Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Canberra’s Leading
Relationship Lawyers

Which school model works best?

By Kim Fischer - 1 February 2016 20

Rear view of elementary school children with raised arms.

With the kids heading back to school, I found myself wondering about the history of schooling in Australia and how we ended up with our current system in the ACT.

It turns out that having a society with a large proportion of convicts is a good way for governments to get involved in funding education. Schools were mostly owned and operated by religious orders in the 19th century, but churches in Australia didn’t have the resources to fund or staff schools themselves. So even back in the 1820s the State paid for the operations of schools.

As a result, education in Australia has always been quite secular. While we take non-religious education for granted, this approach was very different from that of the UK. Even today, a large number of UK schools are fully funded by the government but operated by the Anglican church.

In 1848 the Anglican church agreed not to oppose the creation of public schools in Australia, as long as government subsidies to religious, private schools were maintained. This tension between relative levels of funding for government and non-government schools is a theme that continues today.

In the 1870s and 1880s, attendance at school was made compulsory, with NSW requiring children to attend between the ages of 6 to 13, and in Victoria from 6 to 15. This was quite an early recognition of the value of education, with the British system only requiring attendance until the age of 11 at the time. Education of the day was as much about crime control as learning:

Crime was the result of ignorance, ignorance was the result of a lack of education and, therefore, education would decrease crime … [education was the] means of forging the penal colony of Australia into an organised and orderly society. This society would be based on, but hopefully better than, the existing British system. It was, therefore, imperative that the government set up schools so that all children could be taught, not only the three “R’s,” (reading, writing and arithmetic) but how to be good moral, law-abiding citizens.

Here in the ACT, the Federal Government was responsible for funding and running local schools until self-government. Our schools operated under the conventional primary and high school model until 1976, when the college system was established. This has been a very successful model for year 11 and 12 students. In particular, it is an excellent fit for Canberra in the way that it maximises subject choice and access to specialist resources for senior students, given our comparatively small population.

More recently we have seen other models trialled here in the ACT, including the very popular integrated early childhood education and care approach for 0-7 year olds, as well as the single campus P-10 schools.

The best point to switch from the “single teacher” model of primary school to secondary education is not agreed either. Some educators maintain that starting secondary school in year 7 happens at a very vulnerable time in a child’s life, during rapid biological and mental changes. Many private schools in the ACT are structured as a junior (P-5), middle (6-8), and senior (9-12) campus. However, it is not clear whether any difference in academic achievement is due to socioeconomic factors or to the school structures themselves.

My big takeaway is that there is a lot that our education system does well. That said, Australia has been steadily slipping over the past decade in international rankings for achievement in mathematics, science, and reading. We can’t afford to be complacent. Education reform is an ongoing task, and we all need to be part of that debate.

What has your experience of the ACT school system been like? 

Kim Fischer is an ACT Labor candidate for the seat of Ginninderra in the 2016 ACT Legislative Assembly election.

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
20 Responses to
Which school model works best?
bj_ACT 4:52 pm 05 Feb 16

I thought the Superschool idea was good and was one of the few who supported the closures of schools around Canberra. I started to lose faith in the idea when they closed 3 primary and 3 pre schools in Kambah, but kept open schools near to where key Labor and Green politicians lived.

However, the proof should be in the pudding. So here’s the results….. (using the flawed ATAR method of sites such as http://www.bettereducation.com.au/CompareSchools/primary/act/compare_act_primary_schools.aspx )

RESULT = Kambah Super School is the worst in Tuggeranong (and I presume one of the worst in all Canberra). Well I guess closing 6 schools in the suburb and turning the High School into a K-10 for the Kambah saved enough money to pay for the Westside container village a few times over. Good work ACT education, maybe you can turn that leftover Blue Cage into a super small school for west Kambah.

I actually thought the Superschool at Kambah was going to perform OK.

farq 4:10 pm 05 Feb 16

dtc said :

So why don’t you send your kids to the ‘super school’ – because you like them being in a smaller school environment? Or because why?? There is nothing inherently bad about a super school.

Besides all the kids being mixed together with no separation at all (and the problems that creates), the major issue is the poor results they achieve in Naplan (possibly the worst in Canberra).

During the ‘consultation’ the government ran, the community made it clear we did not want a K-10 school, we just wanted the existing schools (which were performing well) properly maintained and not allowed to run down any more. The government ignored what the community wanted and built the economy sized school so they could free more land for units.

My family is not the only one who avoids the super school, every family in my street with primary school aged kids (10 kids in total) all go to the same school a few suburbs over. We joke about buying a bus to get them there.

We purchased this house because it was a short walk from a good school. Now my kids have to get driven to and from school everyday.

