Time for selective schools to go

26 April 2018

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

NSW Minister for Education Rob Stokes recently set the cat amongst the pigeons when he announced that there would be no new fully selective schools built in NSW. He argued passionately that every child needs to be viewed as gifted and talented and educated in a way that allows these qualities to flourish.

I applaud the Minister for recognising that cherry-picking students on the basis of perceived academic ability and sending them off to their own school is a relic of the nineteenth century learning model. Even the selective schools ‘test’ that determines whether or not a student is ‘picked or flicked’ is based on outdated assumptions of what it means to be ‘clever’. Just as we have changed our thinking about nineteenth century medical practices, we must question the relevance and place of selective schools in a modern, diverse and digital society.

I can understand the appeal of selective schools for parents: the lure of perhaps something more, something better or something different from non-selective schools. Every parent wants their children to receive the best educational opportunities possible. But each school must enable each child, not just those who, according to a single assessment instrument, are academically stronger.

All schools must be able to deliver the opportunities that allow all students to develop skills to a high level and to provide experiences that are intellectually challenging and stimulating. This means good teachers in every classroom, not just star teachers working in some schools or some classrooms. Equity in education means giving each student access to good teaching and the very best start in learning and life. Selective schools only widen the equity gap.

The reason we have always hung on to IQ as a measure of intelligence is because it can be easily measured. The skills that aren’t easily measured by standardised tests such as empathy, grit, courage, motivation and collaboration are the ones that will take individuals and societies forward. These are not soft skills – they are among the most difficult to master.

No society will survive or thrive by having school systems that advantage some. The way to overcome skilled labour shortages and to ensure that all citizens prosper in a knowledge-based economy is through creating school systems where each young person is acknowledged and valued, and where opportunities exist for everyone.

Greg Whitby AM

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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