My School

The My School web­site pro­vides na­tional com­pa­ra­ble data on all pri­mary and secondary schools in the coun­try, but is it the best guide for school se­lec­tion?

The Australian Education Reporter - - CONTENTS - EMMA DAVIES

“MY SCHOOL PRO­VIDES A WEALTH OF IN­FOR­MA­TION ABOUT THE MORE THAN 9,500 AUS­TRALIAN SCHOOLS IN ONE CON­VE­NIENT LO­CA­TION.”

THE Aus­tralian Cur­ricu­lum, As­sess­ment and Re­port­ing Author­ity (ACARA) is re­spon­si­ble for col­lect­ing data from school au­thor­i­ties for ac­count­abil­ity and re­port­ing, re­search and anal­y­sis, and re­source al­lo­ca­tion pur­poses.

“This in­for­ma­tion is pub­lished on the My School web­site, with an­nual up­dates in March, in­clud­ing NAPLAN re­sults from the previous year, school pro­file and pop­u­la­tion data, and school fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion, and in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber in­clud­ing stu­dent at­ten­dance data on Indige­nous and non-indige­nous stu­dents,” ACARA chief ex­ec­u­tive Robert Ran­dall said.

“Prin­ci­pals of each school have ac­cess to the My School web­site through the Prin­ci­pal’s Por­tal, which al­lows them to up­date school com­ments, lo­ca­tion, school author­ity and web­site URL.

“My School pro­vides a wealth of in­for­ma­tion about the more than 9,500 Aus­tralian schools in one con­ve­nient lo­ca­tion.

“Par­ents can ac­cess in­for­ma­tion about their child’s school, or a prospec­tive school, and along with vis­it­ing the school and speaking to the staff, it can sup­port them in mak­ing in­formed de­ci­sions about their child’s school­ing.

“My School also sup­ports par­ents in com­par­ing schools within their lo­cal area, as well as with schools with stu­dents from sta­tis­ti­cally sim­i­lar back­grounds.

“At the same time, the web­site al­lows teach­ers and prin­ci­pals to com­pare NAPLAN achieve­ments of their stu­dents with the av­er­age achieve­ments of other schools serv­ing stu­dents from sta­tis­ti­cally sim­i­lar back­grounds, and also to com­pare these with all schools in Aus­tralia.”

Hav­ing all the in­for­ma­tion on all Aus­tralian schools in one lo­ca­tion pro­vides na­tion­ally com­pa­ra­ble data on stu­dents’ per­for­mance in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy as well as con­tex­tual in­for­ma­tion.

The web­site con­tains in­for­ma­tion on school fi­nances, staffing, and stu­dent back­grounds to act as a guide for par­ents to un­der­stand how their lo­cal school is per­form­ing rel­a­tive to other sim­i­lar schools and stu­dents.

As­so­ci­a­tion of Heads of In­de­pen­dent Schools of Aus­tralia (AHISA) na­tional chair and prin­ci­pal of St Ai­dan’s Angli­can Girls’ School in Bris­bane Karen Spiller said while the My School site gave par­ents the op­por­tu­nity to com­pare schools by NAPLAN re­sults, it could not re­place school vis­its or a more de­tailed ex­am­i­na­tion of what schools of­fer.

“While My School does make it pos­si­ble to com­pare ‘like’ schools as well as schools within the same geo­graphic area, schools are all unique com­mu­ni­ties and these com­par­isons may not tell the whole story, or may ob­scure es­sen­tial el­e­ments of the story,” Ms Spiller said.

“Un­less dis­tance makes school vis­its im­pos­si­ble, vis­its should most def­i­nitely be on par­ents’ agen­das when seek­ing a school for their child.

“My School can­not tell par­ents if a school is a good fit for a stu­dent in terms of cur­ricu­lum or co-cur­ricu­lum choices, for ex­am­ple, or whether a school has the cul­ture and cli­mate likely to en­cour­age a stu­dent to do their best right through Year 12.”

