VCE results and the media

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.

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5 replies »

  1. How right you are (will be) ….. One hopes that the wider community are beginning to see through the hype around so called ‘high performance’ and turning to the ‘value added’ by schools and teachers in diverse communities.

    Well written and timely Dale!!

  2. Government schools get no attention?
    you must not read The Age.
    Once again the bulk (all bar one) of schools mentioned in the article I just read from Konrad are government schools, including McKinnon.
    The Age constantly promotes the government schools over the private schools but is happy to take their advertising money.
    I am not so sure that fees shape the cohort as much as you think.
    Girls schools(private) in a very competitive market and aren’t really in the position to “Select their own cohort”
    I agree the promotion of the selective government schools is a disgrace..The age has a clear bias to government schools( they did after all endorse the Gillard government on the eve of the election!)

    • Thanks for the comments Brian. Just had a look at the article which seemed to be a follow up on some earlier work tracking a few students. I’ll wait for the coverage tomorrow of ‘top schools’ before reviewing my opinion and I’ll look for the ads as well.

      Fees immediately shape the cohort, of course. As soon as you charge a few thousand dollars, let alone $15k+ you immediately start to cull the riff raff. I’m sure there are many independent schools that need to charge fees to do the basics but there’s also a strong element of keeping up with the neighbours in terms of facilities etc. For some it’s an education arms race. The absence of vocational offerings in many independent schools is also a sure sign that they have a skewed cohort, although some probably don’t want to be seen as dumbing down.

      • yes the article was tracking certain students-look at who they were tracking though…mostly government school students, which is their usual practice. I follow it very closely and they swoop on any incident in a private school (refer Xavier) and are constantly promoting the nossels of the world. Constantly. If you believe The Age, nothing bad has ever happened at a govt school. Have you read Chris Fontinoplous contributions? he has a deep seated hatred of private schools and get his class warfare stuff published all the time in The Age. Look him up.
        I think it is simplistic to group all fee paying schools in the same categories, given girls and boys school are in vastly different markets . There are, for instance, only 7 boys schools over 15k in Melbourne (and Geelong)and 23 girls schools and 21 coed schools, so the boys schools can be far pickier who they take -the girls schools(and some coed) can’t.
        There are plenty of cashed up bogans, at these schools who parents aren’t educated but can afford the fees, so I just don’t think it is as simple as you say. Melb Gramm and Scotch do entrance exams , have huge waiting lists and charge fees which is a world away from a small, suburban girls school struggling for enrolments who have little choice in who they take.
        I agree that Melb Gramm and Scotch fit what you are saying.