Southmouth 2:04 pm 05 Feb 16

In Canberra K-12 and 7-12 schools tend to get higher average ATAR scores than the “college” model, but the mechanisms that bring about that outcome are very complex. Firstly are the obvious socioeconomic factors as this model is a private school one, but also a major factor is the effect that the k-12 private model has on the self selection of students. To dramatically over simplify, kids who don’t like being treated a particular way, or who want more freedom, will elect to go to a 11-12 college even though they might have spent all of their previous schooling in a private school. This leaves the subset of students who tend to be more likely to achieve a higher ATAR. Then the ATAR rankings get published, parents enrol in K or 7 and the cycle repeats.

Kalliste 12:59 pm 05 Feb 16

I did most of my high school (7 – 12) years over the border in Queanbeyan and sometimes wished I’d decided to make the commute to Canberra to go to college like some of the other students did.

There was little to differentiate the juniors (7 – 10) from the seniors (11 – 12) other than that we wore white polos and had our own lunch area to sit in. Plus we had a few free periods here and there.

I think the subject options in college were far more varied and I probably wouldn’t have been stuck choosing either Business Studies or Modern History because those were the options on one of the lines I had to fill (or, alternatively, missing out on either music or IT because they also happened to be on the same lines).

I also think college would have prepared me more for going tertiary education. At my school we could still get detention for leaving school premises in year 12. This felt absurd to me considering I was 18 and legally an adult. If I had a free period (or just didn’t want to go to a class) I should have had the choice to do leave.

It also meant that when I did have the freedom of choice at CIT it was quite exciting and I skipped so many classes! Meanwhile most of the Canberra students were already used to that type of system and went to most of theirs.

dtc 11:53 am 05 Feb 16

farq said :

The super schools P-10 are about saving money.

My street is only a couple hundred metres from a super-school and not a single family send there kids there.

I have to drive my kids 4 suburbs over to a normal primary school.

Meanwhile my suburbs school and oval is going to be sold off to developers.

Another reason my family won’t be voting Labor this year.

There are about three completely different concepts in your argument

1. ability of a super school to provide quality education – why wouldn’t it? My primary (overseas) went from K to year 9 (primary and junior high in the US system). Schools like Radford are K – 12 on the same campus – admittedly levels kids are separated, but only by the width of an oval. Radford seems to do ok

So why don’t you send your kids to the ‘super school’ – because you like them being in a smaller school environment? Or because why?? There is nothing inherently bad about a super school.

2. saving money – well, saving money to deliver the same outcome seems worthwhile. As a taxpayer I’m fine with it.

3. selling ovals – if you can get the same outcome from a super school then you don’t need the schools; although retaining the ovals has its own benefits.

farq 5:26 pm 04 Feb 16

The super schools P-10 are about saving money.

My street is only a couple hundred metres from a super-school and not a single family send there kids there.

I have to drive my kids 4 suburbs over to a normal primary school.

Meanwhile my suburbs school and oval is going to be sold off to developers.

Another reason my family won’t be voting Labor this year.

Ghettosmurf87 3:47 pm 04 Feb 16

dtc said :

One concept I’m yet to be convinced about is combining years – ie 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6. Several primary schools do this. From what I can tell it means that either people in the lower grades don’t know what is going on part of the time, or people in the higher grades get very bored because they are doing the same thing as they did the year before.

The range of abilities in one class room is even broader then usual – from the bottom of year 5 to the top of year 6 – meaning that no student at either end can be given any special attention.

It just seems a bizarre concept and its never been explained properly to me – even though my kids went to one of these schools

I’m with you there Miz. Seems quite bizarre to me unless you have extremely small class sizes, where it becomes a necessity. For example as a kid I lived on a island where the local school had less than 100 kids spread across Kindergarten to Yr 10. So you could understand combining K-3, 4-6, 7-8 & 9-10 into just 4 classes.

And in Darwin in primary school we had a funny set-up with staggered class groups. I.e there was a 3-4 class AND a 4-5 class, which essentially worked as a level system like in high school. So the top level year 4’s were in with the 4-5 class, while the bottom level ones were in the 3-4 class. It was odd, but it seemed to work alright as there were year specific assessments, though you received the same teaching. And because of the staggering you were always going to go through each class once, whether as a upper or lower, so you didn’t miss out.

Does seem very odd to have single classes of multi year groups though, with no stagger, so you essentially do the same class multiple years in a row. That’s if there is teacher to student ratio that would allow you to split the class into individual year groups.

dtc 2:46 pm 04 Feb 16

One concept I’m yet to be convinced about is combining years – ie 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6. Several primary schools do this. From what I can tell it means that either people in the lower grades don’t know what is going on part of the time, or people in the higher grades get very bored because they are doing the same thing as they did the year before.

The range of abilities in one class room is even broader then usual – from the bottom of year 5 to the top of year 6 – meaning that no student at either end can be given any special attention.

It just seems a bizarre concept and its never been explained properly to me – even though my kids went to one of these schools

Ghettosmurf87 9:05 am 03 Feb 16

miz said :

The problem with colleges is it is yet another transition at a crucial stage which is not only educationally disruptive but can cause peer groups to sever (because colleges are marketed by their specialist subjects, eg they might be a ‘sports’ or a ‘music’ or ‘international baccalaureate’ college). It would be far better if the colleges did not have to compete with one another and simply offered all subjects to a good standard. This specialty school (band, creative arts etc) thing has also infected high schools.

