Selective entry high schools are government schools that aim to provide a nurturing and challenging environment for high-achieving students that foster successful academic results. They provide entry on the basis of academic merit, with the best and brightest competing for places in each school through a special entrance examination.
Victoria has four selective entry high schools: one boys only, one girls only and two coeducational. These schools take students from Years 9–12 on the basis of an entry exam undertaken in Year 8. New South Wales has 17 fully selective high schools and four selective agricultural high schools, entry to which is determined by students’ results in the Selective High School Placement Test in English, mathematics and general ability. Entry is from Year 7 onwards. Queensland has one partially selective government school, which takes enrolments from the local area as well as on the basis of merit.
Some selective high schools are steeped in illustrious history, while others are relatively new, having opened in recent years to cater for the demand. They create another, more economic, schooling option for gifted students, but more options also require more decisions and considered thought. Read on to find out the potential pros and cons of choosing a selective entry government school.
Advantages of selective entry high schools:
Competitive, results-oriented environment — These schools provide an academic environment and are focused on helping their students to achieve strong results. The proof is in the pudding, with these schools often producing some of the highest Year 12 results.
Like-minded students — It can be assumed that the vast majority of students who study at these schools have undertaken an entrance examination because they want to be there and succeed in their studies. The schools report that this fosters a collaborative environment where students can thrive — working together to achieve the same goal.
Lower fees — Being government schools, the fee contributions are far lower than those at independent schools, despite producing similar results. This means that, for students who merit a place, the schools represent a considerable return on investment.
Disadvantages of selective entry high schools:
Competitive, results-oriented environment — You may have noticed that this appears on both lists. This is because competitiveness is a two-edged sword. When you choose a competitive environment for your child you are also choosing a high-pressure, potentially stressful environment. Some students thrive on this challenge, while for others it may cause distress. It is worth considering how your child will cope.
Takes pressure off government schools — In a 2007 discussion paper submitted to the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, the Australian Education Union expressed concern about selective entry settings in government schools, holding the belief that the needs of high-achieving students should be able to be met in the wider public school system.
Ethnic segregation — A recent study by Dr Christina Holt from the University of Technology, Sydney found that ethnic segregation is apparent within selective entry high schools. She found that in most cases the number of students with language backgrounds other than English far outnumbered Anglo-Australians, labeling the phenomenon as a ‘white flight’ away from selective entry high schools.
Pressure from independent schools — There have been accusations that students from independent secondary schools who were applying for a selective entry government school have had ‘standover tactics’ used against them by private schools to discourage their brightest students from leaving.