This blog comes to you from…

Surry Hills NSW*, from my ACER Extensa 4230 with extra memory added and running Windows 7. You really wanted to know that, eh! But there’s more…

... now using my favourite Canberra photo from 6 February.

* Surry Hills link leads to the excellent new “About NSW” site. Thanks to LYNNE SANDERS-BRAITHWAITE for introducing the site.

Ongoing thoughts from others on My School and related matters

So my article for the South Sydney Herald is due in five days time and I have two interviews yet to do. Yesterday’s at SBHS was both amusing and fruitful. The priority the Principal gives My School can be summed up in his own words: “I haven’t looked at it.” But he is interested in the comparative socioeconomic data.

Yesterday Maralyn Parker published  My School evidence – NSW selective schools have been hijacked, a very interesting read of the situation in NSW. I notice my former colleague and fellow blogger Maximos has endorsed what she says.

I’m impressed by this article.  I think it’s a sound contribution to the discussion.  Particularly, by implication, the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on educational outcomes.

As a former project Officer for the NSW Disadvantaged Schools Program, back in the 1980s, I’m very clear on the impact of socio-economic disadvantage. It’s definitely time there was a policy response to this in NSW. We do need to “updated entry process” so it’s not simply a matter of who has the money for a ‘ticket to the game’.

Frankly, if it hadn’t been for the pre-Whitlam scholarship system, there’s no way I’d have had access to a tertiary education.

Ms Parker’s main point is:

… The most troubling revelation is the selective schools taking the least number of students from the bottom quarter are on the North Shore_ where the highest concentration of selective schools are located.

As for how that translates into numbers of students _ at 4 per cent, only about 32 of the 843 students at James Ruse High School in Carlingford, the most academically successful school in the state, are from the bottom quarter of households as measured by the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) on the My School website…

It is time for the NSW government to change the decades old selective school entry process to make it equitable.

I believe disadvantage should become one of the key measures that gets a child a place in a selective school. We need an updated entry process where the ability of parents to pay thousands of dollars to have their children coached in taking selective school tests should at last become irrelevant…

Our suspicions about who gets into selective schools have been confirmed. Out there still is the doubt that selective schools add value.

The My School website will be worth every bit of the angst it has created if eventually it makes that transparent.

If one turns to the Sydney Morning Herald (8 February) one finds an article by former Liberal MP Ross Cameron.

The comprehensive public school classroom is an unreformed rotten borough of public policy. The My School website represents the first significant, successful reform of the Rudd/Gillard era and a welcome departure from decades of union resistance to desperately needed educational change.

Education is a sector sufficiently charged with mythology and vested interests that it’s virtually impossible for us to tell each other the truth. At the risk of unfairly disparaging a legion of inspirational teachers, I will now have a crack at that task.

Education in NSW is delivered in five distinct packages: state selective schools, elite private schools, other independent schools (Anglican, Muslim, other religious and non-religious), the Catholic parochial schools, and the state comprehensive schools. The competing power centres, in order of influence, are the NSW Department of Education, the education unions, the federal Ministry of Education (essentially a funding and testing body), principals, teachers and parents.

Four out of five pistons are firing – all effort must now be concentrated on lifting the teaching and learning environment of the comprehensive public school…

What he forgets is that the private schools and (even more so) the unprecedented growth in NSW of selective and specialist schools have created comprehensive schools that in the cities at least are no longer comprehensive. Rather, they increasingly resemble the “junior techs” of pre-Wyndham days – a distinctly lower caste. Given that, the performance of many of these schools in NAPLAN tests may often in fact be admirable. Generally speaking the private system is not obliged to teach all comers; the state system is.

A third article by novelist John Marsden really gets down to the reality of how to judge a school. 😉

… Conversations with parents should be treated with caution, as their views are often based on issues too subjective. If a teacher has, at any time in the previous 12 months, raised the faintest suspicion about the veracity of Angus’s story of having his lunch money stolen by a gang of grade 2 thugs armed with AK-47s, one or more of Angus’s parents may be irredeemably prejudiced against the school.

The other way of evaluating the real worth of a school is to gain access to its two least accessible rooms: the kids’ toilets and the staff room. God forbid you should even hint that you want to see inside the kids’ toilets, unless you want the SWAT squad to be called, and then find your face, or, more accurately, a photographic image of your face, on the front page of the tabloids the very next day. But try to arrange for the building to be cordoned off while you sneak a look inside. What you want to see is facilities that are sparkling clean, no graffiti, good quality toilet paper that will be soft on your little one’s bum, and fragrant soap. What you don’t want to see is a vile and smelly place that induces instant constipation in all who venture near.

The quality of the lavatory facilities is the single best indicator of the respect in which children are held in a school; far better than any number of glossy brochures stuffed with photos carefully staged to show what the school believes will be most attractive to the customers they want to enrol.

If you are able to talk your way into the staff room, make sure your nostrils are quivering and your senses on full alert. A drab staff room populated by dispirited teachers is a red alert…

So true, in my experience!

  • Thanks are due to Marcellous (via comment) and Maralyn Parker (via Twitter) for correcting my major error on Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage.