The benefits and disadvantages of children attending selective schools are a hot topic among parents, and have been for decades. This is especially true in NSW, where the majority of selective schools – 17 fully selective and 25 partially selective – are located. The answer to whether selective schooling is right for your child is far from black and white, which is why we want to support you with all the information you’ll need to make that call.

Let’s begin by clarifying the intended purpose of selective education. According to NSW Education, selective schools support students with high academic ability/potential by:

  • Grouping them with students of similar ability so that they can work collaboratively with like-minded peers
  • Using specialised, evidence-based methods to support students
  • Accelerating learning: moving through curricula at a faster pace
  • Enriching learning: exploring concepts in greater depth
  • Extending lessons: engaging with content of greater and increasing complexity

Which Children Will Benefit from Selective Schooling the Most?

NSW Education suggests that grouping similar ability students together supports their academic capabilities, along with their emotional and social wellbeing. High-performing students report feeling less isolated, more satisfied, and more resilient when learning alongside like-minded classmates.

You might be able to identify if your child fits this category by asking yourself if they:

  • Perform at an academically high level
  • Are curious about and genuinely enjoy learning new things
  • Ask complex questions and express complex ideas or skills
  • Have a good memory and need fewer repetitions when learning new things
  • Can think creatively
  • Become intensely focused on their area of interest or passion

These characteristics ring true for many students, but for high-ability learners, they will resonate even more.

What is the Application Process?

For Year 7 entry, parents apply when their child is at the end of Year 5 or the beginning of Year 6. For Year 8 students and above, the selective school itself announces vacancies and manages the application process.

During this period, parents and students should get a good idea of which particular school they hope to attend, as they will have to submit their choices before the application period closes.

As Christine Wan, C3 Education Group Co-founder notes, this “has gotten harder because your application allows for a choice between one to three schools only from order to preference, whereas you used to have four choices [of schools].” 

This means you and your child should look at the list of selective schools and read their websites, as well as visit the schools themselves to get a sense of the atmosphere and travel distance from your home.

How Do Selective Schooling Tests Work?

Your child will be allocated to a test centre, where they will sit multiple-choice tests which cover Reading, Mathematics, and Thinking Skills. They will also need to complete a writing task.

Christine explains that the selective school benchmark is roughly that a child has to be academically at least two years ahead of their grade. That said, the selective school entrance exams are designed to assess academic ability, independent of a child’s school curriculum. This is done so the questions can’t be easily prepared for, and also to reduce accessibility bias. For example, if a child is underperforming in school because they have a disability or illness that forces them to take sick days, or if they don’t get along with their teacher, their natural ability can still shine through on the entrance exam.

We think this is a move in the right direction, as selective schooling should fit a child’s needs, rather than be influenced by changeable privileges or circumstances.

It’s also the case that children from disadvantaged groups are under-represented in selective schools. To further increase equity, 20% of places are held for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and a further 5% are held for students who couldn’t attend the test on the day for a legitimate reason.

What if My High Ability Child Doesn’t Meet Full Selective School Criteria?

If you notice that your child may not possess all the qualities to truly thrive, or they have priorities outside their academic pursuits, fear not – selective schools are not the only option for students with academic capabilities.

The Benefits of Selective Classes

Perhaps your child will feel more at home being part of a selective class within a public education setting? This means they will be able to mingle with students of all abilities in the playground, and a school that offers selective classes may also be favourable because of its extracurricular programmes, or its proximity to your home.

Young people who are given the freedom to explore a range of interests outside academics may experience boosted wellbeing and reduced stress. A selective school can be a high-pressure environment, which may add unnecessary stress to a child already navigating the challenges of growing up. For children sensitive to stress or overwhelm, pursuing academic goals may lead to burnout and decrease their foundational love for learning. Partially selective high schools are more likely to offer vocational education subjects.

Can My High Ability Child Thrive in Regular, Public Education?

Absolutely! The most important thing is finding a school that best fits your child’s multidimensional needs. This includes their interests and abilities, their academic and social-emotional needs, and any specialised support they may require.

You should only apply for placement at schools your child would actually want to attend, as children who feel comfortable and that they belong are in a better place to learn and grow.

Each school has something entirely unique to offer and plays an important role in each community. Children at selective schools may travel further to attend, so the community may not be as close-knit, but regular public schools provide a good microcosm of your wider local community.

My Child Wants to Give the Selective Test a Go, Should They Prepare?

As mentioned, the selective test criteria is purposefully complicated, so preparation will not guarantee your child a spot. However, preparing for the test can be a valuable learning opportunity in its own right, regardless of the result. Our C3 Education Group Educators have supported many families through the process and can ensure that your child will gain something from the experience. It can be very beneficial to get used to the process of studying for an exam and sitting it, so a child feels confident and capable in high school. We can also talk through a family’s aspirations and hesitations regarding school choice and nurture them to be empowered on their journey. We recommend calling our staff to explore these options.

And on that note, if your child wants to further widen their schooling options, why not also try for a Private School Scholarship? We have a blog that breaks down what this is, but if your child seeks more resources in music, sports, art, or drama, rather than simply rigorous academics, this may also be a worthwhile pursuit, as these schools have equipment and resources that may not be available at a government selective school.

 If you would like to enroll in selective test tutoring and preparation, the educators at C3 Education Group can help! Please reach out to us directly by calling 1300 235 437 (1300 C3 KIDS), or drop us an enquiry here:

Whatever schooling system you choose, good luck on this exciting next education chapter.