Category Archives: gifted education

What works?

Thanks to the fact that that excellent US resource Education Week is having an Open House at the moment, I have been able to access some really good information for teachers. I do have a free subscription, but that limits you to a small number of articles per week; still worth subscribing though.

There is, for example, a blog on gifted education that may interest some, especially because of the cultural context from which it comes: Unwrapping the Gifted.

Tamara Fisher is a K-12 gifted education specialist for a school district located on an Indian reservation in northwestern Montana and president-elect of the Montana Association of Gifted and Talented Education. With Karen Isaacson, she is also co-author of Intelligent Life in the Classroom: Smart Kids and Their Teachers. Her hobbies include drawing, hiking, fourwheeling, and building houses. (She lives in a house she built herself.) In this blog, Fisher discusses news and developments in the gifted education community and offers advice for teachers on working with gifted students.

Subject of much ideologically driven controversy in recent years has been the perennial topic of the teaching of reading. Here in NSW Reading Recovery has for some years been the program of choice in many Infants Departments, but lately phonics-driven approaches, which always appeal for some reason to the political Right, have tended to attract much publicity, and funding. It is interesting then to read Out-of-Favor Reading Plan Rated Highly:

Reading Recovery, a popular one-to-one tutoring program that Bush administration officials sought to shut out of a high-profile federal reading program, has gotten a rare thumbs-up from the federal What Works Clearinghouse.

The positive rating comes after prominent researchers and federal reading officials tried to dissuade states and districts from paying for Reading Recovery with funds from the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program, which calls on school systems to spend their grant money on programs backed by ‘scientifically based research.’ In their objections to the tutoring program, critics raised questions about its cost and cited problems in the studies attesting to its effectiveness.

‘I think this is good news for all the school superintendents who kept Reading Recovery alive in their schools,’ said Jady Johnson, the executive director of the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit group based in Worthington, Ohio. ‘I’m hoping this report will signal a change in direction for the [U.S. Education] Department.’

See also Reading Curricula Don’t Make Cut for Federal Review.

Just one program was found to have positive effects or potentially positive effects across all four of the domains in the review–alphabetics, fluency, comprehension, and general reading achievement. That program, Reading Recovery, an intensive, one-on-one tutoring program, has drawn criticism over the past few years from prominent researchers and federal officials who claimed it was not scientifically based.

Federal officials and contractors tried to discourage states and districts from using Reading Recovery in schools participating in the federal Reading First program, citing a lack of evidence that it helps struggling readers.

Other popular programs were found to have potentially positive effects as well. Success for All, a whole-school-reform program developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, got the favorable rating on alphabetics and general reading achievement, but mixed results on comprehension. Voyager Universal Literacy System, a product of the Dallas-based Voyager Learning, was found to have potentially positive effects on alphabetics but potentially negative effects on comprehension. Accelerated Reader, distributed by Renaissance Learning Inc., was found to have a potentially positive impact on comprehension and general reading achievement.

The review discussed here may be found at The What Works Clearinghouse where you may also find a report on ESL programs.


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There’s a lesson here somewhere…

On The Eclectic Garden, a Western Australian blog I read regularly, the latest entry is one some may relate to: A Lesson In Geography.

…Given a few facts and an empty sheet of paper, I could address most exam and assignment questions with as much aplomb as necessary to confuse and bamboozle most teachers into at least a ‘C’ grade. Of course, this did not apply as well to the sciences and was virtually useless in mathematics but I had only modest goals at school and these were:

1. To work as little as possible; and
2. To achieve just enough as to keep my parents off my back.

My talent for writing and invention carried me through most subjects and, as for maths; I figured even my parents’ expectations stopped just short of perfection. I was young and arrogant and for years neither my goals nor strategies suffered any serious dent. While my friends struggled valiantly to make a few hard-earned facts go to more than one page, I was happily writing screeds on the basis of pure air and vaguely related ephemera.

Then one day it all came to an end…

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Posted by on April 30, 2007 in for teachers, gifted education, study skills


A voice you just can’t ignore

You’ll find Ali Alsamail in the NSW HSC All-Rounders List 2004, those with top performances across the board. I remember him as a leader in the school in sport and academia. He is of Iraqi background and arrived in Australia in 1995.

