Monday, 19 October 2015

Evidence regarding independent school education (2015 Term 1 Week 3)

Claims ought to be backed with evidence. As the maxim has it, "In God we trust; everyone else brings data." As a fee-paying parent, as well as the principal of an independent school, I want to know what evidence there is that my family's investment in our children's education will bring a value-add for them. While it is not difficult to point to experiences and tell anecdotes and make observations that support our decision to choose independent education, I was very interested to come across a summary of some publically-available and robust data on the matter.

Much of what follows in the infographic and subsequent comments has been drawn together by the Association of the Heads of Independent Schools Australia, which is a national peak body for schools like Inaburra.

The four key academic strengths of independent schools are excellence, gain, equity and ethos. It is very interesting to note that Australian research has found that academic environment is the most statistically significant factor explaining the ‘value adding’ of independent schools. Codes of behaviour, homework regimes and the high expectations of teachers of all their students are important elements of a school ethos and help create strong learning communities with good academic outcomes.

The features underlying these academic strengths are outlined in the infographic. These factors align the features of independent school education such as pastoral care and co-curricular activities with the quality of teaching and the positive, demonstrable commitment of parents to the importance of education.

All of the above to combine to provide academic opportunity for our children.

It may be that the evidence surveyed above is not new to you. It may not be particularly important to you, being outweighed by the daily experience of your children at school, the anecdotes of their opportunities and activities and the myriad other factors that constitute the Inaburra education. However, I hope that you are reassured that your investment in your child's education has a sound evidentiary basis.


  1. Hi Tim,

    Good article. I am a believer in the idea that evidence trumps anecdotes, and the research you link to is interesting.

    As a parent of 2 children at Inaburra, one of the lingering concerns I have is that I rarely hear academic performance being an area of focus for the school. I hear plenty about great things being done in performing arts, sports and community engagement - but not academic performance. The large majority of awards in the front office foyer for the school are for non-academic achievement - in fact, academic excellence is conspicuous by its absence.

    I do value the value and community driven culture of the school. This is why my I chose to send my kids there. I also recognise that the pursuit of academic achievement at the expense and exclusion of other pursuits (like performing arts, ethics etc...) is unhealthy. However a balance skewed in the other direction is also not the best outcome for children who will emerge into a social and economic landscape characterised by competition.

    After reading the linked research above, the interpretation I would offer is that independent schools create an environment that is conducive to academic achievement, if they choose to focus on it. I guess this is why they use word "opportunity". However "opportunity" only becomes "outcome" when it is given focus and valued. And this is the comment I would make as a parent, I am uncertain about the level of focus academic performance gets.

    Thanks again for the article and link to the research,

    James Simpson
    0414 691 521

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  3. (Replies to replies don't quite work as I expected - new to this platform! Reposting with the additional comments I'd wanted to make...)
    As a parent of a child who started at in Year 7 at Inaburra this year, my observation would be that the expectation and drive for academic performance is built into pretty much every classroom and with every teacher - the achievements might not be celebrated as visibly, but I am confident that it's there, and in a healthy fashion rather than with undue pressure. The question of visibility is an interesting one - my former high school had an honour roll of students from previous years who had scored 400+ / 500 in the HSC that year (no idea what that translates to now in the era of ATARs).

    I suppose NAPLAN is the other key measure of academic performance, but I am still personally cautious about what those say and how they're used, and while I'm fine with looking at them on an overall year group and school basis, I don't think I'd be comfortable with making too much of individual student's NAPLAN scores.
    For me, I thought the really interesting one was parental engagement: it's a no brainer, of course - although it's nice to have evidence back up that common sense - and Inaburra parents show a high degree of engagement just by paying the amount that they do for their children to attend, but there are other aspects to consider as well. Getting along to Tim's breakfasts and/or lunches would be one, to hear about what the school is doing and their vision for where they're going; attendance and participation at some of the key events like the Fete and the Trivia Night have been encouraging too. I suspect families are more time poor than ever, though, with both parents working (more especially when the kids are in high school) and with a multitude of after school activities, which makes things like the P&F less well attended: I know I'd like to get along to more of those myself. The greater geogrpahical spread of students' family homes probably plays a factor too - it's harder to get together when you're on opposite sides of the River. I have no answers myself, just some thoughts trundling around my head...