Does choosing a Strathcona education for your daughter provide an additional advantage?

School is important, but which school is also important. What is the part of a school in student results? This is an important question, especially for parents investing considerable financial resources in sending their daughters to a school like Strathcona.

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Each year it is very exciting to see the VCE results Strathcona students achieve. With last year being so unusual with its (un)fair share of challenges there was more uncertainty about how the students would perform than usual. With conditions different to those we had been used to with lockdowns, modified study designs and assessment practices, there was the possibility that we would be surprised, and not in a good way. However, as you would be aware, our students did not fail to deliver.

What is the part of a school in student results? This is an important question, especially for parents investing considerable financial resources in sending their daughters to a school like Strathcona. It is a question I was challenged with by my neighbour soon after the results came through. When he asked how we went, I replied “we did very well”. With a cheeky grin he asked, “you or your students?” Tactfully I replied “that they were the students’ results, but it is very good for us that they did well.”

There is no question that our VCE results being ranked nineth in the state in terms of Study Scores by the newspapers helps the school’s reputation. However, Principal Marise McConaghy and I wanted to explore the question of how Strathcona helps the students achieve what they do. We often call this ‘Value Add’. After all, our students come with many advantages over the average Victorian student. Does the School provide an additional advantage?

The VCE results come from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA), the administrative body for the VCE, with a prediction of how each student will go in each subject. This prediction is made based on student performance on the GAT, the General Achievement Test, a three hour examination that every student undertaking a Unit 3/4 subject sits, usually in June, but in 2020 in October. This test assesses three areas that are statistically correlated with achievement in every subject: written communication; mathematics, science and technology; humanities, the arts and social sciences. The GAT serves several purposes including providing schools with an indication of how scores for each subject compared with the expectations given the students in the subject. These results do point to significant gains for many of our students, but the test is taken so close to the final examinations, indeed after some of the assessment has taken place. Are the student GAT scores higher than they would otherwise be if they had not already spent years of their schooling at Strathcona?

I dug deeper. Each student is tested on entry to the Strathcona Senior School using Edutest. This test provides percentile rankings against the broader population on verbal IQ and numerical IQ, achievement in reading comprehension and achievement in Mathematics. In Year 7 we also test students using PAT (Progressive Achievement Tests), which give percentile rankings in Reading, Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation and Mathematics. Using these benchmarks, we find that Strathcona students are above average in terms of potential and achievement in Year 7. However, the distribution is much broader and the average much lower than that achieved in the ATAR, another percentile rank that correlates strongly with performance in numeracy and literacy. To make this statement more concrete, those of our Year 7 students who perform at or below the national and school average in Years 6 and 7 very often achieve ATARs in the 80s and 90s. 57% of our students achieved an ATAR of over 90 in 2020. By contrast only 12% of these students achieved an Edutest ranking in the top 10% of the population when in Year 6.

Strathcona does make a big difference for its students. This difference is revealed in the VCE statistics, but it is also evident in their broader successes. There are differences in resources, and focus. The rich, supportive community is so strong at Strathcona and not just about examination preparation but nurturing of human beings, learners, who are respected and empowered. It is a community of students, teachers and other staff, parents, and past students that band together to provide the unique experience that is a Strathcona education. It is not infallible, and it certainly requires the students to work hard. Some students for whatever reason take greater advantage of the opportunities available to them in their learning and reap the rewards.

I have heard many speakers in my life. One whose words I will never forget is Reverend Tim Costello. On a visit to Strathcona perhaps a decade ago he told students and staff about how people often dream of what they would do if they won the lottery. “By being born in a place like Australia, you have already won the lottery. So, what are you going to do?” he challenged us. Most of us have been born into privilege and as parents we have done all we can to provide the best opportunities for our children. A very significant part of that work as parents is to send our daughters to Strathcona. Different students will benefit in different ways and take up different opportunities at School. Some will achieve amazing VCE results, some will perform on stage, on the sporting field or contribute wonderful service to the community. Some even manage all of the above.

We are thrilled with the achievements of our students and the contributions we have been able to make to their lives. We also look forward to the vast diversity of outstanding contributions, grand and humble, they will go on to make in their lives and Strathcona are proud to play a part in making that happen.

Mr Ross Phillips
Senior Dean of Learning Futures