Selective school (New South Wales)

Selective school (New South Wales)
Sydney Boys High School, a NSW Selective School

Selective schools in New South Wales, Australia are government high schools operated by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training, that have accepted their students based upon their academic merit. Each year, approximately 13,000 Year 6 students from across the state of New South Wales optionally undertake the Selective High Schools Test to seek one of the 3600 places offered for first year entry into selective high schools. For Years 8 to 12 entry into selective schools, students do not take a test, but apply directly to a school for entry. The application package is common to all government selective schools, with a selection committee considering applications each year in August–September.[1]



The first government selective high schools in NSW were established in ????. They included Sydney High School (now Sydney Boys High School and Sydney Girls High School), Bathurst High School, Goulburn High School and Penrith High School. There are currently 30 selective government high schools, including 17 fully selective high schools, 9 partially selective high schools (high schools with both selective and comprehensive classes) and 4 selective agricultural high schools.[2] Of the 30, 25 are located in Sydney. From 2010, 14 more comprehensive high schools will become partially selective, with one or more classes of selective students, and a "virtual school" bringing together a single class of students from regional NSW.[3]


Selective high schools traditionally outperform the other schools in the state.[citation needed] Based on the Higher School Certificate (HSC) results, the majority of secondary schools that are ranked at the top of the state are selective high schools.[citation needed] In 2005, eight of the top ten high schools were government selective schools.[citation needed] James Ruse Agricultural High School has been ranked as the top secondary school of the state for fourteen years.

Selective high schools test

The Selective High Schools Tests are currently developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in Victoria under contract to the NSW Department of Education. The project officer for the development of this test is Dr John Lindsay. The test is designed to be a test of ability and is therefore as curricular free as possible.[citation needed] It is set to test the cohort of Year 6 students who apply for entry to a selective high school. The test has three parts, English, Mathematics and General Ability. In 2004, the test was extended to include a Writing task.

Three parts of the test (Reading, Mathematics, and General Ability) consist of multiple choice questions, each lasting for 40 minutes. The last task is the Writing task, which students are given 20 minutes to complete. Students are given a break in between each test. The Selective High Schools Test normally starts at 9:00am and finishes at 1:05pm.[citation needed]

The examinations for Year 6 students take place in March, and results are published in early July. All students are required to select by preference a maximum of four selective high schools of their choice on their application form.[citation needed]

How the profile score is calculated

In general, entry into a government selective school is determined by a profile score, which is derived by combining school marks in English and mathematics with the marks received in the Selective High Schools Test in reading, writing, mathematics and general ability.

The profile score is computed simply by adding the English, mathematics and general ability component scores which are marks out of 100 to form the profile score out of 300.[citation needed]

The component scores are computed as follows:

  • In general ability the test marks are scaled on a statewide basis to a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 12 to form the component general ability score out of 100.[citation needed]
  • In mathematics the test marks are likewise scaled on a statewide basis to a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 12 to form the scaled mathematics test marks out of 100. However, in mathematics the process of determining the component score is slightly more complex because in mathematics there is a school mark to consider in addition to the test mark. To include the school mark the next step of the process is to calculate the mean and standard deviation of the scaled mathematics test marks for each school. Then, school at a time, the mathematics school marks for each student are moderated (or scaled) to the same mean and standard deviation as the scaled test marks for students for that school. The scores formed from this process are called the moderated school marks and are also out of 100. The reason for scaling the school marks and test marks to the same mean and standard deviation is to ensure that both school and test marks have the same value in the final component score. The component score in mathematics for each student is then approximated by averaging that student's scaled test mark and the moderated school mark. These approximated scores are then scaled on a statewide basis to a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 12 to form the final component score out of 100. The reason for scaling all component scores to the same mean and standard deviation is to ensure that each component is given an equal value in the profile score. If this were not to occur then the component with the highest standard deviation would have the greatest value.[citation needed]
  • In English this process is even more complex because there are two test marks (reading and writing) and only one school mark (English). However, the school mark contains both reading and writing components so the process is fair and valid. Put briefly, the procedure described above for mathematics is repeated twice in English. The school English mark is moderated first for reading and then again for writing. The resultant scores for reading are then given a weighting of two thirds and the resultant scores for writing are given a weighting of one third. These two scores are then added to give an approximate component score for English. This approximate score is then scaled on a statewide basis to a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 12 to form the final component score in English out of 100.[citation needed]

Scaling and moderating school and tests marks ensure that
• school and test marks have the same value;
• school marks from each school are placed on the same scale as the test marks achieved by students from those same schools thereby making it possible to fairly compare school marks from one school with school marks from each other school;
• each component (English, mathematics and general ability) has the same value.

