Families in limbo over suspension of school entry exams
Melbourne GP Tania Siddiqui’s 13-year-old daughter Diya has done all she can to enter one of Victoria's low-cost, select-entry high schools.
She's done weekend classes and practice exams to prepare for a three-hour entrance exam which covers verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, persuasive or creative writing, reading comprehension and mathematics.
Gifted education expert Dr Leonie Kronborg. Credit:Simon Schluter
The entrance exam was to be held at the Melbourne Showgrounds to accommodate growing demand. But it has been delayed twice – first in June and again this month – due to COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings.
No new date has been set, leaving about 3500 applicants and their families in limbo.
Students would normally know by now whether they have been accepted to Mac Robertson Girls’ High School, Melbourne High School, Nossal High School or Suzanne Cory High School.
And parents and guardians would know whether to re-enrol their child for next year and pay term one fees.
"We don’t know what’s going to happen next year," said Dr Siddiqui. “As a parent we don’t know, should we pay the fee for next year for the private school or should we wait and see?”
The Department of Education, which runs the centralised selection process, said it would "provide applicants, their families and schools with further information on an alternative date shortly with as much advance notice as possible."
"We know many students are anticipating this exam," a spokesman said.
Dr Leonie Kronborg, co-ordinator of gifted education studies at Monash University, said the delay would put more pressure on students who have already been challenged by the pandemic and remote learning.
"The students will have to be really quite psychologically resilient to be able to adapt with the delayed exam process, and I imagine it will really impact on some of the students who are sitting it," she said.
Year 8 student Diya said she had always wanted to go to a selective-entry school. While she's still confident, her motivation has waned.
“I’m sure once they do announce the date I’ll be like, ‘OK I’m ready to go’, but maybe not as much as I was in June,” she said. “But yes, I would be ready I think.”
More than 4000 students attend Melbourne's year 9-12 select-entry state schools. NSW has dozens of select-entry schools.
While the delay is not ideal, Colin Axup, principal of Suzanne Cory High School in Werribee, said the schools would manage.
"We will run an effective enrolment and transition process for the selected students once the selection process has been completed," he said.
Exams for state-school accelerated learning programs and private-school scholarships have also been affected by Melbourne's lockdowns. Some schools have taken their exam online and others have postponed until restrictions ease.
Hendersons Educational Services said its young customers prepare for entrance exams offered by schools ranging from Balwyn High, Huntingtower School, University High, Penleigh and Essendon Grammar, and Scotch College.
A 2018 study by the University of Melbourne found students who attended selective-entry schools achieved ATARs that were up to just two points higher, on average, than similar students elsewhere.
Australian students are ambitious relative to global peers. The OECD’s survey of 15-year-olds, called PISA, showed students from Australia and the US were more likely to want top grades, to be the best at whatever they do, and to want to select from among the best opportunities upon graduation than participants in Finland, Japan and Korea.
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