Thousands of NSW students are nervously awaiting the results of their selective school tests following a significant overhaul of the admissions process.
- About 4,000 parents have signed an online petition against the change
- Some parents say they would have approached the admissions process differently if they had been informed about the change
- Education expert and parents worry the new policy will put more pressure on families to undertake extra tutoring
Last month, NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell announced up to 20 per cent of places at selective schools would be set aside for disadvantaged students.
North Sydney resident Bruce Fan is one of many parents now worried their children may miss out on a spot at their dream school due to the new policy.
Mr Fan started an online petition calling on the government to scrap the new policy and redo the public consultation.
“It is unfair that the policy has been retrospectively implemented on the students who have already sat the tests this year,” he said.
Mr Fan said the online petition was not about stopping the government from helping the disadvantaged groups but urging the government to invest more funding into the public education system.
“I firmly believe that we need to support the disadvantaged communities and students, but this quota is not the right solution,” he said.
“The government should set up more selective schools in lower socio-economic areas.”
Kellyville resident Yashwant Desai, one of more than 4,000 signatories to the petition, said he too believed the change was unfair.
“It’s not giving everyone a fair go,” said Mr Desai, whose children have already been accepted into a selective school.
“What the government is doing is just for political advantage and to gain the most sympathetic votes.
“Why are only selective schools being targeted?” he asked, echoing Mr Fan’s call for the government to invest more in public schools where disadvantaged students lived.
Changes intended to make selective schools fairer
Selective high schools are designed to cater for the needs of gifted students, or those with high potential, by providing specialized teaching methods and materials.
The 49 selective schools in NSW often outperform expensive private schools and dominate HSC leaderboards.
But the only way to get into one is to compete with thousands of other students on the state-run entry tests.
In 2023, 15,660 students applied for 4,248 places.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education told the ABC in an email the changes were based on an extensive 2018 NSW government review about making the overall system fairer.
Ten per cent of the reserved places will be for low socio-educational advantage students, 5 per cent for Aboriginal students, 2.5 per cent for rural and remote students, and 2.5 per cent for students with a disability.
The new equity placement model replaces previous provisions for disadvantaged students in the scoring and placement process in a more transparent way, the spokesperson said.
The NSW government defines the disadvantaged group based on the Index of Community Socio-educational Advantage (ICSEA) that scales the social-educational backgrounds of a school’s students, such as parents’ occupation and education, rather than school wealth.
Parents angry about timing
In 2022, the NSW selective school’s entrance test was held on March 31.
All participating families then had to choose up to three schools in order of preference and finalize their choices by April 24.
Because the policy was announced in July, the students who took the test this year were not able to take into account the change when they were choosing their school preferences.
Hurstville resident Carrie Zhang’s son is one of the students who might be affected.
Ms Zhang explained the family’s choice of schools was made strategically, and would be jeopardized by the new procedure.
She said her son might now miss out on his “safety net” school.
“The government changed the rules after the test and the window period that we can change our choice of schools,” she said.
“If we knew earlier, we may change our strategy to pick schools that require lower admission scores.”
The government says any remaining reserved places not taken up by disadvantaged students will be offered to general applicants.
But Ms Zhang said this wasn’t good enough.
“My son’s ranking will go down,” she said.
“We have been forced [to accept it] and have no choice.”
Changes to make schools ‘more equitable’
The NSW Education Department’s 2018 review found disproportionately few applications to selective schools were coming from students from low socio-economic backgrounds, aboriginal students, those with a disability and students from rural and remote areas.
Penrith Selective High School Principal Mark Long told the ABC the policy would see a broadening of students attending his school.
“I’m really happy that all of the work by so many people over a long period of time is now in policy and will allow schools, and school leaders and school communities, to really serve the broader communities in NSW,” he said.
Associate Professor Christina Ho, an education expert at the University of Technology Sydney, said the policy was a big step forward in solving the imbalance in selective schools.
“Across the fully selective schools in New South Wales, about 2 per cent come from disadvantaged backgrounds, the lowest quarter of the socio-educational advantage,” she said.
“And given that these are public schools, I think the government is right to be concerned about that and to try to make the schools more equitable.”
Changes could make ‘problematic phenomenon’ worse
However, Dr Ho said she was concerned the policy might exacerbate the “problematic phenomenon” of after-class tutoring.
The 2018 review found that students from families who could afford after-class tutoring and coaching performed better on the test.
“It actually worries me a lot how much money and time some of the families are spending on tutoring centres, especially when the children are not actually learning any new content,” Dr Ho said.
“I do worry if this policy is going to increase that anxiety among families because they feel that the competition is even higher now than it was before.”
Mr Fan said some of his friends’ families were already consulting with the coaching centers and appeared likely to assign their children more homework.
“There will be more competition among students, and their parents will let them take more coaching classes when the demand increases,” he said.