Shepparton Super-School is Unlikely to Improve Outcomes

The Minister for Education, James Merlino, is treating the Shepparton/Mooroopna community with breathtaking arrogance and contempt in refusing to provide any evidence that the new super-school will improve school outcomes. He has repeatedly avoided fronting the community to justify the school.

The Minister claims that the merger will boost student results. Yet, two years after the plan was first mooted, he hasn’t provided any evidence for his claim. When faced with a direct request for this evidence at a community meeting in Shepparton, government representatives couldn’t provide it.

There is good reason for this failure and the Minister’s attempt to bluff it out – there is little evidence to support his claim!

Many academic studies have examined the relationship between secondary school size and student outcomes over the last 30 years. The general consensus is that secondary schools should enrol between 400 and 1,000 students to provide the most effective learning opportunities. Certainly, it should be much less than the 3,000 proposed for the super-school. Two of the Shepparton schools are within the indicated range and a third has 1,123 students. The Mooroopna school is just over 300 students.

An academic review of nearly 50 studies of secondary school size and student achievement found that secondary schools serving a largely diverse and/or disadvantaged students should be limited in size to about 600 students or fewer. Each existing school in the area serves such populations.

About two-thirds of the students in three of the schools and just under 50% in the fourth are from low income families. The proportion of Indigenous students in all schools is high in comparison with the state average, one school has nearly 50% of its students from a language background other than English, another has 30% of its students in this category and a third 16%.

All this suggests that the existing schools should be retained instead of being combined into a super-school of 3,000 students. This conclusion is supported by more detailed results from research studies.

Some studies have found that test scores increase with size, others that scores increased up to a certain size and then declined and yet others showed that student achievement declined as school size increased. Studies finding positive results failed to take account of higher drop-out rates typically associated with large schools.

Almost without exception, studies show that small school size is unambiguously good for students from low income families. Students from these backgrounds achieve higher average results and higher retention and graduation rates in smaller schools.

Most studies show that student attendance and retention rates to Year 12 are significantly better in smaller than large secondary schools. Many studies also indicate significantly stronger student engagement and self-esteem in smaller schools and greater extra-curricular participation compared with large schools.

Smaller schools tend to have higher quality social interactions and students feel more connected to the school. In small schools, teachers and students have a closer relationship, and teachers are more able to respond to the individual needs of students. As a result, poor behaviour seems to be less of a problem in smaller schools.

Studies also show that breadth of curriculum is not a justification for large schools. An OECD review of the literature on school size and other studies have found that small schools that focus on a few core and high quality courses can also achieve high student outcomes.

The idea that creating separate units within the super-school overcomes the problems associated with very large schools is outmoded. Similar experiments with schools-within-schools in the United States 20-30 years ago proved to be spectacular failures with no improvement in results and increased stratification of students by race, academic ability, and socio-economic status.

The merger of three schools into Dandenong High School in 2009 and its adoption of the school-within-school model is not the success claimed. Its NAPLAN reading and numeracy results have not improved, and its writing results have fallen significantly. It has become more socially segregated as advantaged families who are better able to exercise choice moved to other schools. The proportion of students from advantaged families fell from 40% in 2011 to only 13% in 2018.

This is the likely prospect for the Shepparton super-school – no improvement in school results and greater social segregation between public and private schools in the area.

The Government’s claimed benefits of the super-school should be subjected to an independent review as proposed by the Shepparton/Mooroopna community. Let’s have an open discussion of the merits of the proposal based on evidence.

Trevor Cobbold

2 Replies to “Shepparton Super-School is Unlikely to Improve Outcomes”

  1. Could not agree more, Trevor. All of our research says the same. Now they are trying to convince us that the schools within a school policy will work. 300 students in 9 schools within the ‘super’ school. When all the evidence says otherwise, why would they first of all place that many students in one place, then give us 300 students per school (doomed to poor results) when we have more students in our schools now.
    Still fighting hard, but concentrating on halting the transition phase starting next year with no school, until an authentic consultation process, with respect and integrity, based on evidence, has taken place with an independent review of the Shepparton Education Plan.
    Colleen Jones for Robyn Boschetti and members of the ‘Save Our Schools – No Transition’ Executive Committee.

  2. Like many parents my choice and my kids choice has been taken away with what secondary school they will attend to get their education, if me and my boys chose to go ahead with the transitioning my 2 boys would be at completely different schools with one going to Mooroopna for year 9 and the other to start year 7 at McGuire next year. We have decided we don’t want this and would like for both of them to be at the same school together so we’ve chosen for them to start at Numurkah Secondary College as of next year. It will take me just as long to get there as it would to do the Mooroopna/McGuire school run.
    My youngest would not cope very well being shunted from 1 school to the next as he has autism and not to mention the anxiety it will cause my oldest who has Aspergers, it will be unbearable, considering they probably won’t even get to attend the so called ‘super school’ as we all know it won’t be completed when they say it will be.
    I’m lucky I only have 2 kids to worry about and can understand the anguish it will cause families with more children who will have to go to numerous schools for drop offs/pick ups.
    Transitioning all 4 rival schools together will cause more problems than what is realised – especially on buses as I think that will be where the bullying will start and as much as they say ‘bullying won’t be tolerated’ I don’t think they’ve thought about how bad it could get and what they won’t know about with what happens on the buses. Plus the bus drivers shouldn’t have an extra job in controlling bad behaviour.
    Traffic in the ‘super school’ area is also going to be a nightmare not just for parents but also for the residents that live near it. And will Mooroopna end up with NO school at all? Which isn’t fair for Mooroopna since it’s a town on its own.
    I understand that something needs to be done about education in Shepparton and I don’t oppose fixing that problem but why uproot and disturb all 4 schools instead of leaving 3 as they are and just disperse the 1 school where they want to build??

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