Shock! Horror! Government School Students Perform Well at Uni!

In his SMH column today, Ross Gittins reports on some interesting new research which shows that while Independent Schools do better in getting students into Uni, these same students are out-performed in first year by students from Government and Catholic schools. Gittins also notes that the research found that parental levels of education were a better predictor of academic success than parental wealth.

Gittins writes:

Researchers argue that private-school students tend to have higher TERs because they enjoy a higher level of confidence in their own ability, because the school environment is more conducive to learning and because their parents have higher aspirations.

It seems, however, that the superior resources and more attentive coaching of non-government schools serve to artificially inflate students’ TERs relative to their raw abilities. The private schools’ “value-added” is short-lived.

It may be that students from non-government schools have difficulty adjusting to the greater freedom and reduced supervision of university life. It’s even been argued that some students from private schools are less enthusiastic because their courses have been selected by their parents.

On parental aspirations, I’ll never forget an interview I had with a young student with a very low OP (Queensland version of the TER) and his mum when I was co-ordinating the Criminology double major at UQ. This student came from a long line of lawyers, and had been to a GPS school. His mum was desparate to get him into Criminology as a stepping stone to Law. He actually wanted to be a mechanic. She said that she would be terribly embarrassed to have a mechanic in her family and couldn’t hold her own at tennis parties and family gatherings. Very sad, really.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

If Gittins is right then public skools kids might do better at Uni but private is the way to go to get into Uni and beat the proles in the entrance competition. After all in Uni a pass is as good as a HD on a final degree [framed]certificate.

And lets face it [private skool]Mum’s tennis mates are more likely to give you a nice job on graduation or “dropping out” than [public skool] Mum’s mates at the temp agency.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Francis, yep. I’ve long since ceased to be amazed at running into blokes I went to Law School at UQ with (I was pulling down the Government School averages!) who often failed subjects and spent most of their time drinking beer, playing rugby or student politicking in very nicely cut suits. I’ve asked a couple of them how they found it breaking into the legal profession given their poor results and the answer usually goes “well, my uncle’s a barrister and he…”.

There’s also a big problem for women seeking to enter top law firms. The selection process often involves drinks with the partners. An interest in rugby apparently is a useful conversation starter. For public school kids too, the “like recruits like” problem arises.

In Brisbane, QUT has had a law school since 1978 and Griffith since 1992 (and both are arguably better schools than the sandstone UQ) but UQ with a 15% share of government school students (a remarkably stable number over the last two decades) seems to provide the lion’s share of articles of clerkship to the “top” firms. Remarkable also how many judge’s daughters and sons you meet at UQ.

The current Chief Justice, Paul de Jersey (whose kids are UQ Law graduates), put a stop a few years ago to the practice of Supreme Court and District Court judges hiring their own kids as Associates. What they do now is hire each other’s kids.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

The article (and the research on which it’s based) doesn’t answer some of the key questions, to my mind. School is not life, and neither is university. Doing well at school doesn’t necessarily lead to doing well at university. Doing well at university doesn’t necessarily lead to a successful life subsequently. Perhaps a more relaxed attitude to studies in first year uni is evidence of a more balanced approach to life :-)
Another thought: if private schools enable kids to make more of their abilities, and hence get a higher TER, maybe what we need is more private universities ;-) (Sometimes I like being provocative!)

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

“His mum was desparate to get him into Criminology as a stepping stone to Law. He actually wanted to be a mechanic. She said that she would be terribly embarrassed to have a mechanic in her family and couldn’t hold her own at tennis parties and family gatherings. Very sad, really.”

Very sad indeed. A good mechanic is probably of greater value to society than a mediocre lawyer

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Re the mum who didn’t want her son to be a mechanic: why on earth didn’t she just get daddy to buy him a car dealership? Or wouldn’t even that do? Sounds like a serious case of intellectual snobbery, rather than a wealth trip. Maybe there’s something about lawyers – how many generations of Streets have been Chief Justice of NSW?

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

My theory on this is government kids succeed at Uni better becasue they learn to do work by themselves much earlier.

It is too easy to go back on rely on the teacher whom is being paid by your parents elsewhere.
There is no-one to hear your scream of despair at Uni!

It is only a theory.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

“It seems, however, that the superior resources and more attentive coaching of non-government schools serve to *artificially* inflate students’ TERs relative to their raw abilities” – what exactly is artificial about providing superior resources and more attentive coaching? Doesn’t this sound like the sort of thing government schools could use more of? Or is Ross arguing that we should make all schools less well resourced, so that students get used to fending for themselves?

blank
blank
2022 years ago

That’s not a theory, Homer.
It’s just an hypothesis.

When Adelaide Uni granted its very first Master of Education – mid or late 60s I think – the thesis was on the success at uni of private, catholic and state-school educated matriculants.

