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We recently surveyed more than 1,000 high school students across Australia, focusing on a wide range of issues centred on the high school experience, university expectations, and decision-making factors. This is the first in a series of articles analysing the results and, therefore, what our students are telling us about their feelings and preferences. There are a lot more results to look forward to!
Of our respondents, ~58% of students were based in Victoria, ~27% in New South Wales, and ~14% in Queensland – but we also had respondents from Western Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory. 99.84% of respondents were in the Year 10-12 body.
In this first article, we will focus on four main high school survey questions, namely:
The ATAR – Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank – has seen much commentary in education circles and more broadly in recent years. Now a national system with Queensland’s transition to the ATAR in 2019/2020, the ATAR awards eligible students a percentile ranking from 0 to the maximum ATAR of 99.95, in increments of 0.05. The relevance of the ATAR has been questioned, with recent calls for a switch to a more holistic “learner profile“:
“A federally commissioned report wants high school students to focus on building a “learner profile” that reflects the skills and knowledge they have gathered over 13 years of education instead of worrying about how to boost their ATAR.”
Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has also opined that the ATAR should be simplified or, more drastically, abolished. But in terms of emphasis on high school results throughout the high school journey, what to students think? Is there currently too much emphasis placed on the ATAR/high school results throughout the high school?
We asked our respondents just that, providing simple “Yes” and “No” options. Here are the results.
Results in New South Wales and Victoria, where the ATAR has existed for a long time, were relatively consistent amongst the student body. With a skew toward “Yes” in both states (73.7% in New South Wales, 69.8% in Victoria), more than two-thirds of students in these states believed too much emphasis was placed on high school results. This was also the case when looking at overall results (68.8%).
However, responses in Queensland were more balanced (with 54.7% selecting “Yes”). The 2020 Year 12 cohort will be the first ever cohort in Queensland to receive an ATAR, with previous graduating cohorts receiving an OP (Overall Position), which was similarly used for university entrance. Queensland students in 2020 – for the first time – will be affected by an ATAR system consisting both internal and external assessments, and inter-subject scaling. From these results, Queensland students appear less convinced that the ATAR is too heavily emphasised through high school.
For many students, the transition from high school to university is a difficult one. First-year university students have described their situation as “going in blind“, and “both really excited and nervous“. So should high schools play a bigger role in preparing students interested in pursuing a university education for what’s to come?
We asked our student survey respondents who had indicated they planned to apply for at least one course through an administrative body such as VTAC, UAC, or QTAC (76.98% of all respondents) what they thought.
The results show a consistent preference amongst students for high schools to expand their transition services to include more information on what to expect from university.
Note that results here are likely skewed, as all students who were asked this question had previously noted that they planned to apply for at least one course through an administrative body such as VTAC, UAC, or QTAC.
Do students actually enjoy their high school studies? Are there any differences across Australian states? These are some of the questions we had, so we asked our students how much they had enjoyed their high school studies overall on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “Extremely hated”, and 10 being “Extremely enjoyed”.
Here are the results.
QUESTION: Overall, how much have you enjoyed your high school studies?
Across all three of the most highly-represented states in this survey, students provided an average response between 6.78 and 7.22 out of 10, with an average response of 7.01 across all respondents.
On average, students in New South Wales reported the lowest level of enjoyment (6.78 out of 10), with the highest level of enjoyment reported in Queensland (7.22 out of 10).
As shown below, the most common responses were 8 out of 10 (~23% of all responses) and 7 out of 10 (also ~23% of all responses). More than 4 in 5 respondents (80.1%) reported a rating of 6 or more out of 10.
Note that responses were recorded across June and July 2020, meaning the ongoing COVID-19 situation may have had some impact on the results. Only students who planned to apply to a body such as VTAC/UAC/QTAC were presented with this question.
We were also interested in whether or not students thought they would enjoy university more than their high school studies. Once again, only students who planned to apply to a body such as VTAC/UAC/QTAC were presented with this question, avoiding what we deemed irrelevant responses from students who didn’t plan to study at university.
Students were asked to answer either “Yes” or “No” to this question.
QUESTION: Do you think you will enjoy university more than high school?
Overall, students across all states appear optimistic that they will enjoy university more than high school. Results in New South Wales and Victoria were notably similar, with 83.2% of respondents and 83.3% of respondents responding “Yes” in New South Wales and Victoria respectively.
In Queensland, an even greater proportion of students (88.2%) indicated they thought they would enjoy university more than high school, despite students in Queensland reporting the highest level of high school enjoyment (see previous question).
In future articles, we will continue our analysis of results, focusing on a wide range of issues, including:
If you have suggestions for future research, please feel free to send us a message to get in touch.