This week I was privileged to participate in a series of educational discussions at an Australian Heads of Independent Schools Association Branch meeting. The discussion topics focused on perceptions of the decreasing relevance of the ATAR and the vital role of schools to provide a broad and holistic educational offering.
Reference was made to the 2018 Mitchell Institute study which showed that tertiary institutions are increasingly looking at other factors than ATAR to determine admission. In fact, the study found that only 26% of tertiary entrants relied upon their ATAR for admission into their course.
Given this small number, some of the principals decried the disproportionate pressure getting a “good” ATAR can have on student culture. There were numerous horror stories outlined of students who alienated themselves from school and social life and activities in order to “buckle down” and prepare for the high stakes exams only to ultimately succumb to the stress of their VCE years. In contrast to these were many anecdotal offerings where principals noted that the highest performing students were often those who lived a well-balanced life and maintained involvement in the diverse activities available in their school communities.
Each principal was aware that there were occasions where positive and progressive educational pedagogy were being sacrificed in order to enhance traditional exam preparation skills. That said, most principals acknowledged trying hard to balance their innovative educational approaches and programs with opportunities for students to maximise their learning and results.
It seems that the principals are ahead of the gradual systemic changes that are slowly allowing for different pathways and the reality of a growing number of open tertiary places. It was hoped that this will allow freedom to focus on the broader sets of life-long skillsets beyond those favoured in the existing VCE assessment offerings.
All of the principals acknowledged that our missions go well beyond providing academic opportunities for our students. The focus on educating the whole child was evident and it is widely understood that our endeavours should be geared towards supporting values, skills and knowledge development.
It was also understood that for many of our students there will never be an easier time in their lives to access a diverse range of learning opportunities, both within and outside of the classroom, across so many differing domains.
I would encourage each student to look at the opportunities provided to them at King David and ensure they are balancing out their VCE studies. Join the school musicals, play inter-school sport, practice mindfulness at lunch times, participate in the debating team, extend your interest in technology through our MERIT technology club, or join in a training session at the school gym.
While ultimately it will be the relevant government authorities that determine the direction of our matriculation system, we can draw confidence from the fact that our school is part of a community of like-minded educational institutions that understand our important role in helping our children develop the attitudes, morality and skillsets that are so well represented in our outstanding graduates.