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Data show a good education at Flynn

Misleading claims …

In a Legislative Assembly inquiry:
THE CHAIR: I read a number of submissions by Flynn, Tharwa and Hall parents. The question is: did you ever receive any complaints from these parents and these students saying that they were not getting good educational outcomes? From the submissions I have read, they actually were getting very good educational outcomes.
Mr Barr: You and I can disagree on that, Madam Chair. You and I can disagree on that.
THE CHAIR: So you are stating that they were not getting good educational outcomes?
Mr Barr: I am saying that there are a range of issues that are relevant in that consideration across some of those schools that are not, or were not at the time, able to be publicly released, but, happily, as a result of—
THE CHAIR: I think we probably need to be careful with what you are saying there, Mr Barr.
Mr Barr: No. This is coming to the real point—
THE CHAIR: No? Yes, I think we do have to be careful.
Mr Barr: This is coming to the point, Madam Chair. I was not able to release some of that data, because we had agreements and because we had a range of requirements under previous legislation and a range of agreements with some of the stakeholders. I sat down with the P&C and said, “I have access to some data that, if it was released, would be confronting.” Fortunately, through the new agenda, that data will be publicly available.
THE CHAIR: It will be publicly available?
Mr Barr: Yes – not for those schools going backwards in time, but from now on, on the ACARA website, that sort of information around educational performance will be publicly available.

It has been claimed that Flynn Primary school was closed for reasons of ‘educational quality’, but available data show the claim to be false – Flynn was actually at or above average according to the Notices of Decision given to schools after they closed. ACTAP results (the precursor to NAPLAN) show that 90% of students were achieving above the benchmark. This is regarded as a good result.

The most recent example is in evidence to the school closures inquiry given by the Education Minister Andrew Barr, when he said that Flynn, Hall and Tharwa schools (and possibly others) were closed because of poor educational outcomes. The slur was later repeated in the Assembly.

a) Notices of Decision show the schools were about average

  • At Flynn, the results were not significantly different from the system average progress
  • Hall’s results were also similar to system average progress, but for one cohort from several years before 2006.
  • Tharwa’s ACTAP data were identified as being not reliable because of the small sample size

The relevant paragraphs from the Notices of Decision are:

35. I find that the 200–2006 ACTAP results show that average student progress in reading from year 3 to 5 at Flynn PS is similar to the system average progress for all student groups (2002-2004, 2003-2005, 2004-2006). The average student progress in writing and numeracy from year 3 to year 5 for all student groups tends to be lower than system average progress, except for the 2004-2006 writing result which is higher, but the school results are not significantly different from the system results.

35. I find that the 2002-2006 ACTAP results show that average student progress in reading, writing and numeracy from year 3 to 5 at Hall PS was not significantly different to the system average progress for each student group (2002-2004, 2003-2005, 2004-2006), except for average student progress in writing for the 2002-2004 group which was significantly below system average progress. The reliability of data for the 2003-2005 student group is significantly affected by the small numbers of students who were assessed at the school in both 2003 and 2005.

35. I find that the 200–2006 ACTAP results at Tharwa PS have been variable and ACTAP data is not necessarily reliable given the small cohort of students in each year level who sit for this systemic test.

Using ACTAP data in this way directly contradicts the Chief Minister’s statements to the Canberra Times in August 2006.

b) The 2005 and 2006 test results show the schools were doing well

  • Flynn – in almost every area, more than 90% of students were above the benchmark. For reading, 100% of students were above the benchmark. The worst results were for year 5 writing in 2006, when 87.5% of students were above the benchmark – still a good result.
  • Hall – also achieved well, with 100% of students above the benchmark in reading (Years 3 and 5) and writing (year 3).
  • Tharwa – data not available due to small sample size.
Results for ACTAP tests (pre-NAPLAN) at Flynn and Hall primary schools
Year Measure Flynn Primary School rsults Hall Primary School results
% Above benchmark % Above benchmark
2005 2006 2005 2006
Year 3 Reading 92.9 100 93.3 100
Writing 96.2 88.9 85.7 100
Numeracy 96.3 92.6 86.7 89.5
Year 5 Reading 93.9 100 nd 100
Writing 90.0 87.5 86.7
Numeracy 87.9 93.8 73.3

Of the three schools, Flynn is in the unique situation of being told either it or the school in the adjacent suburb (Mt Rogers in Melba) would close. For the sake of comparison, Mt Rogers’ results are below. Flynn performed better in 2005 (the initial data used to list schools for closure); and results were comparable in 2006. There certainly was not sufficient difference to justify closing Flynn instead of Mt Rogers on the basis of educational quality.

Mt Rogers ACTAP results
Year Measure % Above benchmark
2005 2006
Year 3 Reading 86.7 88.9
Writing 64.7 96.2
Numeracy 82.4 96.3
Year 5 Reading 88.9 96.8
Writing 81.5 96.9
Numeracy 84.6 96.8

Note: improvement has to be shown over the two years it takes to move from year 3 to year 5 (e.g. 2004 to 2006). Different children sat the tests in 2005 and 2006. The susceptibility of test results to ‘who happens to sit the test’ is a long-standing criticism of this type of testing in schools. The key message was not whether or not Mt Rogers was a good or bad school, but whether the results can be used to justify closing Flynn. Clearly they cannot.

UPDATE: 10 September 2011. The Canberra Times reports:
“Mt Rogers Primary School admits things were looking pretty glum three years ago when it received its first NAPLAN report cards. The National Assessment Plan Literacy and Numeracy results showed that in 2008, the school’s Year 3 pupils were 60 points behind similar schools in grammar and punctuation skills. Things didn’t look much better in 2010 with the new Year 3s between …”

Images from Flynn

Angles on the textured concrete walls


Flynn grounds

Landscape setting & grounds

Enrico Taglietti visting the school he designed

History and design

Memorial to John Flynn

Memorial to John Flynn