The process also includes 'wild-score' processing which identifies students who, based on their school performance, may have done much worse than expected in the test. Where such students have been identified the moderating process takes this into account and adjusts scores accordingly. This ensures that students will not be disadvantaged by other students who attend the same school and who may have been done much worse than expected because of serious illness, misadventure or other cause.

By early July students receive letters informing them of one of three outcomes concerning their application to each school:

  • offer- the student can apply immediately for enrolment in the certain school.
  • reserve list- the student is placed on a waiting list, with the possibility of entry if their place on the list is reached
  • unsuccessful- the student is not being considered for a place

In some cases, an application can be put on 'hold', meaning it is awaiting the result of further enquiries by the Department of Education.[4]

Other criteria include age and grade, and current residency status in Australia. This usually requires students to be between 11 years and 5 months and 13 years at the start of the year they wish to commence Year 7, be in Year 6 the year before they wish to enter, and be either a citizen or permanent resident of Australia or a citizen of New Zealand. However, exemptions to some of these requirements may be given in special circumstances or through consultation with the Department of Education.[5]


The existence of government selective schools in NSW, which do not exist in any other Australian state apart from Victoria[6] and Western Australia, has not been without controversy, with much of it centred on the discrepancies between selective high schools and comprehensive high schools.

The existence of selective high schools have always been a political and bureaucratic article in the Australian Public school system with many academics and intelligent observers viewing this issue as purely political. The first debate about selective schools in New South Wales began in the 1950s and 1960s where the Director of secondary education, Hedley Yelland (known for his implementation of the Wyndham Scheme), believed that selective schools were unnecessary because adequate competition was possible in a properly run large comprehensive, and wasteful because, while great students fared well in selective, the merely good fared much better in comprehensives.[citation needed]

As a compromise, it was decided that entrenched selective schools, such as Fort Street High School, were to be retained, but there were to be no new selectives.[citation needed] This stance of government was altered after Hedley Yelland's promotion to the public service board in 1969.[citation needed]

A significant dismantling of the selective schools system was proposed by an inquiry in 2002, funded by the NSW Parents and Citizens Association and the NSW Teachers Association.[7] At that time, the report called for the changing of 12 of the state's 19 selective high schools to partially selective high schools, retaining only the seven most established schools: Fort Street, North Sydney Boys', North Sydney Girls', Sydney Boys', Sydney Girls', Sydney Technical, and St George Girls'.[7] Hornsby Girls' High School and other schools were also changed to selective schools. The recommendation were justified, from the viewpoint of the inquiry's chair UNSW Professor Tony Vinson, by the fact that 'wherever possible, talented students should be able to remain within mainstream schools to maximise social cohesion and "an inclusive school community"'.[7]

However, although the report had the backing of the then NSW Education Minister John Watkins,[7] most of the Vinson enquiry's recommendations, including most of the recommendations concerning the status of selective schools, were not implemented by the NSW Government. Another report commissioned by the Department of Education, in 2005, drew on consultation with the public across the entire state school system and found that opinions are still polarised on whether they should continue to exist.[8] Currently, selective schools appear to have the support of the government.

See also


  1. ^ Selective High Schools Years 8-12 Placement New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Retrieved 3 August 2006.
  2. ^ List of selective and agricultural high schools New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  3. ^ 630 New Selective places at high schools New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
  4. ^ Selective high schools: Year 7 placement New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Retrieved 2 August 2006.
  5. ^ Selective High Schools: Criteria for entry New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Retrieved 2 August 2006.
  6. ^ Senator for Victoria, Mitch Fifield's first speech. Commonwealth of Australia. 12 May 2004. Retrieved 2 August 2006.
  7. ^ a b c d Axe hovers over selective high schools Sydney Morning Herald. 24 July 2002. Retrieved 2 August 2006.
  8. ^ Secondary School Years. NSW Department of Education and Training. June 2005. Retrieved 2 August 2006. (pdf 125kb)

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