Excellence in Education

21st Feb 2017

There has been much in the press over recent years about Australia’s fall in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) world assessment tables which assess scientific literacy, reading and mathematical literacy. The most recent PISA results for Australia have had the media, commentators and government stridently decrying dropping standards in Australian education. This has occupied many column inches and megabytes online and is in danger of being accepted as gospel for every child in Australia.

However, what isn’t reported is that in the Australian independent sector our students are among the top performers in the world. In the graphic below published by the Independent Schools Council of Australia, you can see that in the last PISA testing, the results for students in Australian independent schools are remarkably high across world scores: 2nd in Scientific literacy, 1st in Reading literacy and 5th in Mathematical literacy. Additionally, we are performing at some 8% above our nation’s average scores.

These are truly impressive results. It is also interesting to note that the scores in Australian independent schools have risen through the PISA cohort since the last test, particularly in Reading literacy, where we have moved from 2nd overall to 1st overall. Given Tintern Grammar’s ranking within the independent sector nationally, it is heartening to see this means our students compare well on a world scale.

Comparative rankings on league tables does not tell the real story either, though. As each student is at a different stage of development and our aim at Tintern Grammar is to help each achieve their own personal excellence. So what is more relevant to our students and families, the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) has cited research that shows that on average students in independent schools gain a ‘value add’ of 8 points on their tertiary entrance score, even after allowing for Socio-Economic Status (SES) and student ability.

While some commentators point to the selective nature of some independent schools, AHISA also provides evidence that students of middle and lower ability demonstrate greater gain in independent schools. At Tintern Grammar, a genuinely open-entry school, we track the growth in literacy and numeracy through standardised testing such as NAPLAN, Progressive Assessment Tests (PAT) and the VCE for students in the upper, lower and average achievement bands to check that our students outgrow the benchmarks in these bands. To us these measures of optimal growth, and those of our teaching staff who work with the students every day, are the most important as we strive to ensure every student gets the most out of every moment in our learning community.

What is the secret to this excellence? According to AHISA, in all successful schools, the key element to explain this ‘value adding’ is the creation and fostering of an Academic Ethos where achieving ones best is the ‘norm’ and everyone collaborates to make it happen for each student. There are other features of excellent schools that also support strong academic performance and we feel confident that we do these areas particularly well.

Good relationships between teachers and students, where pastoral care is the responsibility of all staff in the school, and students’ social and emotional skills are also developed to support wellbeing and academic performance. Family support and parental engagement supports positive attitudes towards education and therefore achievement.

Quality teaching is shown to be the most powerful influence on student achievement within a school. Our outstanding teachers and professional development program, helps staff to model to the students our commitment to continuous improvement, to be the best we can be.

Structured co-curricular programs where staff can build relationships, foster broader life skills and aid student engagement and therefore motivation.

Pronouncements on the results of educational data can make for an eye-catching headline but there is usually more to the story than can fit in a click-bait or sound-bite. What is clear is that Australian Independent Schools, and Tintern Grammar in particular, are well placed to ensure that every student in our care can be confident in their achievement of their own excellence.

Research sources are listed on AHISA’s website: https://www.ahisa.edu.au/resources/ahisa-infographics/ahisa-infographic-1/

by Jason McManus, Vice-Principal – Teaching and Learning