The result was that the privately educated were the most likely to complete their degrees, followed by the catholics, followed by the state-school educated.

It should be remembered that the catholics would have had the fewest resources in those days, and the largest classes.

I remember attending an information evening at Adelaide Uni in 1965 for year 12s who were going on to tertiary studies. They told us that one-third of us would not complete our degrees.

I wonder what it is like now.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

Over at Catallaxy we had Gittins’ story a couple of months ago – read it first in the blogs.

http://badanalysis.com/catallaxy/index.php?p=234#comments

This basic finding is correct. Gittins’ conclusion is less so. Private schools do value add because even though their graduates on average do slightly worse at uni with the same ENTER score as a government school graduate, their ENTER scores are so much better that they can afford some performance weakening at university and still come out ahead.

For example, Bob Birrell’s research on Melbourne Year 12s of 2000 found that the median ENTER at an independent school was 85, at a Catholic school 70.3, and at government school 61.9.

Not all of this is a school effect, of course. But ACER’s studies have found that even after controlling for everything they can think of private schools still do better in producing high Year 12 results.

And Alex’s point is quite right – why use government schools as a benchmark? We could just as plausibly say that they artificially *deflate* their students’ results.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

homer – not to mention the private school cherry picking the top performers of the publics after year 8 and offering scholarships, and holding people back prior to end of year 12 so there is no penalty but 2 years of year 12, plus that private tutor or two. Highly valued private tutors who will caringly “review” and provide “helpful” comments on your essay 5 or 6 times prior to you handing it in.

peggy sue
peggy sue
2022 years ago

“Plus that private tutor or two”

Those who send their children to state schools, and thus save the fees, would have plenty of money to pay for tutors. It is a falacious notion that attending a state school necessarily equates to poverty and deprivation.

Mem Fox, while praising her daughter’s state education in an article in the Bulletin some years ago, mentioned how much Mini Fox had gained from all the overseas trips they had taken. Learned French in France, and the like.

The educationally rational buy a house in the zone of a well-considered state school. Strangely enough they are all in ‘leafy’ suburbs.
The school fees saved will pay for lots of tutoring, and there should be a very tidy tax-free capital gain on the house.

The really sly transfer their offspring, at the last moment, to a ‘deprived’ state school, so that their TER score is topped up under the “Fairway scheme”

Tiu Fu Fong
Tiu Fu Fong
2022 years ago

“There’s also a big problem for women seeking to enter top law firms. The selection process often involves drinks with the partners. An interest in rugby apparently is a useful conversation starter. For public school kids too, the “like recruits like” problem arises.”

For summer clerk and graduate recruitment, a lot of top corporate law firms (like mine) have been recruiting a lot more women than men. The drinks with partners and rugby banter counts for very little at that stage.

Even at my stage (male senior associate), I get by quite well without knowing anything about rugby and very rarely drinking with anyone from work.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Tiu, that’s good to hear but my impression is based on recent conversations with female lawyers in Brisbane – as well as published articles on female under-representation at the senior levels of the legal profession.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Here’s a linked issue.

It is plausible that the comparative advantages of money and middle class parents don’t stop at the gates of the university. I wonder how the performance of students correlates with the necessity to work part time while studying.

And I wonder how the necessity to work correlates with coming from a government or non-government school, and how the whole thing relates to ethnicity – the alleged success of Asian students – and parent’s jobs/backgrounds.

And all this would cut with the kind of course, and the kind of campus. VCA film students, for instance, have to pay a huge amount of money to make their films, which skews the undergraduate population towards prosperous families. The implications of that for recruitment into Australian film are very sad.

Anecdotes suggest the kind of students turning up in La Trobe, particularly for liberal arts courses are very different from the students in similar courses at Melbourne Uni.

Etc. Big topic – but the research should be done. One of the things it might suggest is that we, the taxpayers, would get much better value out of the dollars invested in tertiary education if Austudy was high enough to reduce the number of students working at the same time.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Interesting new direction for the thread, David. Of course, along with the necessity of working part time for some students, one would also have to consider the possibility of their working part time. For some courses (science, possibly medicine, engineering) the contact hours for a part time student would be the same as full time hours for an arts faculty student. If full time students in high contact hour courses work as well, where on earth do they find the time? Maybe this is one of the factors leading to a decline in the numbers taking on science courses – along with higher HECS fees and general antipathy of our society towards science.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

An alternative hypthesis: The TER, rather than uni grades, measures ‘raw ability’. But a low-income student is under more financial pressure to pass, so he works harder and gets better grades. A rich student with the same TER doesn’t worry about having to repeat the odd unit and pay extra fees. The low-income student is more likely to have attended a public school. If this theory is right, the GPA difference should be more pronounced for weaker students in a given course, and negligible for very strong students.

