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School leavers' class wars

  • 13 June 2014

Year 12 tertiary entrance exams: turning 17-year-olds into nervous wrecks since the 1830s. They divide the smart from the dumb, the hopefuls from the no-hopers, and, what it boils down to more often than not, the privately educated from the state educated. But what if there was another way, a way that properly acknowledged the impact high schools have on their students' access to university admission?

A recent study released by Great Britain's Department of Education radically advises that universities adopt different entrance requirements for students from government schools than those from independent schools. The research points to the fact that year 12 results correlate more with what school the student went to than they do with future academic performance at university. Students from lower-performing schools who do make it into university outperform students with equivalent high school grades from high-performing schools.

'On average, someone who gains BBB at a school where the average A-level score is CCC will do better in higher education than someone who gains BBB at a school where the average is AAA,' the report states.

Are students from lower-performing high schools brighter than private school students? Well, no. I don't know that school results, or even university results, can truly capture how bright or promising a student really is, as they can never account for what a student thinks they are getting out of school, or what their commitments are outside the classroom.

The literature is divided on what makes a student perform well, some studies indicating that socioeconomic status is the main factor. This makes sense in that middle- and upper-class students are usually less obliged to work for money to help with household expenses, and less obliged to care for relatives.

But that logic is distorted by the fact that selective state schools and Catholic schools tend to share a class-base with state schools, while garnering better leaving results. It seems to be that schools themselves predict what kind of university, if any university, a student will be accepted to.

Another angle: leaving results are arbitrary and should be done away with.

While we can probably all agree that school's a great idea, especially for nerds like me who lapped up the work as a way of escaping the monotony of school itself, of living in crappy suburbs, of working at McDonald's and never having any cash; a ticket into an imagined future. But the format of high school education