MySchool, your school, and everyone else’s school

The newly launched MySchool website looks set to prompt a lot of interest, speculation, and controversy. Per-school indicators such as the number of enrolments, the number of teachers, the number of indigenous students, together with comparative reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy rankings, are all available online to anybody interested. Although the website does not explicitly present the information in a “league table” format, the government may as well have done so. The major newspapers have wasted no time scraping data down from the website and compiling their own league tables [PDF].

Although there are still some question marks around the reliability and fairness of the data presented in some cases, the commotion seems to be centred on a few broad but intriguing conclusions:

1) Selective public schools are outperforming even the best private schools.

2) In some communities, local public schools are considerably outperformed by local private schools.

3) In some communities, local private schools are considerably outperformed by or performing equivalently to local public schools.

The first and third conclusions raise some interesting conundrums for families about the real worth of private schools (particularly when one factors in the often expensive fees payable). The second conclusion will certainly result in some pressure being brought to bear on some public schools whose students are struggling. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, with some teachers and school officials no doubt feeling boosted by the release of the results, and others feeling somewhat deflated and betrayed. I’ve been on the fence on this issue a bit in the past, but I think on the whole that allowing this information to be publicly available is a step in the right direction. Parents, whose taxes fund both public and private schools, have a right to know if students in their local schools are performing poorly. They have a right to know (for example) if the attendance rate in little Jimmy’s school is markedly below the national average, or to know that kids in little Jane’s school seem to be rubbish spellers, by and large. School administrators will clearly need to begin explaining the performance of their school and working harder to address issues that the data suggests exist.

The value of the website seems set to increase further in the future as more data sets becomes available (allowing parents and the general public to see whether their local schools are improving or not), and more comparative indicators, such as financial information (promised for later this year). It will be particularly interesting to learn which schools appear to be doing the most for their students with least, and which schools in particular should be receiving much more funding than they are receiving under the current schools funding formula, preserved by Labor from the Howard Government years.

The Rudd Government’s “Education Revolution” has been underwhelming so far, but there is certainly at least a faint scent of progress in the air thanks to the launch of this simple little website.