I thought of him again as I was writing a long post on my personal blog during the past twelve hours: Extended comment: On the extreme ugliness of fanatics of all kinds…. The theme there is the way we who are not Muslim conceive Islam, especially given current politics and dominant media representations.

In the course of my research I came across a couple of essays Ali had written more recently. One moved me very deeply, and I would love simply to rip it off here, but I do not have Ali’s permission. The essay is called Prisoner of Golden Chains . It went online, it appears, in November 2006. Here is the merest taste:

One day, I heard that somewhere, far away from here, people were imprisoned, then raped, tortured and dragged around on leashes like animals without any justification. The pictures I saw showed me an evil I had never imagined before. I felt pain and anger, but I knew I could change nothing, so I told the pain to go away, and told the anger to shut up. I told the sense of injustice I felt to be quiet, because that was somewhere else, far away from here — it was what we leave behind before coming here.

The next day, I heard that a group of kids, somewhere far away from here, were stopped at a checkpoint on their way to school. Well-trained soldiers could only communicate with these kids by pointing guns at them, so the kids had to sit on the sidewalk and have their class right there. It made me want to cry, but I told the tears to go back…

The conclusion is superb.

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Posted by on January 20, 2007 in Australian, diversity, equity/welfare, gifted education, multiculturalism, writing


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The mysteries and injustices (?) of the NSW UAI ranking

A very thoughtful Sydney blogger, Jim Belshaw, who has a strong background in public administration, has posted three times recently on HSC and UAI (University Admissions Index) issues, beginning with Gripes about Australian Education – 1, then Gripes About Australian Education – 2, and finally HSC, UAI and Education – a further note. I commend these long posts to you for careful reading. Note also that x/100 in the UAI is a RANK not a MARK.

In the first post, among other things, Jim writes:

Note to readers: This is the first of two posts setting out some of my gripes with the current Australian education system. While I was writing the first part, one of youngest’s friends and her mum called in. Like Clare, the friend will do the New South Wales Higher School Certificate this year. The friend’s mum was not aware of some of the things I had found out re student choice. So it may be that this post will actually be helpful to some, not just a gripe…

To ensure a good UAI, students must maintain the required level in the on-going assessment tasks. Get a few of the early tasks wrong and your target UAI may go out the window well in advance of the final exams themselves. There is a further problem. The assessment tasks themselves take time for both students and teachers, reducing the time available for teaching and learning.

In all these circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that there should be so many students, my own daughters included, who feel the need for special tutoring outside school to build their strength in weaker subjects.

The HSC and UAI results themselves create new pressures.

I think that it is still generally accepted that education is more than narrowly defined academic results. I think, too, that there is a degree of acceptance that the HSC and following UAI outcomes are a far from perfect predictor of university results, even less so of longer term success. Yet the reality is that none of this matters.

At school level, the HSC results provide the base for the creation of league tables comparing school performance. Schools talk about broader education, but they boast about or put the best spin they can on HSC outcomes.

Parents are just as bad. We read the published HSC results avidly. When, as happened in my eldest’s year, an apparently good class fails to get a single band six (the top band) with this outcome adversely affecting subsequent UAIs, the outcome becomes a matter of agitated debate.

At university level, the publication of UAI cut-offs – a simple measure of demand for individual courses at individual universities – creates another league table. Students and parents use these to guide their choices for the next year, with a bias towards higher UAI universities…

The second post takes up ” the uncertainties associated with the process.”

…In the words, of my eldest, how was I to know that English would be my best subject?

This was a subject that Helen struggled in to some degree, a subject where we arranged some external tutoring, a subject where her place in class was lower than in most other subjects. Then come the HSC her exam mark was far better than expected, miles in front of the raw school assessment, with the assessment itself being scaled up by a substantial margin.

Conversely, drama was one of Helen’s favourite subjects and one she was good at. Unexpectedly, in drama the exam mark was lower than expected, with the no scaling up of school assessment.

I had attended all of the class and individual performances and did not understand this result. I still do not, even after hours spent analysing the official data…

The third post teases out further problems, consequent on careful reading of the Universities Admission Centre site.

I have done a little more thinking and investigation since then talking to people and also working my way yet again through the UAC web site.

As all parents know, the UAI index is a device for competitive matching of demand by students for courses to available places in courses within NSW and ACT universities. At the end of each entry round there are always some vacancies in some subjects in some institutions. In this sense, the UAI is most important as a rationing device for the more popular courses and institutions.

Given all this, the final UAI required for entry to a particular course in a particular institution becomes a price proxy for demand and supply for that course. The result is a quite dramatic 40 spread between the lowest entry UAI that I could find (60 in 2006) and the 99 plus required for some courses in some institutions.

The UAI is not a perfect market clearing mechanism simply because students are not themselves perfectly mobile, while universities will drop UAIs only so far to attract students. This means that at the end of the process there are always some vacancies in some institutions one one side, some unplaced eligible students on the other…

All this sounds fair and equitable. However, there are some very real problems.

To begin with, no one seems able to tell us – perhaps a reader can – just how the university study component is turned into an index number for ranking purposes across grades, courses and institutions. So we have another black box uncertainty.

The second problem is the nature of the equivalence between the HSC/UAI ranking and the University results…

That is the merest sampling of Jim’s posts. I should add that Jim is far more knowledgable than I am when it comes to data analysis and statistics. In this area, I really am an English teacher, I’m afraid.

There is of course a shiny brochure explaining how it all works, which you can download as a PDF here. I have read it, but in all honesty I am none the wiser. The cynic in me sees some of the processes involved as pure mumbo-jumbo, and deeply contradictory as well. The UAI seems to make unjustified assumptions about the relative merits (or “difficulty”) of courses that are logically not comparable. This may work against students doing the courses that from an educational viewpoint are the best to do, in the sometimes vain pursuit of the best UAI possible.

OK then. I have to admit I can’t help Jim with his concerns. This is galling, but as I said I am merely an English teacher.

Note too, as Jim does, that this is quite a separate issue from the desirability or otherwise of particular courses, so don’t get sidetracked by the “dumbing down” argument. It is not relevant to this particular set of issues.

Can you help?


A fourth somewhat related post appeared on Jim’s blog today: Drought, Higher Education and Mental Traps.

… One of my aims here has been to sell the value of the regional experience for education and work.

My most recent writing on the NSW HSC, the UAI and the linkages between this and university education has taken me in a new direction because I wrote this in part from the perspective of a parent now living in Sydney looking at education for his own daughters.

This writing caused an interesting paradigm shift because it caused me to look at university education in Sydney as compared to regional NSW from a different perspective, leading me to the unexpected conclusion that in some ways regional kids are significantly advantaged as compared to Sydney kids. This is the opposite of the conventional wisdom, a wisdom that I had accepted to some degree…

Students with very high UAIs can essentially pick and choose. Beyond that point, New England year 12 students would appear to be advantaged.


Posted by on January 7, 2007 in equity/welfare, gifted education, HSC, questions asked



ESL and the Art of War — from my archives

A Talk to Bilingual Parents

I gave this talk at the first NESB Parent Night at Sydney Boys High in 2000.

There are times when I am quite proud to be an Australian. One of those times was late 1998 when I made friends with a backpacker named Kyohiko Kato from Sendai, Japan. Why was I proud? It was when he said he had come to Australia to develop an open mind: “big heart” is actually what he said. He went on: “When I came out of Sydney Airport and saw so many different sorts of people I knew I had come to the right place.” He was only visiting for one year and I suspect he had an open mind already!

Many people who come here to settle do so because here is different from their country of birth. Others come because their country of birth is no longer a good place to be. Others come to make money, or to give their family a better chance in life. There are all sorts of reasons. My great great-great grandfather came because the English Courts in Ireland told him to.

Whatever the reason, settling is never easy. I have read a letter written about 160 years ago by one of my ancestors. He said, “You know I don’t want to die in this country.” He did of course. A great-grandmother solved the problem by losing her mind and believing her home in Dulwich Hill was actually in the Lakes District of England.

Changing countries is an emotional thing. A Chinese friend was surprised to find that now, when in China, he feels Australian. Chinese people have even congratulated him on how well he speaks Chinese. But in Australia he feels Chinese. Here are your boys now. Here they are in a school and a school system that may be quite similar to, or very different from, what you knew, or what your friends and relations back home know. There is an interesting question: where is home?

Your language and culture aren’t just decorations: they are part of who you are. Australian governments officially recognise that now, and I hope more and more people understand it in practice. Your son’s future in Australia will be even brighter if he can be a complete person — one who knows where he has come from and is proud of it, but who also knows where he is and can move freely.

You want your son to do well. Everyone wants that, but maybe migrants want it even harder. So what do you do? How can you guarantee he will do well?

Well, there are no guarantees.

But there are some good ideas — and I have found some in a very old book that some of you will know. The book is old, but it is studied by soldiers and business students all over the world today. It is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu says

The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose.

Sun Tzu also says:

Therefore generals who know all possible adaptations to take advantage of the ground know how to use military forces. If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the lay of the land they cannot take advantage of it.

Jia Lin comments:

Even if you know the configuration of the land, if your mind is inflexible you will not only fail to take advantage of the ground but may even be harmed by it. It is important for generals to adapt in appropriate ways. These adaptations are made on the spot as appropriate, and cannot be fixed in advance.

I asked a student what I should tell parents tonight. He said: “Don’t say ‘Let your boys have fun and relax.’ They will just laugh at you.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe you could tell them not to set goals their kids just can’t reach.” “Yes. I will tell them that,” I promised.

Well, now I’ve told you.

Don’t be afraid of setting goals. Don’t be afraid of encouraging your boys to work hard. But let us together learn the ground, and let us together — parents, students and teachers — make the right adaptations. Then we can win the battle.

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Posted by on December 24, 2006 in equity/welfare, esl for teachers, gifted education, multiculturalism


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Thoughts on coaching

Consumer Guide to Coaching

I was coached–by my grandfather, a retired teacher, in Mathematics. It was only that and former SBHS Principal Bob Outterside’s teaching that enabled me to get through a subject in which I was far from gifted or talented!

It was a good deal, mind you; rather than me paying the coach, he paid me pocket money to do various chores for him. And it was one-to-one; he was also a very good teacher.

There is nothing surprising about parents seeking to have their children coached. Many of the SBHS parents come from cultural backgrounds where such help is the norm, even if (as we see in the hagwon story below) it may be argued that this is over-the-top. China’s determination to reduce the burden on students and to seek a broader view of education (see below) is interesting too.

Xiao Wu (Year 12 2001), a very successful HSC student, now counsels parents and students to realise that the pressure to get into a selective school ought not to be so strong; it is not like China where getting into the right school is the only way to ensure a first-rate career or choice of university. (It should be added that coaching is not so common in China as it is in Korea or Japan.) Xiao also sees the importance of participating fully in any cocurricular activities the school offers, citing the burn-out factor as being a significant reason for being somewhat less academically single-minded. In his case he had little choice, but does have regrets that he could not participate as much as he would have liked.

One can understand parents seeking coaching when the system confronts them with high stakes tests such as the Selective Schools Entrance Test–especially when parents feel they cannot help their children themselves in this new environment. Their feeling–not entirely wrong–is that their sons and daughters are starting behind the line compared to native speakers. To try to correct that by whatever means is not in itself reprehensible. However, the ethics and activities of some coaching colleges are quite clearly reprehensible.

The argument that coached students are hot-house specimens does, however, deserve rebuttal. If it were so, they would wilt once the initial purpose of coaching had been achieved. Actually being in a competitive selective school environment would show their weakness. It is fair to say that in the majority of cases this is simply not apparent. The students in general thrive, and were probably deserving of entry anyway. Nor are all coached students nonparticipants in cocurricular activities; if that were so the situation at Sydney Boys High in music, debating and sports would be far worse than some fear it is. Indeed, to judge from the 2006 edition of The Record (which did come out on time this year!) all the above are very healthy indeed, even if participation rather than absolute success characterises a few sports.

What follows does not so much refer to Selective Schools Test coaching. I am often asked about subject-area coaching further down the track. Here are a few pointers.

Only engage in tuition if it supports school learning. There is no value in “extra” work that is irrelevant or confusing. Any coach who is incurious about what the student is currently studying is not worth his or her fees. The tutor should not load the student with even more homework. Above all, the tutor should not give the impression that his or her homework has priority over school work. This is self-defeating for the student, who has probably sought tuition because he is falling behind.

Avoid any tuition where the classes exceed five students. What is the point of sitting in a poorly graded class of twenty or so in conditions far worse than any school? All you are doing is lining the pockets of the College proprietor. One-to-one is ideal but not economical from the College’s viewpoint. So unless you are simply wanting your child to meet some new people and extend their social contacts, avoid any College with large classes, no matter what they promise or who they are.

Consider that tuition may just be an expensive luxury. Is there a good reason for the tuition? Could the school have addressed the issue anyway? Always consult your child’s teacher first to see what the problem is and what may be done about it at school level.

More is not always better. If tuition prevents your child from doing set work or having an adequate time-management plan of his own, then it is hindering the child, not helping him. If tuition prevents your child from developing socially, causes rebelliousness and resentment. leads to a negative attitude towards learning, and reduces his chances of benefiting from all the school has to offer, then you have not only wasted your money, but you have possibly damaged your child.

Smart coaching for the right reasons can be OK; most coaching is neither smart nor for the right reasons. Please think about this very carefully.

Neil Whitfield
June 3 2002. (Revised)

Some interesting items

1. Australian college accused of stealing test paper

(The Straits Times [Malaysia] May 12 2002)

SYDNEY – Illegally obtained examination papers may have given students at Sydney’s largest coaching college an unfair advantage in getting into the selective schools of New South Wales (NSW). Entry into these schools, which provide a rich learning environment for high-achieving and academically talented students, is through examinations which test students in English, mathematics and general ability. A position in the 28 selective schools in NSW is highly prized –15,000 students will sit the examination this year but only 3,300 will gain entry.

[A certain] College, at Homebush, has been accused by a former teacher of obtaining or stealing the highly confidential test papers, The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday. The revelation was made in the NSW Parliament on Friday by opposition education spokesman Patricia Forsythe, who referred to a parcel of documents from the teacher to Education Minister John Watkins.

Mr Watkins sent it to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The documents included what is said to be a trial test in mathematics prepared by the college in 1998. It was almost identical to a sample test placed on the Department of Education’s website two months ago, the Herald said.

2. Education-Obsessed South Korea

by Radio Netherlands Seoul correspondent Hyun-Sung Khang, 8 June 2001

Asian countries have long been noted for the importance, which they attach to education. But in South Korea, the competition for a good education has become even more intense in recent years. One reason why South Koreans take education so seriously is because it dictates future opportunities and even the marriageability of a person. And the pursuit of a good education has meant big business for the private sector.

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and 17-year-old Chong Min San has just finished a full day at school. He gets on a bus but he’s not heading home.For him and his friends their day is far from over. “I have to get up at 7 in the morning, I have to be at school by 8 and lessons finish at four. Then you go to a hagwon and when you arrive home, it’s around 1 o’clock in the morning.”

A hagwon is a private educational institute, which many Koreans attend to supplement their studies. Chong Min San says the nightly cramming classes are pretty exhausting.

“If you have assignments from school or hagwon you have to work through the night. If you go to hagwon everyday, that happens about three times a week. It’s quite tiring; you have to sit for hours. That’s why most people have bad backs and mentally it’s even more tiring, it’s stressful, but you have to do that.”

Ambitious Parents

Lenny Erikson, an American who teaches at the BCM language institute in Seoul, says hagwons are targeted by ambitious parents.

“The sole purpose is to put you ahead of those people who don’t go to those schools. Especially with kids, parents want their kids to excel, they want their kids to be number one in the school, so they put them through as many language schools or hagwons to get them up there.”

So fierce has the competition become that parents are now sending children as young as two to attend 20-minute lessons where they are taught basic maths and English-language skills. In 1990, it was estimated that over 8 billion dollars was spent on private education in South Korea. Now that figure has more than tripled, often at great personal expense. Some Korean parents spend one-third or half of their income on their children’s education.

Education All-Important

The amount of money, but also the amount of time that is spent on education in South Korea reflects the importance attached to education in this country. This is because a place at one of the top universities is probably the single most important factor determining a South Korean’s opportunities in life, right down to their marriage prospects. But 24-year-old student Son Yong Boo says the huge success of private education is also a reflection of the lower quality of education found in the public schools.

“It’s a really big problem. Many of the teachers are not good enough to teach and classes are overcrowded. And for example, physics. What do you think is the most important thing to teach about physics? It’s experiments, right? But only accept formulas from books; they do not think about it just memorise it. So, how can it be interesting to students?”


The government is responding. From this year, it says less importance will be attached to the university national entrance exam. Colleges will be able to assess students according to their total academic performance and Korea’s heavily regulated universities will get more discretionary power in admission procedures. But critics say these reforms don’t go far enough. They want a total overhaul of the education system, and until that happens, they say, South Korea’s school children will be spending most of their waking hours in the country’s hagwons.

3. Advice to UK Parents: Good Schools Guide UK

First of all, you are thinking along the right lines. However bright [Jessica, a hypothetical Year 6 student] she is, she will need, at the least, some practice in managing the examinations. It is, in fact, often the brightest children who are most disadvantaged if they have had no practice prior to the exams. These children often write long, wonderful stories if left to themselves but are totally thrown when given half an hour to produce a finished piece. These children often see complexities in comprehension questions way beyond what is required and need to learn the technique of containing their ideas – again, bearing in mind the time limits. However good at Maths these children may be, it may well be the case that the pace in their classroom has simply not allowed them to cover some of the skills and techniques that the senior school will expect them to understand. It may also be that you simply don’t have a clue as to how Jessica would measure up against fellow candidates for an academically selective school. So – what is the answer? You need to have an independent assessment.

Ideally this will be done by an experienced teacher at Year 6 level in an academically selective junior school – someone who knows exactly what the senior school is looking for. It may well be that this is someone who also coaches local children for the exams at the school of your choice. Frequently, this is a retired specialist at this level who should be prepared to see Jessica once, try out her English and her maths and give you an honest appraisal of her general aptitude, some idea of her chances of success and what it will take to prepare her thoroughly. You must not expect such a teacher to make promises! Even the brightest and best pupils can have off-days – though we hope not! An honest assessment is a useful tool and can save much heartache and disappointment later on.

Coaching for the examinations

An experienced teacher will have heaps of past papers, have all the techniques at her command and will make Jessica feel confident very quickly. However, it may be that you will need to find separate teachers for English and Maths. This has the disadvantage of being more expensive and inconvenient – two weekly lessons after school as well as Jessica’s music lessons, Brownies, ballet class and so on puts strains on you all. But, if you cannot find a teacher who will do both English and Maths, it will probably be necessary and will be worth it!

But – how do you find the teachers? The best way is word of mouth. A good teacher seldom advertises or has to register with an agency. In any case, agencies are very expensive. Ask around among parents – especially those whose child is a year ahead of Jessica and who have been through the same process. Don’t be shy of asking around or assume that everyone else’s child gets into the the school you like without extra help. It is far more likely that local eyebrows would be raised at any child who attempted the exams without coaching and you will find parents only too eager to discuss the relative merits – and costs! – of this or that teacher. You may hear of teachers who prepare children in groups. This is usually cheaper but is less satisfactory. The benefits of one-to-one teaching, especially if Jessica has major gaps or difficulties, – spelling, story-construction , fractions etc. – cannot be over-emphasised. She will progress much faster with individual attention and a good teacher will also be able to do wonders for her confidence – not so easy if she is in a tutor’s group with Shireen and Anna who are both, of course, ‘brilliant’.

