One-third of Sydney high schools 'neither efficient nor effective': study

Nearly a third of government high schools in Sydney are "neither efficient nor effective", according to a new study that finds poor use of resources by schools is often linked to students' low Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks.

The study of 339 secondary schools across NSW found that schools in Sydney's south-west were most likely to use funds and resources inefficiently and produce low ATARs, while those in Sydney's north were highly likely to be efficient and perform above average in the Higher School Certificate.

The paper, which was published in the Australian Journal of Education, measured efficiency by a school's ability to lift students' HSC performance based on their year 10 results, socioeconomic status and school funding. It tracked students' performance between years 10 and 12 at each school over five years from 2005 to 2010, using data from the NSW Department of Education.

About 45 per cent of schools in Sydney's south-west were found to be inefficient and the average ATAR for the area was 49.19, well below the Sydney-wide average of 58.60.

Schools in Western Sydney also tracked poorly, with about 40 per cent found to be inefficient. The area had an average ATAR of 54.38.

In comparison, 80 per cent of schools in Sydney's north were found to be efficient, with an area-wide average ATAR of 73.55. Schools in central Sydney had an average ATAR of 63.94 and more than 57 per cent were found to be efficient.

One of the study's authors and education consultant Vincent Blackburn said schools that were not using their resources efficiently could be hindering students in performing beyond their socioeconomic status.

"You could argue that whole lives are being destroyed by students not being treated in a way that they can actually excel," Mr Blackburn said.

He said that the most efficient and high-performing schools were those that were using data to tailor teaching to individual students and using teacher input to make decisions on how best to use resources.

"Principals and councils at these schools are very adept at using data to interrogate how each of their students are travelling," Mr Blackburn said.

"When I was in school it was very much hit or miss, but data now enables teachers to be much better and more innovative at doing their jobs rather than being child-minders."

However, Mr Blackburn said a number of high-performing schools were also found to be inefficient, contributing to Australia's declining performance at an international level.

More than 14 per cent of schools in central Sydney and 11 per cent of schools in Sydney's north were found to have ATARs above average but were not efficient.

"Having that cohort of high-achieving students, you can expect them to perform very well," Mr Blackburn said. "But a lot of these schools are coasting.

"As a nation, we're underperforming because we're not looking at detailed information on our students."

The study also found that schools in the Hunter and Illawara region had the highest average efficiency score, followed by schools in country NSW. Sydney schools had the lowest score.

Mr Blackburn said there was often "much more face-to-face contact" at schools outside of Sydney, allowing schools to better address individual students' needs.

The Hunter and Illawara region had the highest minimum ATAR of 43.17, compared with 23.66 for Sydney schools and 26.00 for country schools.