The NSW Department of Education is reviewing its policy for gifted and talented students in public schools, with an aim of increasing student numbers in the state’s 48 selective high schools. These schools, which enjoy either partially or fully ‘selective status’, are set up to provide advanced learning to students of high ability in specialist areas such as the creative and performing arts, including music.
However, the present model of selective schools could be about to change. Education Minister Rob Stokes says he wants a more ‘inclusive’ state education system which sees selective schools take in more local students and those from poorer backgrounds. In particular, he wants to introduce measures that avoid “creating a rigid, separated public education system”.
This newest review comes at a time when debate has flared up again over questions of equity in NSW’s selective schools. They were established to cater for the needs of gifted and talented children in sports, languages and the arts, but competition for entry is acute, and data shows that they are overrepresented by children from wealthy families who can afford private coaching to boost their chances of placement.
Last year, it was revealed that parents in NSW are spending $20,000 or more for private tuition to get their children into selective schools. This puts the vast majority of other families, especially those who live outside metropolitan areas without ready access to private music tutors, at an immediate disadvantage.
Fears are that this is resulting in a two-tiered system that disadvantages gifted and talented children from lower income families and skews the student population away from local communities.
In need of a revamp is the entry test into selective schools, so that those students with the potential to achieve highly but who are presently being missed by the system are not excluded. In music, as in other performing arts subjects, this means working harder to identify innate ability as opposed to ability gained through acquiring skills and knowledge.
One alternative already been put forward involves online teaching supplemented by residential camps. In this model, a child can be enrolled at any local school but be given accelerated learning via computers and the internet. Geographic inequities would thus be eliminated. However, there would be obvious drawbacks where one-on-one instrumental or singing teaching is involved – which rules out this model’s effectiveness in music.