One of the most important decisions you will make as a parent will be choosing a secondary school for your child. It can be somewhat overwhelming so to help you make a choice; here are the top five things you should know.
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5 tips for choosing a good secondary school
Here are 5 tips for choosing a good school in Brisbane.
1. Making Sense of Secondary School Academic Results
The main purpose of a secondary school is to help each student achieve his or her personal best and to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for future career pathways.
You will research secondary schools and their published academic results (e.g. OPs and NAPLAN). Using these results as a way to assess secondary schools, however, is not particularly reliable. Here are some reasons why.
a) We know that high results often relate to the high socio-economic status of families (Geoff Masters, Australian Council for Education Research 2013) or a policy of selecting students on the basis of ability.
b) A narrow focus on academic success may ignore the importance of other elements such as the secondary school’s capacity to foster a young person’s social, emotional, physical, cultural and/or spiritual development.
c) Published Queensland tertiary entrance statistics may be misleading (e.g. the percentage of OP-eligible students who achieve OPs1-15). In many secondary schools only 50-60% of their students are now OP-eligible with lower-achieving students opting for a non-OP pathway. A secondary school which has 80% of students gain an OP1-15 when only 40% are eligible has not achieved nearly as well academically as a school that has 80% of students getting an OP1-15 when 80% are eligible.
d) NAPLAN tests assess a small range of skills but may not adequately test creativity, problem-solving and other higher order thinking skills that are the real markers of academic achievement.
What to Do: A better estimate of a secondary school’s academic success is the percentage of students who get into university each year compared with the State. Download your school’s Commonwealth and State Annual Report on the School’s website, (School Leavers’ Destination Survey) to see how their statistics compare to the state. Check out the Senior Students Report from QSA in the same report to find out the proportion of students who are OP-eligible and OP-ineligible. This will give you an idea of how focused the school is on academic or vocational pathways.
2. The Importance of Secondary School Co-curricular Opportunities
Co-curricular activities in secondary school-aged children are essential. The Search Institute in the US found from surveying 150,000 children in Grade 6 – 12 is they are three times more likely to have positive outcomes (academic achievements, leadership, and behaviour) if they spend time practicing music, drama or other arts; or are involved in sports, religious groups, clubs or organisations at school and/or the community.
Experience shows that a high co-curricular involvement usually correlates to good or high academic effort and achievement. Moreover, students who are involved in such activities get to know students across age-groups and have a greater sense of belonging and value as a contributor.
Secondary schools that have a camping/Outdoor Education program are doing a great service to students. In particular, an experience of three to four weeks based on high-trust adventure and environmental activities is of long term benefit.
3. Select the type of secondary school that suits your child and their needs
You will want to consider the type of secondary school that is best for them: a school that is State or Non-State; co-educational or single-sex; faith-based or non-faith-based.
Education is a partnership between families and the school and we are fortunate in Brisbane to have a range of education providers so that parents can choose a pathway that bests suits them.
Independent (non-Catholic) secondary schools educate more than 20% of secondary students in the state, and numbers have increased by 39% in a decade. Research by the Australian Council for Education Research (Geoff Masters, 2013) showed that, in choosing a secondary school, regardless of whether it is state or non-state, parents attach greatest importance to the quality of teachers in the school. They also look for schools that are safe, secure and that provide quality student care.
Parents who send their children to single sex schools often do so because they hope they will do better in an environment tailored for boys or girls, or because they do not wish them to be distracted by students of the opposite sex. Proponents of co-education say that it is more natural: life is co-ed.
Research has shown there is no evidence that students do better academically in single-sex situations. A recent report in The Courier Mail (August 28, 2013) quoted Monash University Professor Helen Forgasz: “Socio- economic factors are far more salient in terms of educational outcomes than anything to do with a gender setting of schooling.”
Faith-based and non-faith-based schools have a place in a country where democracy and religious freedom are valued. If you are a member of a particular religion, it is likely you will choose a school with that religious base. If not, it is still likely that you will consider a faith-based school because you want your children to develop values such as respect and care for others and to have the capacity to make wise ethical decisions.
4. Quality teachers make the most difference to student outcomes
Recent research has shown time and time again that quality teachers make the most difference to student outcomes of any factor including home and school: the attributes of the student make up about 50%of the difference, and quality teachers 30% (John Hattie).
An advantage of independent schools is that they have more power to recruit the kinds of teachers they want and are also freer to manage unsatisfactory performance.
Check out the Commonwealth and State Annual Report on the School web-site about teachers – for example, professional development and teacher retention rate, which is an indicator of how committed they are to their job and the school.
5. The “Feel” of the Secondary School
What finally tips many parents and students in favour of a particular school is its “feel”. The warmth and friendliness of the people you meet, the sense of order and calm and the care that has been spent on the grounds, may all point to a positive emotional and social climate for the school. Students may sense that they could belong here.
Similarly, many parents say they have chosen a school because of the students or past students they know who are fine young people, or great employees. “I hope my son or daughter will turn out like that student,” they say. Or maybe they know some great teachers who work there. Many would like to meet the Principal before they make a decision.
In education, it is always the quality of the people involved that is the most important thing – not the buildings or the documents. After you have viewed the school and the website and read the documents, make your decision based on the people.
As you consider all the information gathered, ensure you and your child are comfortable with the decision made. Ask as many questions as you can, research and visit the schools to see for yourself how it operates.
Written by Ruth Butler, Principal, Grace Lutheran College, specialists in secondary education.