A crude analysis of Adelaide schools

I’ve put together a spreadsheet of NAPLAN results for Adelaide schools. NB: Not all Adelaide schools! ‘Though I like data and analyis, and I enjoy books filled with things that I already know, set out fair and square with no contradictions, spending that many hours on the My School website would just be very, very sad. I’ve concentrated on the schools in to the immediate north, east and south of the city centre. Please, let me know if there are schools that I’ve missed that you would like to see added to the analysis, and I will update my lists and the graphics below. And contact me if you would like me to send my spreadsheet to you, at my hotmail address, where I use dfr141 as my handle. Yes, the school my daughters go to is in the list, as is the secondary school we think they will attend.

The analysis is crude: I am no statistician. However I do know enough to exclude very small schools, such as the Sturt St Community School, because the very small year group sizes there mean that the data from the school is much more subject to variability.

The upshot of the analysis: the schools with the highest averages are private schools, but some public schools are level pegging with them, more or less, and many public schools are doing better than many private schools. If you have the money, and your child is a girl, then the Wilderness School looks very good indeed. Pembroke is also very good, but given the expense, it’s not clear why you would choose these schools over some of the very good state schools, such as Glenunga International, and Marryatville High School, which are performing at more-or-less the same level. The principal of one not-so-well performing private school has said that of course, they offer a rounded education, and they educate the whole person [link]. In what, I ask? Most of the state schools claim to do that too, and some of the money that parents don’t spend on high fees is often spent on “whole person” stuff, such as music lessons and drama lessons and sports clubs and the like. That’s our approach, over and above our commitment to public education (our attitudes to state education are perhaps skewed by coming from New Zealand, where only 5% of children go to private schools).

If you take a look at the website of one high profile private school, you will see that they boast of having educated 3 Nobel laureates, 41 Rhodes scholars, and 8 Premiers. So, to me, it looks as though what they are selling is privilege, the sort of privilege that helps you to know the right people (a very important thing in Adelaide, I’ve found), to establish the right connections, to be the right sort of chap. Lovely.

Given that the private schools don’t really do any better than public schools, with a couple of exceptions (that would be Wilderness and Pembroke), I have to conclude that what the private schools are selling is not education, but snobbery, the ability to say, “Oh yes, darling, my children are being educated at [fill in the private school of your choice here].” I feel deeply uncomfortable about these sorts of attitudes, and I’ve been uncomfortable about them ever since we moved here. So much for egalitarianism.

Okay…. rant over. My very very crude averaging of schools’ scores on the NAPLAN test follows. All the usual caveats apply! I’ve used Year 7 results to rank primary schools, and year 9 results to rank secondary schools (primary school goes from Reception to year 7, and secondary school from year 8 to year 12, in South Australia). I’ve simply averaged the results in each curriculum area – Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation, Numeracy – to get a score for the school. This means that I’ve given far more weight to literacy skills than to numeracy skills. I suppose I could have done something a little more complicated, like averaging the four literacy skills and then averaging that score with the numeracy score to get an overall result for each school… but that looks just as value-laden as a simple average. I’ve included each school’s ICSEA number; that’s a measure of socio-economic advantage. But again, caveats! Please, do contact me if you want the full spreadsheets: I’m very happy to share.

Primary schools

Secondary schools

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22 responses to “A crude analysis of Adelaide schools

  1. It would be interesting to compare results with fees, to produce a chart showing whether there is a relationship between the sums paid and the results gained. After all, parents might want to spend the money they save by sending their children to public schools on educative family holidays, on musical instruments or on a well-stocked library.

  2. Well, yes, but that would be just too, too sad for me to incorporate into my tables. But I think that roughly, about $12,000 to about $16,000 p.a. for secondary school is what you’re looking at in Adelaide.

  3. I would have expected my old school Adelaide High to come higher on a table like this. But the combination of its ICSEA number with its specialisation would be the reason: Adelaide High, now as in my day, is a language specialisation school with an extremely high number of students from a non-English-speaking background, so given that as you say most of your criteria were across the literacy (in English) spectrum, that would badly skew AHS backwards. I wonder whether these are the fine-tune variations that these nationwide blunt instruments completely miss.

  4. I think it’s good that you kept the literacy areas separate and averaged them with numeracy. In my book, numeracy is way over rated these days – but it’s not a particularly popular view! I do think it’s hard to rate schools in tables though because you don’t get the whole picture. Standardised test results are merely one indicator of how well students are achieving academically. The schools will have a lot more detailed data (in many more curriculum areas) although much of it will not be suitable for comparing across schools. Personally, I prefer looking at ERO reports (or Adelaide equivalent) and a good old school visit during school hours so I can ask questions (students and teachers) and see how the school really operates. It’s amazing what you pick up – good and bad!

