There are 51 selective grammar schools and 77 primary schools with Opportunity Classes in New South Wales.
Applications for the class test by opportunity, taken by 4th graders, are increasing: just over 15,000 applications were received for a place in next year’s classes, compared to 11,741 for 2019.
The number of applicants to selective high schools has increased from 14,961 in 2019 to 15,660 applications for 2023. Nearly 6,000 students accepted places in OC and selective high schools last year.
In April the Herald reported that the number of Indigenous students applying and accepting places was at its lowest level in four years, with just 29 students accepting a place last year compared to 48 in 2018. But the number of students with disabilities taking the test and accepting places has more than doubled since 2018.
Associate Professor Jae Jung, from the UNSW School of Education and senior researcher in the field of gifted education, said it was a “major overhaul of the current selection process”. which better helps disadvantaged groups of gifted students to access selective classes.
“Some groups are much less likely to have access and it is recognized that this weakness needs to be addressed,” he said.
Jung said that under the changes, 75% of places will be determined according to the current entry criteria and 20% of places reserved for students from disadvantaged groups. An additional 5% is allocated to students for other special considerations.
Students obtaining places from disadvantaged groups must perform within 10% of the accepted minimum requirements of a general applicant.
A spokesperson for the New South Wales Department of Education said that if there were not enough applications at a particular school from pupils from underrepresented groups – or if those pupils did not meet not meet the minimum requirements – successful places would be offered to general applicants based on their best performance on the test.
“I expect this to answer many criticisms of selective schools and undo many of the arguments made against selective schools,” Jung said.
Penrith Selective High School principal Mark Long, former deputy principal of James Ruse Agricultural High School, said that over the past few years Penrith had seen increasing demand for places.
The school has about 930 students (of which about 57% are boys) and more than 90% have a language background other than English.
“Parents have become more aware of the school, our wellness programs, and many extracurricular and enrichment activities in areas like drama and coding,” Long said. He welcomed the change to reserve 20% of places to try to “more closely represent enrollment in public schools”.
“I’m really excited to make sure kids who are typically underrepresented get more opportunities,” Long said, noting that Years 5 and 6 opportunity classes at Colyton Public School, Richmond, Kingswood feed Penrith.
“We now have more local Penrith pupils coming through the school and partnerships with state primary children where they will come to our school to be enriched in maths and be paired with Year 9 pupils. The younger kids are excited and it really stretches them, it’s also great for students in those middle years to have a leadership role,” Long said.
Pupils took the selective school test at the end of March and the OC tests will be taken at the end of this month for places in 2023.
There has been a recent push for trt to educate parents about the application process through social media and school report cards, and introduced provisions to make it more accessible to students with disabilities.