wealthiest families in the country getting a free education for their kids away from the great unwashed who are paying for them and it's all being done in the name of public education! There are all kinds of selectivity going on in the enrolement of students into schools.Even in Catholic education there are some who have a preferential option for the rich,smart,athletic student over the refugee or the child with learning or behavioural need.We all know of Catholic schools who pray soooo eloquentally for the poor and the needy but let other Catholic schools(often less resourced and funded) educate them.Indeed the Gonski 2 funding model( iniquitous and lazy model that it is) has raised a number of questions in that regard. Let's be clear;free,secular,compulsory schooling came to this country towards the late 19 th century to educate a workforce and to equip our citizens to navigate their way in a democracy.It came as a consequence of the great reforming zeal of that time which still informs the values and charism driving the culture and direction of many of our schools today.Catholic schools were created to do this too but firstly to support families in raising their children in the faith. Any temptation to do this in a selective manner based on intellectual or athletic ability or on money needs to be resisted,certainly not celebrated.

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