Australian selective public schools: NSW plans broader test to throw the school gates wide open

Australian selective public schools: NSW plans broader test to throw the school gates wide open, by Rosemary Neill.

Christina Ho admits she has given her forthcoming research paper, Angry Anglos and Aspirational Asians, a contentious title.

Ho, a senior lecturer in the University of Technology Sydney’s arts and social sciences faculty … has critiqued everything from the “ethnically unbalanced’’ Asian domination of selective schools to “white flight’’ from highly diverse public schools.

Ho’s latest research is a qualitative study of Asian and Anglo-Australian parents and students who have experienced NSW selective high schools and primary schools’ opportunity classes.

With 19 selective schools, 29 semi-selective campuses and 76 primary schools with opportunity classes, NSW has the nation’s largest selective system. Ho’s study suggests white families often feel excluded from it.

The outspoken academic tells Inquirer she was surprised at the “level of anger and resentment’’ among Anglo-Australians about this. She says such parents “feel they are being shut out of the selective system because of the prevalence of tutoring, which they associate with Asian cultures’’.

“I was quite struck by just how deeply felt this anger was. There’s now this racialised hostility to ­tutoring among a lot of Anglo-Australian families.’’

Everyone knows, but the statistics are stark:

The federally funded MySchool website shows that typically 80 per cent to 95 per cent of the students who attend top-ranked NSW and Victorian selective schools are from non-English-speaking, usually Asian, backgrounds. Experts say most would have undergone intensive coaching to get into these elite classes and schools.

Ho’s study of 20 Anglo and Asian families found that even white families whose kids secured places in the NSW selective system felt “marginalised’’ within it. “They felt that the whole selective system was being used in a way that it wasn’t designed for,’’ she says.

They also felt the tutoring industry “has warped the selective school system, because it’s very difficult now in their experience to get a kid into the selective system if you haven’t had coaching. It’s something they don’t feel comfortable doing as parents.’’

Even the bureaucrats eventually have to sit up and take notice:

Now, however, after years of stubbornly denying the coaching industry’s impact on selective school entry, the NSW Education Department has decided to act. Last week Mark Scott, the department’s high-profile secretary, said the selective schools entry exam would be broadened in a bid to ­encourage more disadvantaged students into the system. …

He also says there is a “significant community perception that tutoring is necessary for successful entry and parents can spend more than $20,000 a year on preparation for OC (opportunity class) or selective high school tests’’. …

Scott’s comments mark a radical break with the department’s long-term refusal to acknowledge that intensively coached children are likelier to excel in the ­selective school entry exam than non-coached students.

Yes, coaching matters:

Australian Tutoring Association head Mohan Dhall says coaching centres would “probably not’’ be able to teach or rehearse an IQ test. …

He, too, welcomes Scott’s plan to broaden the selective entrance exam: “I think it’s good … At the moment we’re basing entry into a school on one particular test which isn’t publicly available and in which you can train kids in the item types. This means it isn’t ­always the most intelligent kids who get into the schools. It’s a mix of kids who are bright and those who have learned particular limited forms (of questions).’’

hat-tip Stephen Neil