Selective school of hard knocks

It’s the time of year when many kids in year 6 are starting to hear if they have been accepted into selective schools for next year.

Choosing a high school is not the simple process it once was. In the 1980s, in my town, you went to the local high school or the Catholic high school. If you grew up in the city, you also had private high schools to choose from, and there were a few academically selective schools.

But a lot of normal comprehensive high schools have academic selective streams these days, and there are other selective schools for sport, performing arts and visual arts.

A few years ago my eldest daughter went through the audition process for a performing arts selective school. At the end of the audition, the school put up the short lists for each audition group. The kids and their parents scrambled over to see if their name was on the list, or if their dreams of attending were immediately dashed. There were elated squeals and jumping, and there were tears. It was like in Fame, but these kids were 11 and 12. Pretty intense.

I remember one little boy, when asked by a mate if he was short-listed, saying a bit defensively, “no, but that’s ok, because I got into [visual arts selective high school] already”.

He could have gone to that visual arts high school anyway and enjoyed all the same benefits without having to be accepted into the visual arts stream, but there is some cachet attached to being ‘accepted’.

There is also disappointment to deal with in being ‘rejected’. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like when I was 11 years old to be rejected by a school. It’s a tough old world out there now for kids! You might perhaps argue that it’s a good lesson in learning to deal with disappointing outcomes, but that’s relying on parents being able to turn it into a positive for their kids.

Have you been through a selection process with any of your kids? How did they handle it?



  1. I haven’t been through the process with my son, he’s only 4, though he did get “accepted” to the school we are hoping to send him to, but I think everyone did – it’s only a few years old and still growing. I imagine numbers meant a lot at this point in time. But what I was going to say is that I auditioned at my high school for some kind of scholarship for band (played flute) and I didn’t get it. I was so nervous and devastated. I can’t imagine what it’s like for kids these days. I think as long as mum and dad are supportive and not pushy they will probably be ok?

  2. Awww I didn’t think about the selection process as being a negative but it would be hard to deal with. Life is competitive though and I guess it instills some of that into children from a young age. It is such a hard lesson though for child and parent.

  3. A friend’s son missed out on his school of choice – he’s 40th on the waiting list – and he’s devastated. Couldn’t even face all the successful boys in the playground the next day. Then got bullied for being a wimp about it. Ouch.

  4. We went through this with my middle son when he applied to attend a sports high school. Selections were made after three stages – a practical trial in your particular discipline, a fitness test and the strength of your academic record. My son was well aware there was a possibility of not getting in but he still wanted to give it his best shot regardless, in a ‘he who dares, wins’ kind of way. We supported his decision (and in fact, congratulated him on it) and as luck would have it, he was accepted.

    Life has a habit of dishing out tough lessons when you least expect it and I think kids need to have some exposure to that when they are younger, supported by an adult, if only to prepare them for life after school.

  5. Our local high school has a creative & performing arts AND a sporting excellence AND an accelerated class which skips Year 8 entirely by combining the Yr 7 & 8 work into Yr 7. Just up the road is the fully selective high school for the region. I have knowledge of a number students leaving each of these specialised classes to rejoin their classmates in the mainstream school system, for a variety of reasons. It is a marketing tool for high schools these days to be able to offer some sort of speciality. The students who opt out then have to juggle questions as to why they gave up their unique opportunity.

  6. I don’t even know anything about this. Where have I been hiding? My girls started in a daycare at a private school and are lucky enough to be there through to year 12. I’m glad I get to miss all this. Rachel x

  7. I auditioned for the School of Music (piano) when I was around 12. The moment I walked in there, I knew I wasn’t going to be accepted. For some reason, it didn’t upset me too much. My calling was in rock n’ roll, man. None of that wussy classical rubbish for me 🙂

  8. Are you serious, this happens? Obviously Darwin is not sophisticated for this level of snobbery yet, cause you can get in pretty much anywhere here.

  9. Oh no, I can’t imagine it. I don’t think my poppet will dwell in that stratosphere somehow – managing her nerves for exams already isn’t pretty, and she doesn’t really show them, it’s me!

  10. I hear you loud and clear.
    It is a real dilemma for some families.
    In our case, being teachers, we chose (after asking the kids) not to have them sit for either the OC (gifted and talented classes) in Year 4 for the Year 5&6 part of their education, nor for the Selective schools in Year 6.
    Our kids may or may not have ‘made it’ but we looked at it this way, with the amount of competition for places in the Hills area of Sydney (James Ruse, Baulkam Hills etc) we knew that there’d be even more stress being at those schools. Our kids both went to public comprehensive High Schools in the Hills area. Our daughter went to Uni, and is a teacher. Our son was a late starter at being academic, and entered Uni as a mature age student, and is now a registered psychologist.
    Why did I write a post length comment?
    To show that it matters how parents and families as a whole deal with matters of relative success and disappointment.
    It is sad that not all do so.

  11. Read the best book called “Selective Support” it is available on Amazon and it helps give parents tricks and tips to help their child. I read it for my child and it made him get into a selective school and now I have a better relationship with him. It MUST be read.



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