Recently, COSpedia published a blog on everything you need to know about NAPLAN—but what happens after the test? While children get their individual results soon after the four assessments, transparent, school-wide information is published on the My School website around March of the following year.
While the focus is often on NAPLAN results, My School has lots of other interesting information, such as the amount of funds a school receives and the makeup of student cohorts.
What is the My School website?
The My School website was set up in 2010 under the direction of then Education Minister Julia Gillard, allowing educators, parents, researchers, and any other interested parties to view comparable information about Australia’s 10,000 schools.
From a policy perspective, viewing reliable, nationwide data is supposed to help governments make evidence-based decisions about where to allocate more funding, and then, whether that funding has yielded results in regards to literacy and numeracy outcomes.
My School key information
The My School Australia website is broken into seven different sections:
- School profile – This is where you can see key facts and figures, including how many students and teaching staff there are, the percentage of students with a background other than English, and the school’s overall Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) rating. This ICSEA rating uses information such as parents’ education and occupation, as well as the school’s geographic location and proportion of First Nations students to make sure that any comparisons between schools are able to be made on a like-for-like basis.
- NAPLAN – The most scrutinised part of the website, the NAPLAN section, shows results from 2014 (excluding 2020) to present. Here, there are three main areas of focus:
- A school’s performance over time.
- A school’s performance compared to others with a similar ICSEA rating.
- A school’s performance compared to all other Australian schools.
- Attendance – Includes average student attendance rate as well as the percentage of students attending over 90% of the time.
- VET in schools – Only applicable to secondary schools, this section shows how many students are taking vocational education and training (VET) courses (and what the specific courses are) as part of their school program.
- Senior secondary – Also only applicable to secondary schools, My School data shows information about how many students completed secondary school and were awarded certificates.
- Finance – Clear tables detail both a school’s incoming funding (broken down into contributions by the federal government, state/territory governments, school contributions, and private donations), along with outgoing finances, with comparisons able to be made from year to year.
- Schools map – Especially for families that are new to an area, this section can be handy, showing a particular school’s location, as well as the location of all surrounding schools.
Implications of data being made public
With all this school information in the public domain, there have come implications in a range of areas.
The media and league tables
In order to counter this, the My School website underwent a change in 2020, removing direct comparisons between schools and putting an emphasis on student progress, which is charted against schools with similar ICSEA ratings.
Student stress and teaching to the test
Related to the above point, no school wants to be named and shamed in the media, or questioned by parents as to why their school isn’t doing as well as the one down the road, which is why pressure is put onto teachers to bring results.
A Western Sydney University survey of 8,300 back in 2012 already pointed to a culture of teaching to the test, teacher stress, and worries over student retention in the event of negative results. This is of course, also passed onto students, who are obsessively prepped for what is actually just a point-in-time assessment of literacy and numeracy capabilities.
Questions about funding
While NAPLAN results are often the point of greatest interest and attention, the ability to scrutinise schools’ (recorded) incoming and outgoing funds is also very important. After the headmaster of the King’s School, Tony George, planned to install a plunge pool at his on-site residence, legitimate criticism could be levelled at this suspect use of money. Parents of children at the school, who are charged some of the highest fees in Australia, were critical of the spending, as were ordinary taxpayers, due to the fact that the school claims significant government funding, plainly seen through the My School finance breakdown.
In 2017, Julia Gillard, reflecting on the introduction of standardised testing and My School, claimed that the website helped to change the common perception that public schools are inherently worse than private schools. Many public schools continue to perform better than expected and even outperform certain fee-paying schools, which helps to both counter criticism of the public sector and also offer parents more food for thought when picking a school for their children.
My School also helps to dispel the narrative of private schools as rich and government schools as poor. The data shows that government schools in rich areas with significant contributions from parents and robust state and federal funding can have more spending money than private schools in less wealthy areas.
Overreliance on raw data
All parents want the best for their children which is why they are willing to move to areas where schools achieve above-average results. This is backed up in a recent article by realestate.com.au, which talks about properties seeing a surge in interest and higher prices due to the proximity of a local school with high NAPLAN results.
Numbers like NAPLAN results are tantalising for parents as they form the basis for easy comparison between schools; however, this is far from the only metric that should be considered when picking a school. Different factors, such as a child’s interests, peer group, and community should be taken into consideration.
Having a seemingly simple metric such as a NAPLAN score can mean that these other aspects aren’t prioritised as much as they should be, but there is no substitute for going into a school, speaking with the teachers and looking at what specific programs they offer. After all, a school is about so much more than results in a point-of-time literacy and numeracy test; it helps to form a person’s identity and how they relate to the world around them.