As predicted, our national newspaper wasted no time in commissioning some analysts to develop a league table, using the NAPLAN results on the Federal Government’s My School results.
The so-called top schools are, as we knew they would be, independent schools charging fees that put them beyond the reach of the majority of Australian parents. The headlines attribute these schools’ success to their independence in curriculum, and not to the privileged lifestyle the students inevitably lead, not to the wealth of books and materials and computers and resources they have, and not to the schools’ ability to exclude troublemakers and students with profound learning disabilities or welfare issues.
(Please spare me the usual rubbish about scholarship kids and parents who struggle to pay the fees, I bet there aren’t any parents on the Education Maintenance Allowance sending their kids to Sydney Grammar. Spare me the stuff about how these schools have troublemakers too: government schools like mine get their rejects all the time, not to mention the kids who’ve failed to learn to read by the end of Year 2, with a corresponding impact on the Year 3 results of both schools. Everyone knows that what independent schools really offer is an exclusive peer group. That is what the parents want, and that is what they are willing to pay megabucks for.)
The nation’s top schools, really, are those that make a huge difference to the life chances of the students they teach. Economists would label these schools as the best at value-adding, but that’s not a term I like to use in connection with people and their learning. These top schools are staffed by dedicated, caring teachers who focus on literacy and numeracy as well as providing a rich curriculum in other areas. These top schools focus on teaching interpersonal skills as a high priority too, to ensure that bullying doesn’t affect the learning of vulnerable students. These top schools teach all kinds of kids, including those without a word of English; those from dysfunctional families that sabotage learning rather than support it; and those with learning and intellectual disabilities who are included in the NAPLAN tests because government guidelines for funding these disabilities are so restrictive that these students never get classified as disabled in the first place. These top schools do it without much money, without swimming pools and theatres and vast playing fields: these top schools spend their money on the staff to run extra support programs and on professional development so that every teacher on staff knows the most effective research-based methods of teaching reading, writing and maths, as well as skills for getting on with other people.
I wonder if any of our politicians are going to put out a press release about these top schools? I’m not holding my breath…
My school is one of the nation’s top schools. You can find us punching above our weight on that invidious website, but I recommend you talk to our parents and students instead. After all, they’re the ones who really know.