I wouldn’t accept Peggy-Sue’s claim without evidence. My guess is that parents of poor performers in private schools will throw good money after bad and send them to coaching clinics as well, even if they can’t afford it.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

By the way, Peggy Sue, I don’t want to blow your cover, but are you by any chance Mrs Observa? (I thought the Mem Fox obsession might be a family thing.)

Spiros
Spiros
2022 years ago

I don’t want to sound ignorant but who is this Mem Fox?

Maybe I should get out more, but honestly, I’ve never heard of her.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

If you dare, Spiros:

http://www.memfox.net/

And if you can’t decide which story to listen to, ‘Koala Lou’ is my personal unfavourite, closely followed by all the others.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Spiros, google her and you’ll find plenty. Or just read this:

“Mem Fox is considered Australia’s most popular children’s author. She was born Merrion Frances Partridge in 1946. She was born in Melbourne, Australia but grew up in Zimbabwe where her parents were missionaries. She attended the mission school there. Her mother was also a writer.”

“Unhappy with the harsh treatment of black Africans in Zimbabwe, Mem Fox left Zimbabwe when she was eighteen to attend drama school in England. She married Malcolm Fox, a teacher, in 1969 and has one daughter. After her marriage, she and her husband returned for a short time to Zimbabwe. They moved to Australia in 1970 where she was a teacher. She was also a storyteller, writing her first book Hush, the Invisible Mouse in 1983.”

(From http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/fox.htm)

She’s best known, I think, for “Possum Magic”.

I’m not sure, but I suspect she has taught also at university and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she has been promoting the ‘whole language’ approach to the teaching of reading.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

spiros – thanks for asking who was Mem Fox – now I don’t have to appear ignorant.

brian – she appears pleasant enough by her photo – but I’m a bit disturbed by this:
“..She keeps a coffin in her office to show that language is fun!… ”

I obviously have no sense of humour or know little of language or both.

Nic White
2022 years ago

Great work uncovering this Mark, Im going to have to write my own spin on this at my blog.

James I think I like your hypothesis the best, it rings true for me personally. Im by no means rich, but Im not poverty stricken either and my parents didnt have much of a problem sending me to a private school (it wasnt a high class one but still, a private school and far better than little old Swan View High – the local working class magnet. I went to the primary school, I should know). And I have just wasted over $5000 on university fees because I decided to change my course entirely. People like me just dont have that kind of motivation, that of the money. We relax knowing that more than likely once we are out we will be earning so much we wont notice the fees come out. Its as if it doesnt exist and we are back to the 70s.

Ill flesh this out a bit more in the next hour or so.

signalsnatcher
signalsnatcher
2022 years ago

Gittins’ article was interesting, but it wasn’t news.

Similar studies have been conducted in NSW since the 1960s and they all produce the same result: Students from independent schools (ie schools that are members of the AIS) have a high rate of entry into university and a moderate failure rate once there.
Students from public high schools have a low rate of entry into university and a high succes rate once there.
Students from Catholic high schools have a lower rate of entry into university than public school students and a mixed level of success once there.
Students from private schools based around minority religious groups or ethnic communities do badly all round, but with a small number of exceptional individuals doing quite well.

Some years ago the NSW Board of Studies compared the average achievement of students (from similar socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds but from different schools) in the Higher Schools Certificate (end-of-high school certification). The results were quite clear – public schools well out in front, on average; independent schools lagged public schools on average, but a few individual students shone above the rest (these turned out to be scholarship kids – often from working class homes); Catholic schools lagged well behind.

Independent testing bodies find the same results: when the curriculum is tested independent schools do best followed by public schools. But in tests of general scholastic ability, public schools lead.

Most of these studies are published in the psychometric journals (eg: Journal of Educational Measurement) and are well known to educational assessment people, but I have not been able to find refernces on the Web.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

David, when I was at Uni in 87 and living away from home I used to get $70 a week from TEAS – my rent was $30 and it was just liveable. AUSTUDY is now limited to students 25 and over (from memory) – the younger ones are on Youth Allowance and this is parental means-tested. A friend of mine in 2001 was on $85 a week from Youth Allowance – not fabulous money to say the least – particularly when she could have got $220 a week from the dole.

From recollection, there have been studies on the impact of the necessity to work on students’ academic performance. I don’t recall the results specifically – and am not at home so can’t easily access the databases I’d need to find them. But one thing – that has also been raised in the VSU debate – is that few students now can have the luxury of appreciating the full uni experience – clubs and societies, sport, even boozing at the uni bar – they simply don’t have time. The other thing I’ve found as a university teacher is that time-poor students increasingly direct their reading to the minimum needed to pass or achieve their assessment goals. One of the nice things for me when I was a full time Arts student was the chance to read widely in areas I was studying, and also just go off on tangents and investigate things I was interested in on my own. It’s had a continuing benefit through my life.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Isn’t full time Arts student an oxymoron?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

nb – previous comments about the full uni experience – substitute student politics for sport. I must confess it was a bit of a shock to the system when I enrolled in my first economics subject and found that we were expected to attend lectures at 9am on Friday…

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

well, when i was an economics/law student, i had the habit of skipping lectures to watch arthouse movies at the Dendy or instead spending time in the serials reading the NY Review of Books and New Yorker and totally unrelated stuff. this in addition to having 2 part-time jobs. i still did fine. it is possible to still have a wide intellectual life in uni – just skip lectures, and do the reading yourself.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Surely the main reason why parents send their children to private schools are the contacts. This is not as important as when I was wroking but it still assists at the margin.

