This is a common question of many students who wonder whether attending a ‘normal’ non-selective government school would disadvantage them in any way in their HSC.
The short answer is: there is no technical reason why you should be disadvantaged as a result of attending a ‘normal’ school.
However there may be other factors that can affect the correct answer to this question.
The system is technically fair
The way in which your ATAR / UAI is calculated is technically fair. It implements statistical methods of scaling to equate achievement levels in different HSC subjects on a common scale, in the form of scaled marks. The process of scaling for different subjects is the same, and applies in the same way to all students attending all schools.
But what about your internal marks? The component of your HSC that is assessed from internal school assessments are calculated from your rank at school. That is, how well you did (as a rank, not a mark) relative to your peers at school. The process that converts your school rank for each subject into a scaled mark is called the process of moderation.
Basically, with moderation, your internal HSC assessment component is mapped to your school rank for each subject, from the pool of external marks. For example, suppose Amanda, a Chemistry student, comes 5th overall in Chemistry within her school. Her external HSC exam mark was 92/100, which was the 2nd highest in her school. The 5th highest external exam mark in her school was 84/100. Then for Amanda’s overall HSC mark, it would consist of 50% of her own mark of 92/100, and 50% of the 5th highest exam mark (because her rank was 5 th in Chemistry), which was 84/100. This leads to an overall mark of 88/100. However, note that in fact, this is an approximation only (Amanda would actually receive a mark close to 84/100 for her internal component, as there is an adjustment made due to the fact that marks distributions are not the same across different schools).
Basically, what this means is regardless of whether your school is considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, your end result should not be affected, since your internal component is solely based on your school rank. If you do significantly better than your peers in a ‘normal’ school, your ranks would be 1t or close to 1 st for all your subjects. In this situation, you would end up receiving your own external HSC exam mark as your internal component. Effectively, this means that those students passing from any institute could count their final HSC exams for their final assessment. Now, other than the risk of placing too high weighting on the final exams, there is no inherent direct source of unfairness in this system – that is, you are not being ‘pulled down’ in a direct way by your peers in a ‘normal’ school.
However, as we see certain schools perform well year after year, there must be other factors in play, despite the system being technically fair.
The positive effect of being in a competitive environment
Schools that tend to do well consistently (e.g. look at the list of the top 50 schools in NSW) would have a culture of academic excellence. From this culture, students in these schools are more focused on their studies. Students have an amazing effect of pushing each other, motivating each other and the mutual competition drives students in these schools to high standards.
What can I do?
If you find you go to a school where students are not primarily interested in doing well in their HSC, you should firstly identify the few of your peers that are keen to do well, and form working relationships with them. Study together, motivate each other, share notes etc. These things are mutually beneficial, and the healthy competition you get from each other will be beneficial to your marks.
Another suggestion is to find a quality tutoring service and attend their classes. Reputable tutoring colleges will have no problem attracting bright students who are keen to do very well in their HSC. Students can benefit from the structured environment a class offers, and being able to learn at the same level as other bright students will be beneficial to your marks.
The quality of teachers and teaching
Generally speaking, students at ‘good’ schools receive a better learning experience. This is due to a number of factors. For example, in ‘bad’ schools, teachers need to spend more class time on classroom management (managing the disruptive students, making sure their behaviour is acceptable etc), leaving less time for actual teaching. Disruptive students also pull the class behind in terms of schedule, as teachers are forced to move at a slower pace to cater to all students.
The extreme example is that in particularly ‘bad’ schools, teachers are so fed up with disruptive students that their motivation to teach diminishes, and these situations despite being very unfortunate, are quite common.
Generally speaking, many teachers gravitate towards transferring to the ‘good’ schools, mainly because the easier classroom management (less need to manage disruptive students) provides a more pleasant working environment for them. Now, this does not apply to all teachers, but it is likely to be true on a wide scale. Such teachers represent a migration of quality teaching from the ‘bad’ schools to the ‘good’ schools, as their transfer requests to the DET are granted over time.
This leads onto the second point of teacher retention. Retention rates tend to be highest at well-off private schools or high-ranking selective schools. Most teachers working at such schools are happy where they are, and would not seek to leave their post until they retire. However, retention rates at other schools tend to be lower for various reasons that we will not go into. For example, how many times have you noticed ‘good’ teachers leaving for another (often higher ranked, or private) school?
However, this is NOT to say that there are no ‘good’ teachers in ‘normal’ schools. There are countless dedicated teachers out there that do not work at high-ranking selective or well-off private schools, and they are rightly well respected for the good work they do.
What can I do?
This problem is a tricky one to solve or avoid. If you find that there are no good teachers for certain subjects you are taking, we really suggest seeking a tutoring service, or even a good private tutor. Reputable tutoring colleges will always have high quality teachers as part of their academic staff.
Although the technical details of the scaling and moderation processes are inherently fair, and that there are no direct sources of disadvantage to students attending schools that are neither high-ranked selective or private schools, there are other factors that may cause a disadvantage in real terms. While not every student can have the luxury of being surrounded by other hard working bright peers that push and motivate each other to do well, this effect could be emulated by attending a reputable tutoring college, or by seeking like-minded individuals at school. Students and parents should also consider seeking a tutoring service if they feel that their school teacher is not offering adequate support.
But most importantly, don’t leave it until too late! Every assessment in year 12 counts to your HSC and UAI / ATAR, so make sure you receive adequate support from day one of year 12, at the very least!
Dux College is a reputable tutoring college based in Sydney, Australia specializes in delivering high school tutoring services that aims at improving UAI score. If you are among those bright students who are keen to do well in HSC then join HSC tutoring at Dux College and learn with like minded individuals.