Mr Ran­dall agreed that it was im­por­tant that par­ents had a wide range of in­for­ma­tion avail­able to them when select­ing a school for their child and said the in­for­ma­tion on My School was only one com­po­nent they could take into con­sid­er­a­tion.

“We strongly rec­om­mend that par­ents visit a prospec­tive school and speak to teach­ers and prin­ci­pals to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the suit­abil­ity of the school for their child,” Mr Ran­dall said.

“Other as­pects, such as school fa­cil­i­ties, ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and sport groups, school cul­ture and phi­los­o­phy, may also be taken into ac­count when choos­ing a school.

“Par­ents are able to choose what in­for­ma­tion is rel­e­vant or im­por­tant to them.

“My School of­fers re­sources, in­clud­ing FAQS, to as­sist par­ents to nav­i­gate the web­site. ACARA is also work­ing to­wards sim­pli­fy­ing con­tent on the site to make it more par­ent-friendly and ac­ces­si­ble in the fu­ture.”

The My School site does give some in­for­ma­tion about se­nior secondary out­comes for schools that of­fer Year 12.

It listed the per­cent­age of stu­dents who go on to univer­sity, vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion or train­ing or who en­ter the work­force.

“Most par­ents whose as­pi­ra­tions for their chil­dren in­clude ter­tiary study want more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about Year 12 achieve­ment, such us num­ber of first round ter­tiary of­fers re­ceived, or they may be in­ter­ested in whether schools have links with uni­ver­si­ties to pro­vide op­por­tu­nity for univer­sity study while stu­dents are still at school,” Ms Spiller said.

“How­ever, the broad range of sub­jects avail­able at se­nior secondary level, the dif­fer­ences across the states and ter­ri­to­ries and the dif­fer­ent of­fer­ings and cur­ricu­lum spe­cial­i­sa­tions in schools would make na­tional com­par­isons of Year 12 aca­demic out­comes vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble on a plat­form like My School.”

The NAPLAN test­ing does not go be­yond Year 9 and par­ents should look be­yond those re­sults on the site.

NAPLAN tests lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy skills, it wasn’t de­signed to ac­cess se­nior secondary achieve­ment within sub­ject dis­ci­plines.

“Aus­tralian re­search analysing Year 9 NAPLAN re­sults and Year 12 ter­tiary en­trance scores shows that in­de­pen­dent schools add sig­nif­i­cant value in terms of aca­demic achieve­ment of stu­dents be­tween Year 9 and 12,” Ms Spiller said.

“This boost to Year 12 scores has been linked by re­searchers to what is called ‘aca­demic press’, which roughly trans­lates as the shared ex­pec­ta­tion among all teach­ers in a school that their stu­dents can achieve to the high­est pos­si­ble level.

“This sort of in­for­ma­tion can­not be gleaned from My School.

“Once par­ents have de­ter­mined that a school of­fers a cur­ricu­lum com­pat­i­ble with their child’s in­ter­ests or tal­ents or which will pro­vide broad op­por­tu­ni­ties for de­vel­op­ment, they need to care­fully ex­am­ine school doc­u­ments and re­ports and, again, talk with the prin­ci­pal and teach­ers.”

The web­site also fea­tured fi­nan­cial data for each school, in­clud­ing re­cur­rent in­come and cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture, dis­ag­gre­gated by fund­ing source for all gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­ment schools.

“A com­par­i­son of the fi­nan­cial data on My School may be mis­lead­ing,” Ms Spiller said. Par­ents need to be aware that per stu­dent ex­pen­di­ture in in­de­pen­dent schools will re­flect the cost of de­liv­er­ing the co-cur­ricu­lum as well as the aca­demic cur­ricu­lum.

“In­de­pen­dent school fees also typ­i­cally in­clude a com­po­nent for debt re­pay­ment of loans for new or re­fur­bished build­ing works.”

Re­cent re­ports have suggested that par­ents can use the My School web­site data to com­pare chil­dren’s re­sults and have re­ferred to stu­dents as strug­glers, coast­ers or im­provers and have gen­er­ated league tables of schools, which po­ten­tially al­lowed for mis­use and mis­un­der­stand­ing of data.

