One of the largest changes to admissions at the best New South Wales public schools will be a 20% reservation for students from underprivileged backgrounds in the state’s selective schools and gifted courses. The decision was made as a result of a rise in demand for coveted positions in opportunity classes; in the previous five years, there had been an approximately 30% increase in applications for seats in special year 5 and 6 classrooms.
In 2018, the NSW Education Department conducted a review of applications to the state’s selective schools and discovered fewer applications from children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, Aboriginal students, people with disabilities, and students from remote and rural locations.
According to The Minister of Education and Early Learning, Sarah Mitchell, she stated that, “this reform will reserve up to 20% of slots for kids from those four groups.” She also said that a student’s capacity to succeed academically shouldn’t be influenced by where they reside, their family history, or their disability. In doing so, they are assisting in removing the unintentional obstacles that stand in the way of talented students’ fair and equitable access to opportunity classes and prestigious high schools. These adjustments will be put into effect this year for 2023 enrollments.
The investigation also discovered that the prior test placed an unbalanced focus on arithmetic proficiency, with boys performing higher in those questions. There were fewer applications from girls, per the review. It was challenging to distinguish between bright and really bright individuals since the exam was too simple. For this reason, an updated entrance exam for selective schools was introduced by a new vendor last year.
In NSW, there are 77 elementary schools with opportunity classes compared to 51 selective high schools. Year 4 student applications for the opportunity class test are increasing dramatically: for a spot in the classes for the next year, well over 15,000 applications were received as opposed to 11,741 for 2019.
There was an increase in the number of candidates for selective high schools from 14,961 in 2019 to 15,660 in 2023. In OC and prestigious high schools last year, about 6000 hopeful applicants received promising seats.
According to Jae Jung, Associate Professor from UNSW’s school of education and a lead researcher in gifted education, “ It would better support underprivileged groups of gifted students by providing access to these special classes.” According to them, an additional 5% of spots are also reserved for students for other unique circumstances. Students from underrepresented groups must perform within ten percent of the minimal standards expected of a general candidate.
According to a Representative of the NSW Department of Education, “if there are not enough applications to a particular school from students from under-represented groups – or the minimum requirements are not met – the held places will be offered to general applicants based on their performance and test scores.”
According to Mark Long, the principal of Penrith Selective High School, formerly the deputy principal of James Ruse Agricultural High School, “ there has been a surge in demand for places in Penrith which has about 930 students and more than 90 % are having a language background other than English. He welcomed the change to reserve 20 % of places to more closely represent the enrolment in public schools.
This change will apply to 2023 entry, which means students who took the selective school test would be affected by this change. Recently, efforts have been made to use social media and school newsletters to try and increase parental awareness of the application process. Many parents whose children took the test this year expressed shock at the lack of consultation and how it would unfairly impact on their children.