How Should We Measure The Effectiveness of a School?

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Consider the following students…

Christopher* is a Year 12 student who is on course for a top ATAR. He is likely to be the Dux of the School. However, Christopher has always had issues socializing, and suffers anxiety. It is not clear how he will function outside the structure of a small high school.

David has been in the bottom sets his whole school career. His teachers constantly recognize the fact that he appears to be working to the best of his abilities. However, because of the nature of the school system the best he can hope to achieve is a “C” and sometimes he falls short of this grade. As a result of this he has been constantly reminded that despite his best efforts he does not succeed in the subjects at school. He is close to leaving without any real insight into what he is actually good at.

Sally is a top academic student. She has graduated from School with an ATAR that gives her the choice of courses at University. She is keen to do teaching or some kind of social work but her parents are eager for her to go into the Law profession, and given the capacity to earn more money as a lawyer she elects to study law at University.

Eric is good musician and singer. He has decided to pursue his passion by heading to Nashville in America to hone his songwriting craft. As a consequence he has made it clear that school work is no longer a priority. As well as practicing music everyday, he is working as many hours as possible in his part time job to save for his flight to America. He has agreed to complete his HSC to keep his parents happy, but it is obvious that his heart is not in it. He credits his decision to follow his passion to his Head of House and Music Teacher who have always encouraged him to focus on his music.

The review of NAPLAN and HSC results provides an avenue for assessing the effectiveness of the school. Indeed it is this data that the Australian MySchool website is built around. In doing this the Government imply that this the most important information parents require in determining the appropriate school for their children.

The majority of educational systems are structured from the top down. Universities determine the kind of students they want in their respective courses. The assumption is that a student with an ATAR of 99 will make a better doctor/physio/lawyer than the student with an ATAR of 85.

The issue with determining effectiveness in this way is the inherent impact it has on the teaching and learning at school. It reinforces the antiquated hierarchy of subjects that places a higher value on subjects like Mathematics and English than subjects such as Woodwork the Arts.

As such the student who excels at Drama or Art is not validated in the same way as the student who excels at Mathematics or English.

You could argue that of all the students above; it is with Eric, the musician, that the school has had the most success. He has found his passion and he feels confident in his abilities to pursue his dream.

You could also argue that the school has “failed” every time a student graduates in the same scenario as David. Surely the very least a school should be doing is ensuring that students find something that they not only good at, but are passionate about and can engage with.

With regard to Christopher, as Dux of the School, his exam results will undoubtedly open doors for him, but for how long given his lack of social skills?

And how about Sally? Should the school revel in the fact they have produced another Law undergraduate, or should they reflect on the fact a student has left not being true to herself?

Unfortunately there is no statistic to reflect the Christopher Complex, David Disorder, Eric Effect or Sally Syndrome, on the MySchool website (or anywhere else to my knowledge). If there was, in conjunction with the standardized test scores, parents would be able to better ascertain what the school could offer their child.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty and everyone in between

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