Recent media articles have used NAPLAN (National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) as evidence of the decline in the performance of Australian students and the crisis in the performance of boys at Year 9 in Australian schools (https://www.oecd.org/pisa/test/). There is rarely a day that passes when articles or opinion pieces are not printed discussing the nature of the Australian school education system and the impact of pressure and stress on teachers in our schools. Let me offer a few brief thoughts on the subject and reveal the situation at Barker in NAPLAN scores. At the time of writing, we do not have PISA results for the 2022 cohort sampling in which we were involved.
- NAPLAN provides a “point in time test of cohorts”. They are not strictly administered, nor are they compulsory. If a parent elects to exclude their child from NAPLAN, or a child is absent, there is no obligation to have a catch up task. It is a point in time test, so anomalies are possible, or are even to be expected. Like any data measurement, it requires more than one set of figures to draw firm conclusions.
- It is about a cohort more than an individual or a school. Whilst some observers use NAPLAN data to rank order schools by achievement, it should be observed that the test is not designed to be used for this purpose.
- NAPLAN is a really useful tool to capture trends or highlight need for greater attention in some aspects of teaching approaches, whether it be spelling, numeracy, reading, writing or comprehension. For this reason (amongst many others) if the Australian Government were to ban NAPLAN (which is very unlikely) I would immediately seek an alternative for our students.
- In Australia by Year 9 the performance of boys generally is behind girls in most areas other than numeracy. This is partly due to maturation rates and to the nature of the test items themselves.
- In Australia, there are differences between regions and even systems with the Independent schools (for which there is no batched data set) and selective schools and metropolitan schools outperforming regional and rural and comprehensive schools.
It is interesting to note that in 2022 Barker was included in the data set for PISA for the first time in a decade. Whilst we do not have the data from this year’s tests, it is worth remembering that PISA is a sampling test applied to Year 9 students from participating OECD countries. Some countries place enormous emphasis on their international rankings and eagerly await their scores. It seems to me that whilst public commentary in Australia mentions our performance in PISA, there is NO NATIONAL POLICY that provides any emphasis on PISA performance. None at all. As the Head of three schools for more than 25 years, I have never been asked to pay attention to the test items on PISA nor to apply effort to improving the standing of Australian students in PISA tests. Moreover, Year 9 in Australia is NOT the high stakes time in education that it is in many European and Asian school systems. Year 9 students in Australia are enjoying their lives. They are not concerned about attaining the right school or the right courses for Year 10 to 12, as is the case in China, Korea and European countries.
For Barker – more to come
In next week’s newsletter, we will provide more information about the situation at Barker with respect to NAPLAN. In short, the differences in performance overall or by gender are far less marked than in the national data set and given the nature of the NAPLAN assessment program, are not of concern. There is evidence that our emphasis on Writing Across the School is a wise and important strategy. The appointment of a Director of Academic Writing and Oratory (Mr Andrew Hood) in 2022 makes sense and it will bear fruit over time.
The above comments are offered to support parents to make sense of things as they read the commentary on Australian school education. The truth is that Barker is exceptionally blessed by wonderful teachers, beautiful students and supportive families. We cherish this blessing and pledge to use it as a way of doing something good and beautiful in the world around us.
Pressure on enrolments – an uncomfortable topic to make you aware
For the past few years, Barker has been experiencing very high demand for places. In fact, there is limited availability well into the next decade. It is gratifying that so many want to join the Barker community and partake in all that we have to offer. We are truly honoured.
However, with this comes challenges regarding pressures on our waiting list and having to deliver honest but disappointing news to families hoping to secure a place for their child. We are in the situation where many on our waiting lists, some of whom have siblings currently at Barker, will not be offered a place simply because they are all taken.
We do not have the capacity to accept all siblings of current students who are on the waiting list. To do so would far out strip our site capacity and ability to provide well rounded, academic and pastoral care for our students, the care for which Barker is renowned.
The Enrolments team are working hard to keep families up to date and occasionally there is disappointing and unexpected news, which naturally is hard to received and hard to give.
The community is encouraged to register their interest in a place promptly rather than assume that a place will exist. Much hurt will be avoided by early decision making and planning.