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?
“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.