  5. Interesting that the ICSEA score doesn’t seem that good a predictor of results (at least by eye – too lazy to do a regression!). Maybe Adelaide is more egalitarian than Sydney.

    The good thing about this analysis is that it includes the whole school – at least in Sydney, HSC (end of school) league tables tend to rank schools by high performers only.

  6. Friends of ours have chosen to send their children to AHS, for a number of reasons. among them is that last year, about 89% of their graduating class got into their first choice university course. That’s impressive, because it indicates that the school opens up opportunity for its students.

  7. Yes, I agree. I think the most useful thing coming out of this data for me as a parent is that we finally have some hard information that we can use to get our school to take some action with respect to numeracy. Parents at the school have been aware for some time that the school is not doing as well in numeracy as it ought to, but we’ve seen no sign of the school taking action to strengthen numeracy teaching. I don’t need my children’s school to outperform its peer group but I do think that it should achieve results that are roughly consistent with neighbouring schools, which have pupils coming from much the same demographic.

    Also, it’s very, very hard as a parent to get information about schools. Secondary schools are usually quite forthcoming about the results their leaving classes achieve, but anything below that is just not available to us. Yes, visiting the school helps, but once the children are settled there, the costs of leaving are quite high, so we need to find other ways of holding the school to account.

  8. I’m only using the schools in the suburbs that are roughly equivalent to our own suburb, ‘though I’ve tried to cover all schools in those ‘burbs. So I would expect the ICSEA scores to be relatively similar, and non-predictive – the parent / family base is likely to be more-or-less the same across all those suburbs.

    The ICSEA technical paper [PDF – 229k] says that the mean ICSEA score is 1000, and the standard deviation is 100. That will mean a lot more to you than to me! All the schools I have used have an ICSEA well above the mean, and most are over 1100 i.e. more than one standard deviation above the mean.

  9. I’m very uncomfortable with this. It’s a league table, and league tables are demonstrably damaging – see the debate about national standards in New Zealand.

    Social background is by far the highest predictor of educational outcome. If you want to ensure your child excels academically, be the family that promotes learning, work with your kid, and for god’s sake send them to their local school unless you have a compelling reason not to.

    A school with a lowest average is not a school that doesn’t do its job, it’s a school with kids from a lower socio-economic backgrounds. Of course if middle class families start leaving it in favour of a school outside the area – be it private or public, it’s privilege-hunting either way – then the averages of the local school will start falling. It’s entirely self fulfilling, and league table actively promote that.

  10. And by the way, it may be hard to get information about schools, except not really – unless it’s different in Australia, you can make an appointment with the principal and visit it. You might be getting a pitch but you’ll also get a pretty good idea of what a school’s values and achievements are. Much better than what you’d get by looking at a spreadsheet anyhow.

  11. We have found it hard to get information about the school. There’s nothing like the ERO reports.

    I’ve been quite careful to use schools in suburbs that are roughly similar to ours – in more-or-less the same socio-economic grouping. I agree – league tables can be very damaging. For example, it could be very damaging to compare say, Naenae Primary directly with say, Wadestown Primary. The socio-economic groups that the two schools draw from are quite different, and any difference between the schools’ outcomes are very highly likely to be as a result of that. However, think about say, Wadestown Primary and Karori Normal and Kelburn Normal and Northland Primary – all decile 10 full primary schools (years 1 to 8 in NZ, equivalent to years Reception to 7 in Australia). Given that those four schools draw from roughly equivalent social groups, if it turned out that one school was achieving significantly better results than the others, or significantly worse results, then you would have to figure that the explanation lies somewhere within the school, not within the population its students are drawn from.

    As I said up-thread to Belinda, our children’s school is not doing as well as its peer group schools in numeracy, by quite a margin. NB: that’s not based on the My School website list of 60 equivalent schools, but on looking at the four or five neighbouring public primary schools. I don’t think its due to the student population, and I think we are entitled to ask the school why our children aren’t doing around about as well as children at neighbouring schools. Part of the problem is that there is a significant cost to shifting schools, so once you’ve made the initial purchase, it’s hard to go elsewhere. That means that we need good on-going information about what the school is doing, and whether it really is doing what it ought to be doing. In NZ we can get that through ERO reports, but this is the only external information that we’ve had available to us about our children’s school, aside from rumour and hearsay.

  12. Part of the problem is that there is a significant cost to shifting schools, so once you’ve made the initial purchase, it’s hard to go elsewhere.

