Selective schools in New South Wales, Australia are government high schools operated by the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities that have accepted their students based upon their academic merit. Each year, approximately 13,000 Year 6 students from across the state of New South Wales optionally undertake the Selective High Schools Test to seek one of the 3,600 places offered for first-year entry into selective high schools. For Years 8 to 12 entry into selective schools, students do not take an external test, but apply directly to a school for entry. The application package is common to all government selective schools, with internal selection committees considering applications each year in August–September.
The first government selective high schools in NSW were established in the nineteenth century. They included Bathurst High School, Fort Street High School, Goulburn High School, Sydney Technical High School, Penrith High School and Sydney High School (now Sydney Boys High School and Sydney Girls High School).
In 2010, 14 more comprehensive high schools will become partially selective, with one or more classes of selective students, and a "virtual school" bringing together a single class of students from regional NSW.
There are currently 30 selective government high schools, including 17 fully selective high schools, 25 partially selective high schools (high schools with both selective and comprehensive classes) and 4 selective agricultural high schools. Of the 42, 36 are located in metropolitan Sydney.
A new initiative exists to create a virtual selective high school to cater for students in rural areas in Western NSW, known as xsel. The school is based in Dubbo. Students enrolled at xsel base themselves at their local high school, utilise a range of technologies to access more fast-paced lessons delivered by video and interact with each other, and attend a residential program based in Dubbo on a yearly basis.
A number of schools have been designated as "partially selective", in that they have self-contained classes to provide for gifted and talented students in the junior years of high school. Often, schools combine selective and comprehensive streams as students enter the senior years, however, in practice, selective students tend to "self-select" into more advanced classes, such as extension units in Mathematics and English.
In general, entry into a government selective school is determined by a profile score, which is derived by combining school marks in English and mathematics with the marks received in the Selective High Schools Test in reading, writing, mathematics and general ability.
The profile score is computed simply by adding the English, mathematics and general ability component scores which are marks out of 100 to form the profile score out of 300.
The component scores are computed as follows:In general ability the test marks are scaled on a statewide basis to a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 12 to form the component general ability score out of 100.
In mathematics the test marks are likewise scaled on a statewide basis to a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 12 to form the scaled mathematics test marks out of 100. However, in mathematics the process of determining the component score is slightly more complex because in mathematics there is a school mark to consider in addition to the test mark. To include the school mark the next step of the process is to calculate the mean and standard deviation of the scaled mathematics test marks for each school. Then, school at a time, the mathematics school marks for each student are moderated (or scaled) to the same mean and standard deviation as the scaled test marks for students for that school. The scores formed from this process are called the moderated school marks and are also out of 100. The reason for scaling the school marks and test marks to the same mean and standard deviation is to ensure that both school and test marks have the same value in the final component score. Next, the scaled test marks and moderated school marks for each student are averaged and then re-scaled on a statewide basis to the mean of 60 and standard deviation of 12 to form the final component score out of 100. The reason for scaling all component scores to the same mean and standard deviation is to ensure that each component is given an equal value in the profile score. If this were not to occur then the component with the highest standard deviation would have the greatest value.
In English this process is even more complex because there are two test marks (reading and writing) and only one school mark (English). However, the school mark contains both reading and writing components so the process is fair and valid. Put briefly, the procedure described above for mathematics is repeated twice in English. The school English mark is moderated first for reading and then again for writing. The resultant scores for reading are then given a weighting of two thirds and the resultant scores for writing are given a weighting of one third. These two scores are then added and re-scaled on a statewide basis to a mean of 60 and a standard deviation of 12 to form the final component score in English out of 100.
Scaling and moderating school and tests marks ensure that
• school and test marks have the same value;
• school marks from each school are placed on the same scale as the test marks achieved by students from those same schools thereby making it possible to fairly compare school marks from one school with school marks from each other school;
• each component (English, mathematics and general ability) has the same value.
The process also includes 'wild-score' processing which identifies students who, based on their school performance, may have done much worse than expected in the test. Where such students have been identified the moderating process takes this into account and adjusts scores accordingly. This ensures that students will not be disadvantaged by other students who attend the same school and may have done much worse than expected because of serious illness, misadventure or other cause.
By early July students receive letters informing them of one of three outcomes concerning their application to each school:offer- the student can apply immediately for enrolment in the certain school.
reserve list- the student is placed on a waiting list, with the possibility of entry if their place on the list is reached
unsuccessful- the student is not being considered for a place
In some cases, an application can be put on 'hold', meaning it is awaiting the result of further enquiries by the Department of Education.
Other criteria include age and grade, and current residency status in Australia. This usually requires students to be between 11 years and 5 months and 13 years at the start of the year they wish to commence Year 7, be in Year 6 the year before they wish to enter, and be either a citizen or permanent resident of Australia or a citizen of New Zealand. However, exemptions to some of these requirements may be given in special circumstances or through consultation with the Department of Education.
The existence of government selective schools in NSW, which also exist in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, has not been without controversy, with much of it centred on the discrepancies between selective high schools and comprehensive high schools.
A significant dismantling of the selective schools system was proposed by an inquiry in 2002 that was funded by the NSW Parents and Citizens Association and the NSW Teachers Federation. At that time, the report called for the changing of 12 of the state's 19 selective high schools to partially selective high schools, retaining only the seven most established schools: Fort Street, North Sydney Boys', North Sydney Girls', Sydney Boys', Sydney Girls', Sydney Technical, and St George Girls'. The recommendation were justified, from the viewpoint of the inquiry's chair UNSW Professor Tony Vinson, by the fact that 'wherever possible, talented students should be able to remain within mainstream schools to maximise social cohesion and "an inclusive school community"'.
However, although the report had the backing of the then NSW Education Minister John Watkins, most of the Vinson enquiry's recommendations, including most of the recommendations concerning the status of selective schools, were not implemented by the NSW Government. Another report commissioned by the Department of Education, in 2005, drew on consultation with the public across the entire state school system and found that opinions are still polarised on whether they should continue to exist.