2013 VCE results are due out in a couple of days. It’s a time of great nervousness and excitement for many thousands of students and for a couple of days it’s a hot topic for the media, which is highly predictable in its coverage. Here’s what you can expect to read:
1. Someone will become Victoria’s ‘best school’ based on a high median VCAA study score and a high percentage of students with study scores over 40. It will be an independent eastern suburbs school with a high socio economic profile and will have selected its own student cohort in some way, most commonly through fees. The school will have a sprinkling of VET studies and no VCAL program.
There will be an associated splurge of advertisements from independent schools setting out in numbers and tables how well their students have done, which serves the dual purpose of extending well deserved congratulations to those students and promoting the school.
2. The top performing state schools will be honoured. These will be select entry schools and will prove again that it’s not really whether a school is government or non government that matters, it’s the cohort of students you have.
3. A small rural school will be profiled as being among the state’s best. It will have a high median study score, few if any top end ATARs, funding to run extremely small class sizes and no tail on their results. Next year another school will take its place, because results are volatile in small student cohorts.
4. One school with great VET results will get a passing mention.
5. The bulk of government schools will get no media attention, apart perhaps from a clutch of eastern suburbs schools which ‘offer competition with the private sector’ and the odd token school which shows a sharp increase in results.
6. Many government schools will be glad they get no media attention. They will be the ones with low VCE results, high VCAL numbers and very diverse low SES student populations.
7. Catholic schools will sit comfortably somewhere between the independent schools and mid range government schools. They generally keep a low profile and their solid results serve to reinforce their role as the refuge of students whose parents want ‘something better’ than the local government school but aren’t prepared to pay the fees for an independent school.
While all this is going on, principals and staff in schools will be thinking about what the results mean for individual students and their futures. Most will get the results they deserve and have worked for and the majority of those who don’t get the ATAR they desire will find a way of getting to where they want to go. Which makes us wonder sometimes what all the media fuss is about.
But what we think about mostly is how simplistic our measures of school success are and whether one day Victoria’s “best school” might be recognised as one which, through great teaching and programming and community engagement, lifted its students further than others. Because it’s not possible, apparently, to be a ‘great school’ if you offer a comprehensive curriculum (including vocational subjects) to a student population of diverse ability levels and background. The name of the game, therefore, is to shape your student cohort. Some schools have licence to do it and others do not. Ironically, those who can select their own student cohort are then lauded for the results they achieve. Bizarre really.