Francis Mem will be the death of you!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

On David’s question – there are two studies which are relevant. The first, commissioned by ACER (the Australian Council of Educational Research) and based on data from a longitudinal study of Australian youth, is ‘Student Workers in High School and Beyond: The Effects of Part Time Employment on Education, Training and Work’ by Margaret Vickers, Stephen Lamb and John Hinkley (2003).

The authors found that participation in part time work during high school was correlated with an increased propensity to fail to complete year 12. Moving to tertiary students, the study found that:

There is an inverse relationship between hours spent in class and dropping out;

“After controlling for field of study and class contact hours, it appears that working 20 hours a week or more doubles the odds of dropping out of tertiary study, compared with not working”;

“Students receiving Youth Allowance are more likely to drop out of Tertiary Study than those not receiving Youth Allowance”.

Students not receiving Youth Allowance are likely to have parents with higher incomes, who can afford to and are willing to fund their full time study.

Vincent Callaghan, writing in ‘People and Place’ (vol 11, no 3, 2003), in his paper ‘Government Financial Support for Students: The Case for Radical Reform’, also looks at data on the costs of living in metropolitan regions for students and the impact of part time employment on outcomes and concludes that the current financial support model has deep structural problems.

I’d suggest anyone interested in this issue read the ACER report – a lot more data and argument than I can easily summarise here.

It’s at http://www.acer.edu.au/research/LSAY/research.html

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

whooa Vince Callahan – I used to work with him.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

What Gittings reports has been known to be occurring for at least half a century, to my knowledge. The NSW Teachers Federation even used to boast about it, until they realised the significance of their not having done as good a job as the others getting students into the courses.
Many State School teachers are taking their own children out of the system, because they know what un-necessay hurdles they now increasingly must face in State Schools, including: —
1] Classroom disruption.
2] Teachers [their colleagues] whom they know would be dismissed if they were outside the Government system.
3] Less time lost due to the obsession to avoid placing students in any sort of ability level groupings.
4] Chronic absenteeism on the part of both pupils and teachers.
5] Promotion systems which implement affirmative action at the expense of competent Principals.
6] Inability to maintain effective discipline.
7] ad infinitum.

All schools/faculties/teachers/principals/etc aren’t, of course, unsatisfactory. And every equivalent in the non Government systems isn’t perfect. But more and more parents who are in a position to make the move, are deciding they’re unwilling to take the risk — unless they’re able to get into a particular school or class they know to be acceptable.
Can we blame them?

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Norman, I think the situation is more static than you suggest. I can remember conversations with Institute of Family Studies people in the mid ’90’s who were saying that family size was a crucial factor.

ie – the historical barrier to putting kids in private schools used to be a) Mum didnt work and b) several kids. Now we have only Tarquin or Jacinta and two incomes.

Meanwhile there has been a horrible collapse of work opportunitites for non high school achievers so they all get aimed at Uni.

These kids are not easy to teach, stay in high schools, etc etc..

I agree with Peggy Sue about the rational strategy, though I don’t know how many people actually do it. The upshot is – given the increasing importance of getting into Uni, the decreasing value of the degree at the other end, and the strong correlation between meal ticket courses and private school kids – our parents paid to create privilege for their kids. Now our generation pays for our kids to keep up.

Shouldn’t we feel a bit.. well…. robbed? Talk about paying for your own damned slaughterhouse.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

You are shameless, Norman. Having admitted on another thread that you have no statistical evidence that teachers are more prone than the average parent to send their kids to private schools, you simply repeat the claim here without so much as a blush. Well I’ll record my own, equally worthless, personal experience here: all the public school teachers I know – let’s say a dozen – send their kids to public schools. And I spoke recently to a parent (not a teacher) who had just withdrawn her son from the local Catholic school because the class had 32 kids in it, and sent him to the state school instead. This is not to say that none of the problems you mention exist. But like the train problem, they’re due to underfunding and neglect.

trackback
2022 years ago

Littler fish in bigger ponds

Mark Bahnisch over at Troppo Armadillo has run a post on the comparison between Highschool TER results and first year uni results, and the affect what school you went to has on them, following Ross Gittins’ latest over at SMH.