    I assume you’re using “purchase” with knowing irony, but I’d say the problem with public education is precisely this incredibly widespread perception that it is a matter of consumer choice. It’s not. Kids should go to their local school because it’s an integral part of their local community, and if there’s something wrong with it, then it should be rectified. The consumer choice exercised by the knowing parents hurts the system, amplifying those imbalances.

    And it is often misguided. You might have tried to compare schools of similar decile, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, deciles are not a perfectly accurate reflection of socioeconomic backgrounds. For another, a school might have better results in literacy than another because it has fewer ESL students, or better numeracy results because of a flow on effect from the local preschool, or because of a deviation caused by historical trend (the math teacher used to be good, so the school acquired a reputation, so kids who are good at maths go to it, but maybe the teacher is not even there). Or a school might be excellent academically, but be rife with bullying, or not promote solidarity amongst the students, or not offer the kind of learning opportunities that don’t show up in those two headline numbers. Or perhaps it has good results because it ‘teaches to the tests’, which is known to be counter-productive in terms of effective learning. Or perhaps it has good results because it turns away students with intellectual disabilities (which often is simply a matter of not working well with the ones you happen to have), for they too will weigh on the averages.

  13. By analogy, should we do away with examinations for students?

  14. I’d be very happy to personally.

  15. Kids should go to their local school because it’s an integral part of their local community

    You’re singing to the choir, Gio! Our girls have always gone to the nearest public school. Hmmm… that’s not quite correct – at one time we chose a school that was a bit further away, but it was on our way to work, instead of in the other direction.

    and if there’s something wrong with [the local school], then it should be rectified.

    Yes. And this information gives us a basis on which to do that.

    There’s a big information assymmetry between teachers and parents. As a parent, I don’t know what it’s reasonable to expect a 7yr old to be able to do and I don’t know what kids from a similar background are doing. That’s because I’m not an expert in education. So I have no way of making sure that my children’s school is accountable for what it’s doing, because I have no information. The information I got from the My School site goes some way towards reducing that information assymmetry.

  16. As friends of ours with school-age kids in Sydney pointed out, for the cost of sending the sprogs to a private school you could take them them every year on an overseas trip that might really broaden their minds… I don’t understand the Aussie obsession with private schools, either.

  17. One thing I really liked about the child’s report was that in each teaching area the teacher said whether the teacher was above, at or below the expectation for her age gap. Talked about things she had improved on and areas she needed to work on. For instance she can write on a line very well but needs to improve the spacing between her letters.

    I don’t what it’s like at other schools but that, to me seems to be the best way to do reporting which is why I have trouble with this ‘reports aren’t in plain english’ meme.

  18. You’re singing to the choir, Gio!

    Well, if I’m preaching to the choir, might I ask what one of our best singers is doing distributing leagues tables?! And I dispute that it’s on that basis that one can address problems at a local school. The information is just too superficial. You need an ERO-style report to know how a school is performing relative to what can be expected of it, and what its long term trends are. If this information is not available in Australia, then I’d advocate talking to neighbours whose kids went to your school, but primarily to the principal, who ought to be available for such a conversation. It’s a reliable way to find out what a school is about, and you can ask them about averages too – but they’ll put them in context.

  19. Well, I thoroughly agree with Giovanni’s concerns here (though I stop short of wanting exams abolished completely). I see little merit in league tables, [articularly those based on reducing schools to a single number. It actually strikes me that there is remarkably little difference between the schools on the list anyway.

  20. Which given that the list comprises about half and half private and public schools, suggests that there is no value-add to private schooling at all.

  21. Deborah, I too spent time at the myschool site and checked to see if the results of the schools nearby were as I expect them to be. Like you, I’m very wary of league tables. Like Gio, I worry that a narrow range of evidence collected in respect to a narrow range of indicators will be amplified in meaning. Still, there’s our essential curiousity working away…

    I’m convinced that our local school is very good. All the evidence I’ve personally collected is consistent. Still, I was keen to verify it with NAPLAN data. I shouldn’t be so worried. Honestly, I’m as concerned that my daughter’s experience is enriching, develops in her a sense of her position in our community, encourages her to do something creative and economically irrelevant… I’ll do whatever remedial reading is necessary if they can expose her to things I can not…

    I’m not entirely sure what my point is here, I don’t have a clear or simple one. I don’t want league tables, I know all to well how meaningless they are… yet there I was, first day… checking them out.

  22. Hi there, thanks for the ”
    A crude analysis of Adelaide schools” love it! Any chance that you could please send me your full spreadsheet for Adelaide – that would be super. Thank you