Rich kids rule at selective schooling

Rebecca Urban February 11, 2018
NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes. Picture: Jenny Evans
NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes. Picture: Jenny Evans

A push to make academically selective schools accessible to all students regardless of intellectual abilities has been bolstered by fresh data suggesting the sector is overwhelmingly catering for students from highly privileged backgrounds.

Analysis by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria shows that on average 70 per cent of students attending selective-entry schools in Sydney and Melbourne come from the top quartile of the population, as measured by socio-educational advantage.

There are three Sydney schools — Northern Beaches Secondary College, Normanhurst Boys’ High and Hornsby Girls’ High — where four out of five students are classified as being in the top quartile.

At Normanhurst and Hornsby, which prides itself on its diverse multicultural population, just 1 per cent of students are considered to be in the bottom quartile.

The analysis, released by the CECV as part of an ongoing campaign over federal education funding changes, coincides with a NSW Department of Education review of its gifted and talented student policy, including the nature and effectiveness of the tests used to identify suitable candidates for academically selective schools and opportunity classes amid claims that some wealthy families have been investing in expensive tutoring in order to prepare their children for the entry tests.

There are 21 fully selective high schools in NSW — more than any other state — and 25 partially selective high schools. Victoria has four selective schools.

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes has flagged the idea of opening up selective schools to local students rather than “deliberately separating children on the basis that some are gifted and talented and others are not”.

According to the CECV’s report, selective-entry government schools have become highly exclusive; educating students from highly advantaged families and specifically excluding students who are not high-achievers.

CECV executive director Stephen Elder said the selective school system deprived the schools that those students would otherwise attend of positive influencers and lowered levels of academic achievement.

‘‘Students in other public schools also suffer because the huge subsidies going to selective-entry schools means there is less funding available for the schools that really need it,” Mr Elder said.

Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented vice-president Melinda Gindy said there were questions around whether the testing process was reaching “all students of all social, economic and geographical locations”.

Ms Gindy, whose organisation has backed the departmental review, said the system needed to ensure “equality of access”.

“What’s happening is children who are gifted, as in having that natural ability in that top 10 per cent of that population, are missing out on a position in a selective school or an opportunity class for a range of reasons,” she said.

“Maybe they don’t perform well in tests or they are geographically isolated, or they might come from a poor family whose priority is paying rent or getting food on the table,’’ Ms Gindy said.