Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
My School: What every parents needs to know about NAPLAN, the My School website and getting the best education for your child
by Maralyn Parker
ISBN: 978-1-86471-205-6, 295 pages
Does “My School” confuse you? Do you have no idea why your children are sitting the NAPLAN or what the results mean? You’re not alone. When the My School website was launched last year, it caused a fair amount of controversy, particularly within school systems that were worried about the impact of being “graded” themselves, and about the reductionist and possibly misleading nature of the published statistics as “league” tables. The principal of my own children’s primary school was unhappy enough to publish a statement on the school bulletin board about a school being more than simply a set of statistics. Fair enough, but as educational maven and blogger Maralyn Parker makes clear in her new book My School, the site, especially the 2011 revamped 2.0 version, provides a lot of good information now available to parents, and it can be quite a valuable tool.
Making sense of it isn’t straightforward though—you have to know what you’re looking for and where the information is coming from so you have a good understanding of how to assess it. My School puts the information available on the website into a parental context, with clear tips on what it tells us, and equally important, what it doesn’t tell us and how to obtain that information. The book is broken into 9 different sections, beginning with the website itself, including the latest 2.0 updates, how to make use of school profiles, the index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, school finances, and the NAPLAN. Since all three of my children took the NAPLAN test this year, I was particularly interested in understanding how schools will use these results, and what the collected scores can tell us about schools. Much of the heart of the book, at least in terms of its key topic, is contained in this first section, and it will help parents get up to speed very quickly and painlessly with exactly how the website might be used to choose a school, or to interpret the strengths and weaknesses of their own school(s) including particular warning signs to be on the lookout for.
Other chapters cover more general topics, such as how to assess more qualitative elements of a school like the all-important teacher quality, programs, and facilities. There are chapters on the different types of schools in Australia, NSW’s selective public schools, how to be more involved in your child’s school, how to visit a school for maximum benefit, how to interpret reports and results, how to deal with school problems, and how and when to obtain a tutor. This book would be of particular value to someone moving to Australia for the first time as it provides a very good overview of the idiosyncrasies of the Australian school system, including how to make best use of that system. The tips on working the school for your children’s benefit are helpful, and the way in which it provides a reasonably unbiased look at the nature of the My School website and the NAPLAN test helps put everything into perspective.
Personally, I have to agree with the author that the information on the My School website is good information to have, and that it helps to be able to interpret the many, fairly complex graphs and determine what is, and isn’t good information to make a judgement call about where to send your child. Overall, this is a helpful guide to the Australian school system for any parent, but for those who have a number of schools to choose between, or even for those who are deliberating whether to go public or private, the book will be particularly valuable.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , and Imagining the Future. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks.