Selective schools and missing out

Places at selective schools in Australia are limited and highly competitive. For every student that is offered a place, many more will need to consider plan B. And if children have undertaken months of practice tests and other intense preparation for the selective schools test, or are experiencing pressure either from their parents or self-imposed, missing out on their desired selective school could leave a 12 or 13-year-old feeling very disappointed.

RELATED: Selective school of hard knocks

Angie Wilcock helps parents and their children manage transitions in education. She offers these tips for parents to help their kids overcome this disappointment.

  • Don’t dwell on why they missed selection  – “the system is unfair”, “how did they get in and you didn’t?” etc – this just adds to the disappointment and establishes a sense of ‘failure’ at a time when it is critical to be building positive attitudes towards starting high school.
  • Focus on what the new high school has to offer – avoid comparisons between the two schools. Although some high schools may ‘specialise’ in particular areas like performing arts, sports etc, all secondary schools cover these curriculum areas, and kids won’t miss out on their favourite subjects by attending a mainstream high school.
  • High school is what you make it – regardless of which high school your child is attending. Encourage your kids to have some goals for high school. If they have a particular interest in sport, dance or visual arts for example, they don’t need to attend a specialist school to achieve goals in these areas. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-framed goals(SMART) are motivating; they give kids direction and help keep them on track towards developing their particular talents … but make sure your kids decide on their own goals – not your goals for them! Encourage them to consider the stepping stones to achieving their goal – each stepping stone is an achievement in itself.
  • New friends!  Regardless of which high school they attend, there will be around 180 new kids in Year 7, all eager to make new friends. This is a time in their development when ‘fitting in’ is critical, and often far more important to them than academic achievement or success. Encourage involvement in a variety of school activities such as the debating team, the SRC, the school band etc. These provide perfect opportunities to form diverse and multiple friendship groups – a key ingredient to building resilience and confidence.

RELATED: Starting high school is tough on parents too

About the contributor

Angie WilcockAngie Wilcock is a highly regarded Australian expert and speaker on transitions in education.

With a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sydney University, a Diploma in Education and a strong background in teaching, Angie now works with teachers, parents and students across Australia in the area of transition to secondary school.




  1. Both my daughters went to SEAL schools and to be honest if I had my time again I would have put them in with the mainstream kids.

    It is not so much the social side – bizarrely in both their year levels the ‘mean girls’ were in the accelerated class – but for the fact that they didn’t learn how to learn. The teachers knew that they were smart and let them basically do what they wanted. When it came to subjects that they didn’t immediately excel at they fell apart. So much so that they both – and many of their classmates – quit subjects because they couldn’t cope with the idea of not knowing it straight away.

    • That’s so interesting. I’ve seen that behaviour in this family as well. It’s like they are so used to things coming easily to them that when a subject is difficult for them they don’t like having to work hard to understand it – they’re just not used to it.

      My high school (Catholic, yrs 7-10) trialled some new system which was about self-directed learning – it was useless, and I also didn’t learn how to learn. At that age, I think kids still need discipline and a teacher firmly guiding them to be taught how to learn. I changed school for yrs 11-12 and had no idea how to study or organise myself, and all the other kids did.

  2. Bramwell Westwood says:

    Our daughter is at a private school. She is bright enough to be in public selective school, but we wanted a greater performing arts type education. The school has decide to split the top English kids across the 3 advanced English classes. This goes against what I was taught, which is you put the top kids in the top class with the top teacher. I suspect it is to drag up the schools HSC ranking. I believe the top kids will suffer by this policy of “spreading the cream”. Any thoughts or published research, appreciated



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