OPINION: We are fortunate in Australia to have a number of selective schools as an option to address the educational and related needs of gifted and high-ability students. In particular, the NSW Department of Education should be applauded for its initiative not only in establishing and maintaining almost 50 of these schools, but also for their diversity.
Selective schools are located in both urban and non-urban areas, enrol varying percentages of students of non-English-language backgrounds, and are found in both socio-economically privileged and disadvantaged parts of the state. In fact, many of the most recently established selective schools in NSW are in rural areas and/or have Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) scores that are below the average.
It is unfortunate that some members of the community choose to use individual schools within the selective school system to make arguments against the entire system.
The diversity also exists with respect to whether selective schools accept local students. In fact, most of the selective schools in the state are partially selective, which means local students are already accepted into more than half of the existing selective schools.
For those parents who wish to send their children to selective schools, but have a concern about the need for interaction with non-gifted students who also attend the same school, they have 25 schools across the state to choose from. For those parents who encourage their children to take advantage of the multiple opportunities that exist outside of school for interactions with those who are non-gifted, a smaller number of fully selective schools exist. This diversity, and the associated choice it offers, is one of the best features of the selective school system in NSW.
Nevertheless, no system is perfect. There has recently been an acknowledgement from the NSW Department of Education that the selective school entrance examinations may give some advantage to students who come from families of high socio-economic status backgrounds. Consequently, a review of the entrance examinations appears to be imminent, with the aim of making selective schools more accessible to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
For some students with advanced abilities, options such as academic acceleration, in one or more subjects or year levels, may be more appropriate; for others, special provisions within the mixed-ability classroom in a comprehensive school are perfectly fine.
This is a welcome development, and one that may alleviate some community concerns relating to the inequality of educational opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds. In conducting the review, and any subsequent amendments to the selective school entrance examinations, the Department of Education is encouraged to seek the expertise of scholars and practitioners from the fields of gifted education and assessment, as it has done during its current review of the state gifted education policy document.
While many gifted and high-ability students are highly suited to selective schools, and indeed thrive in such environments, it must be recognised that selective schools are not for everyone. For some students with advanced abilities, options such as academic acceleration, in one or more subjects or year levels, may be more appropriate; for others, special provisions within the mixed-ability classroom in a comprehensive school are perfectly fine.
Still others may benefit from one of the other educational interventions, such as mentoring from experts, that the research has demonstrated to be suitable for different sub-groups of gifted and high-ability students.
Therefore, just as for students generally within the comprehensive school environment, not every student with advanced abilities will be successful in selective schools. The needs of these students are simply better met through other educational interventions in alternative educational settings.
As recognised in a recent statement by the Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented (AAEGT), the existence of selective schools in all of their various forms is essential for the opportunity and choice that needs to be made available for gifted and high-ability students. Thankfully, a diverse and well-established selective school system is going strong in NSW.
Jae Yup Jared Jung is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of NSW.
This article was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.