“It is not al­ways clear what cri­te­ria have been used to cre­ate league tables pub­lished by the me­dia, or whether they are ac­cu­rate,” Ms Spiller said.

“If par­ents are in­ter­ested in ranked re­sults, they would be wise to check data sources, if pos­si­ble.

“Some state and ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ments do make in­di­vid­ual school in­for­ma­tion pub­licly avail­able.

“League tables do not of­fer rich in­for­ma­tion about schools. Like the in­for­ma­tion on My School, league tables are no sub­sti­tute for a school visit to de­ter­mine if the school is a good fit for the child.”

While test re­sults did not give any de­tail about teach­ing qual­ity, stu­dents who may have English as a sec­ond lan­guage, par­ents who are un­em­ployed or with low lit­er­acy or who have moved around through­out their school­ing, the In­dex of Com­mu­nity So­cio-ed­u­ca­tional Ad­van­tage (ICSEA) at­tempted to al­low for this.

The per­cent­age of stu­dents who are Indige­nous or who had a lan­guage back­ground other than English was re­ported on each school’s pro­file.

ICSEA al­lowed for so­cio-eco­nomic dif­fer­ences and placed a value on the in­dex cor­re­spond­ing to the av­er­age level of ed­u­ca­tion ad­van­tage of the school’s stu­dent pop­u­la­tion rel­a­tive to other schools.

The ICSEA web­site stated schools with stu­dents of sim­i­lar lev­els of ed­u­ca­tional ad­van­tage would have sim­i­lar ICSEA val­ues, even though schools in their group may be lo­cated in var­i­ous parts of Aus­tralia and may have dif­fer­ent fa­cil­i­ties and re­sources.

“ACARA cre­ated the In­dex of Com­mu­nity So­cio-ed­u­ca­tional Ad­van­tage (ICSEA) to en­able fair com­par­isons among schools with sta­tis­ti­cally sim­i­lar groups of stu­dents on the My School web­site,” Mr Ran­dall said.

“ICSEA takes into ac­count a num­ber of fac­tors such as par­ents’ oc­cu­pa­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, as well as the ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion of the school.

“These can give us an un­der­stand­ing of the level of the ed­u­ca­tional ad­van­tage of stu­dents at a school.

“Ad­di­tion­ally, in­di­vid­ual school pro­files show the per­cent­age of stu­dents with a lan­guage back­ground other than English.

“We aim to make the in­for­ma­tion on the My School web­site as easy to use and un­der­stand as pos­si­ble.

“We pro­vide a num­ber of fact­sheets and in­fo­graph­ics, as well as gen­eral in­for­ma­tion about My School trans­lated into 21 com­mu­nity lan­guages.

“We also have an­i­mated videos to bet­ter il­lus­trate how ICSEA works, and an over­view of what the My School web­site of­fers,” he said.

The con­sen­sus is that although NAPLAN re­sults should be con­sid­ered by par­ents when seek­ing a school for their child, they were only one fac­tor and should not nec­es­sar­ily de­ter­mine the fi­nal choice of school.

“Schools are vi­brant learn­ing com­mu­ni­ties; they re­flect in­tense work and hu­man striv­ing,” Ms Spiller said.

“They can­not be shopped for on­line as one would shop for a book or a new tele­vi­sion, and there is no more in­for­ma­tion that could be added to My School to change that.”

“WHILE MY SCHOOL DOES MAKE IT POS­SI­BLE TO COM­PARE ‘LIKE’ SCHOOLS AS WELL AS SCHOOLS WITHIN THE SAME GEO­GRAPHIC AREA, SCHOOLS ARE ALL UNIQUE COM­MU­NI­TIES AND THESE COM­PAR­ISONS MAY NOT TELL THE WHOLE STORY.”

Aus­tralian Cur­ricu­lum, As­sess­ment and Re­port­ing Author­ity (ACARA) chief ex­ec­u­tive Robert Ran­dall.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Heads of In­de­pen­dent Schools of Aus­tralia (AHISA) na­tional chair Karen Spiller.

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