I can see how some students find it disruptive, but I actually found it completely the opposite. For me, jumping out of the fish bowl of high school, where you are pigeon-holed into the same clicky groups very early on in your life, and into a college, was the perfect situation. With everyone being at a new school, I was able to form far better friendships and felt welcome in far many more groups than I would have in a high school where everyone becomes so set in their ways. Admittedly I went to a different college (Hawker) than the majority of my high school (Lyneham who went to Dickson), for this very purpose.

I also really valued the transition stage that ACT colleges provide as a sort of halfway point to university/the real world of employment. With teachers only having a cohort of 16-18yr olds I found that they were far more able to interact with their students as young adults, rather than having to apply blanket rules and formality on year 7’s and 12’s alike. Those teachers (and they were the majority) that treated us with that kind of respect and maturity were invaluable in making the transition from kid-to-adult interactions into adult-to-adult interactions.

Obviously it is an each to their own situation, but I really enjoyed the college system.

pink little birdie 1:01 am 03 Feb 16

Maya123 said :

I can’t comment on local colleges, as I went to a country NSW high school that took us to, as it was called then, year six. However, surely it’s only the building that is different; whether it’s a college that only has years 11 & 12, or a high school that has six years. What is taught is surely the same.

Being able to choose subjects as students in Canberra can, was not a luxury that I had. The only compulsory subject in the last two years of high school (college years) we had to take was English; the others we could choose. However, being a small school we had little choice (unless one took a course by correspondence school). There were only enough teachers to over the basic subjects; there were no ‘elective’ subjects. Our final year would have had less than 25 students; maybe closer even to fifteen students. The next high school was some distance away over a winding, steep, narrow road.

The local students here appear spoiled for choice, but I wonder if more choice somehow makes it more difficult.

Prior to the national curriculum ACT had syllabus documents and schools were allowed to set their own relevant curriculum to meet the needs of the students, community and the syllabus.

sepi 10:17 pm 02 Feb 16

I loved college for year 11 and 12. I dropped maths like a hot brick and still went to Uni – no regrets here.
College was fun and so interesting after high school.

But….taking out yr 11 and 12 leaves yrs 7-10 remaining, and these are really the nastiest dog-eat-dog years of 13-16. Which makes Canberra high schools quite scary places.

Perhaps with all the overcrowing in primary schools we could move yr 6 into high schools, to see if that can fix the balance a little.

miz 5:26 pm 02 Feb 16

The problem with colleges is it is yet another transition at a crucial stage which is not only educationally disruptive but can cause peer groups to sever (because colleges are marketed by their specialist subjects, eg they might be a ‘sports’ or a ‘music’ or ‘international baccalaureate’ college). It would be far better if the colleges did not have to compete with one another and simply offered all subjects to a good standard. This specialty school (band, creative arts etc) thing has also infected high schools.

Maya123 1:10 pm 02 Feb 16

I can’t comment on local colleges, as I went to a country NSW high school that took us to, as it was called then, year six. However, surely it’s only the building that is different; whether it’s a college that only has years 11 & 12, or a high school that has six years. What is taught is surely the same.

Being able to choose subjects as students in Canberra can, was not a luxury that I had. The only compulsory subject in the last two years of high school (college years) we had to take was English; the others we could choose. However, being a small school we had little choice (unless one took a course by correspondence school). There were only enough teachers to over the basic subjects; there were no ‘elective’ subjects. Our final year would have had less than 25 students; maybe closer even to fifteen students. The next high school was some distance away over a winding, steep, narrow road.

The local students here appear spoiled for choice, but I wonder if more choice somehow makes it more difficult.

pink little birdie 9:52 am 02 Feb 16

I quite liked the seperate secondary colleges.
They give more independance to year 11-12 students., All colleges required English and maths when I went through. So from there you had a base.
I didn’t feel that the I had to choose my subjects too early – most of the uni bound did maths, english, science and one or two electives like outdoor ed. music, drama, art, or history. there were lots of people who knew they didn’t want uni and did non uni subjects with their maths and English.
Most of my friends also went to the same local feeder college.

Some kids may need extra continuing support of the high school enviroment which is fine but most kids like the extra independance of our college system.

miz 8:17 am 02 Feb 16

I personally dislike the secondary college aspect. I went through it myself and found it very disruptive educationally and forced me to make what I now see as ‘life choices’ (ie narrowing of subjects) too soon. My three children did not find it great either and particularly resented having to separate from friendship groups because of college selection. I and my children all would have preferred to remain at high school for those final years.
I think the ACT only does ok with colleges because of our abiding relatively high socio economic status. The other place with secondary colleges, Tasmania, does not.

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site