It may be that Jessica’s school can recommend teachers or it may be worth asking the school you hope she will go to, though it is not unheard of for this to be remembered and held against a candidate if she is borderline! However, there is a tendency for these schools to tell you that no coaching is necessary. This ignores the disadvantage that state school children are under.

When should you start? Ideally you should telephone the teacher a year or so before the examination and book a place. The best teachers usually have a waiting list. The teacher may well suggest an assessment. This should enable her to tell whether Jessica needs only, say, a term’s lessons – starting the September before the examination – in order to plug minor gaps and give her timed practice – or, if there are more significant gaps or deficiencies, whether it would be advisable to start straight away.

4. Beijing Schools’ Education Reform to Cultivate Creativity

Quality education, a new method of learning designed to make students excel in studies and other areas of the lives, is being implemented in Beijing’s primary and middle schools. “Quality education means I can do it,” Wang Xing, a student in Guangming Primary School said confidently.

The school adopted the “I can do it” slogan in 1996 calling on students, parents and teachers to strengthen students’ confidence by allowing them to participate in everything that interests them.

Many students in Guangming are part-time journalists at China Children’s News. Wang, with a camera in her hands, said: “I like photography very much, and I want to be a journalist in the future.” These young journalists arrange their classroom lessons along with their part-time job of contributing campus stories to the newspaper, because the school has been easing up with homework, said the schoolmaster Liu Yongsheng.

Other schools such as Beijing No 2 and No 11 middle schools are also implementing quality education programmes. “To reduce students’ heavy homework and relieve their psychological burdens, primary schools in Beijing will abandon the ‘100 mark evaluating system’ for students starting this autumn,” said the capital’s education committee director Xu Xi’an.

Meanwhile, primary and middle schools will eliminate 70 textbooks which are either outdated or too difficult for students, said Xu.

A heavy homework load, frequent examinations and the 100 mark system have caused great anxieties among students, sources from the Ministry of Education said. Consequently, many students had little time to play or relax. The ministry has introduced the concept of lightening students’ loads to encourage creativity. Beijing has spearheaded the effort.

Starting this year, junior middle schools will end the city’s unified entrance exams to senior middle schools. Instead, the schools will hold exams that will test students’ abilities to solve social and daily life problems, rather than simply memorizing textbooks, said Xu.

See also

What do parents and students expect from a tutor? (PDF)

New guidelines proposed for tutoring industry 2005 from Standards Australia.

PDF File: Tutoring by Keith Topping, from UNESCO International Academy of Education. Distinguishes good tutoring from bad tutoring. Well worth reading. Keith Topping is Professor of Educational & Social Research at the University of Dundee. “He is known for developing and researching the effectiveness of methods for non-professionals (such as peers, parents, or adult volunteers) to tutor others – in core skills (e.g. reading, spelling, writing, thinking skills, science, mathematics, information technology) and across subject boundaries, in all sectors and contexts of education and lifelong learning.”

Mark Bray, “Adverse Effects of Private Supplementary Tutoring”, UNESCO pdf file (83 pages).

Big market for tutoring by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, The Christian Science Monitor (Boston) May 13, 2003. Also in America… not just a Sydney phenomenon after all.

Tutoring / Tuition for Children – just cause or impediment? from Families Online (UK). Here is an extract:

Make sure that the tutor is familiar with the syllabus which your child is studying and, in the case of Maths, for example, that the tutor is not confusing your child by teaching a method which conflicts with the method used at school. While alternative methods may well be appropriate as a means to developing understanding, the tutor should always end up with the school method.

Tuition should not be a chore, it should be a positive, enjoyable experience, because your child will be developing confidence and seeing that he/she can do it…

Tuition should complement school work and you should liaise with your child’s teacher to ensure that the tuition is effective. A sympathetic and experienced tutor will help your child to realise that he/she has ability and that the subject being studied can be fun and is no longer a no-go area…

To find samples of NSW selective schools tests, CLICK HERE.

There is an American site called which offers extremely valuable fact sheets on various aspects of testing.


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