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At the Year 12 Information Evening, held on the first day of school, I asked Year 12 students and their parents to tell us what is important to them for the year ahead. This is the word-cloud that they produced.

A broader audience in educational spheres can often, and predictably, be heard to “tsk-tsk” when observing the apparent magnitude of the ATAR in this hit-list of priorities. This has caused me to reflect even more extensively on the resultant word-cloud.

As the majority of our students aspire towards University, it should not be surprising that the ATAR is a priority: it assists most of our students in positioning for their next step in life. Certainly, there are flaws in the ATAR system, but while it remains the main mechanism for University entry for most Year 12 leavers, it understandably has a unifying, common place in the priorities of our graduating cohort and their parents.

In 2018, the Mitchell Institute of Victoria University published a paper, “Crunching the number: Exploring the use and usefulness of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR)” and included the following infographic.

Australian Universities acknowledge that there is a growing need for change, and have been making moves to accommodate this, yet it is the universities themselves that still employ this mode of entry. Until that changes, the ATAR will continue to be a significant priority for a Year 12 leaver who aspires to gain University entry.

Delving further into our word-cloud, it clearly encompasses a diversity of desire and approach within our community, and each of the Core Values of the School is evident. These – along with our embedded practice of enabling students to strongly develop skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, character and contribution – are what sets our students up for long-term success, regardless of whether an ATAR is the means by which they gain entry to university.

At The Knox School, in partnership with parents, our collective goal is to support each student to strive to reach new Personal Bests in every pursuit, learning to understand and extend their new learning zone. In doing so, they, with our assistance, continually build their capacity to be a well-balanced person who is an effective contributor to their current and future world. That is what we do best.

Reference: S. Pilcher and K. Torii (2018). Crunching the number: Exploring the use and usefulness of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), Mitchell Institute paper No. 01/2018. Mitchell Institute, Melbourne. Available from: www.mitchellinstitute.org.au

Suzanne van Strien

Suzanne van Strien is Head of Senior School at The Knox School

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