Does My School have lessons for planners?

The problem is that although the average socioeconomic status of Camberwell and surrounds is very high, there are nevertheless significant numbers of residents whose incomes don’t e

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

The brouhaha over My School is an important lesson for those of us interested in geography because it demonstrates how misleading a reliance on average values can be.

In a previous post, Limitations of My School, I pointed to some problems with the Index of Community Socio-educational Advantage (ICSEA) used on the My School web site. In particular, I was surprised to find that prestigious Melbourne Grammar scored much the same on ICSEA as nearby State school, Camberwell High.

This unlikely result was because each school’s ICSEA rating is calculated from the social and economic characteristics of the Census Collection Districts in which its students live.

Camberwell High School

The problem is that although the average socioeconomic status of Camberwell and surrounds is very high, there are nevertheless significant numbers of residents whose incomes don’t extend to finding upwards of $20,000 per annum in post tax income to fund a private school education for each of their children.

In other words, Camberwell High ranks highly on ICSEA because its students live in ritzy areas, not because the students themselves come from relatively well-off families (although some former students, like Kylie Minogue, have gone on to considerable financial success).

What this tells us is that not all households within a cluster of contiguous suburbs earn the average income – there’s considerable variability even though the suburbs might, on average, be quite affluent.

To throw further light on this issue, I looked at the incomes of families in Ivanhoe East at the 2006 Census to try and get a handle on the degree of variability in income within a small geographical area. Ivanhoe East is around the same distance from the CBD as Camberwell and has 984 families. It has about six times as many dwellings as a Census Collector’s District (Camberwell has 5,011 families).

Like Camberwell, Ivanhoe East seems a homogeneous middle class area with no obvious “good” and “bad” neighbourhoods – houses on the river or on golf courses are worth more but all the houses look substantial. This is a small but apparently affluent neighbourhood with a couple of private schools nearby – Ivanhoe Grammar, Ivanhoe Girls Grammar and Alphington Grammar. About two thirds of families in East Ivanhoe have children.

27% of families in Ivanhoe East earn more than $3,000 per week, but 46% earn less than $2,000 p.w. and 16% earn less than $1,000 p.w. I don’t think $20,000 per year in school fees for each child would be comfortable for most households earning less than $2,000 p.w., much less those earning below $1,000 p.w.

What this suggests is that caution is needed in formulating policy on the assumption that the average defines the nature of an area or region. For example, this story implies that the inner city is inhabited only by wealthy residents (who all use public transport!). While Fitzroy (say) has a much higher proportion of residents who work in Professional and Managerial occupations than the national average (56% vs 33%), the remainder of the workforce are nevertheless employed in more modest occupations.

I also want to touch quickly on a related matter. As a postscript to my earlier post on My School, I see that the Financial Review quoted the Chairman of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), Barry McGaw, as saying that ICSEA is a robust measure for more than 90% of schools and where it is not, it has been corrected.

Some schools that are "statistically similar" to Camberwell High

I duly note that Camberwell High School and Melbourne Grammar are now no longer listed as comparable schools on the ICSEA Index.

However Carey Baptist Grammar School, whose fees for Australian residents are $19,864 p.a. for years 8-10, is listed as comparable socioeconomically with Camberwell High.  So also are Lauriston Armadale ($21,220 p.a.); Methodist Ladies College Kew ($19,085 p.a.) and Sydney Grammar School ($24,318 p.a.).

There are also a number of other ‘top flight’ private schools listed as comparable, including Melbourne Grammar (Wadhurst), Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School, Presbyterian Ladies College Peppermint Grove and Trinity Grammar Kew (these latter schools all choose not to publish their fees).

Also included in the list of comparable schools on My School are three NSW high schools – Cherrybrook Technology High School, Pennant Hills High School and Turramurra High School.

ACARA either needs to really get on top of the problems with ICSEA or remove it (it’s not the main game anyway). Direct data on the socioeconomic status of the parents of students would of course be much better but I can see that would be difficult to gather. An alternative could be to sample private and public school parents in order to derive a statistical weighting that could be used to obviate the sorts of anomalies noted above. That should enable fairer comparisons.

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7 thoughts on “Does My School have lessons for planners?

  1. I Went To An Academically Selective High School, And All I Got Was This Apparent Exclusivity. | Thinking In Reverse

    […] as Alan Davies noted in Crikey, ICSEA itself is a problematic tool for measurement, as it examines the generalised socio-economic […]

  2. Do school league tables add any value? « The Melbourne Urbanist

    […] written about My School before in the context of the ICSA Index (here and here). With the revised My School web site going live on Friday, it’s timely to look at some recent […]

  3. Benno

    I live in Ivanhoe East and earn an average weekly income of $80. If anyone in town needs help to maintain their substantial house and land packages they can call on Benno “human bobcat”.

    “homogeneous middle class area with no obvious “good” and “bad” neighbourhoods” – Not so sure about that. I never walk north east of McArthur Road after midnight, except when safely past Longstaff.

    Quite a few kids from these parts attend Kew High School, which is the closest government high school. They catch the bus down Burke Road. There are a couple who go to Balwyn High School in Balwyn North which is almost as close as Kew High.

    Trinity, Xavier, MLC and Marcellin also all feature. Marcellin being the closest Catholic High School (If swimming to school is your go), otherwise OLMC just over the border in Heidelberg is the closest Catholic school for the practically minded.

    And wouldn’t it be fairer if you included all of Eaglemont and the parts of Ivanhoe which are geographically more like Ivanhoe East or Eaglemont?

    And could you settle a bet for me? Vita Bella or Cafe 232?

    And why isn’t there a hardware store in Ivanhoe? Is it because all the men folk are poofters?

    Alan, where would your blog be without my smartarse sniping?

    1. Michael

      There is a plumbing supplies place in Ivanhoe, but you have to be a “real man” to find it!

    2. Alan Davies

      Dear Smartarse Sniper of Ivanhoe East
      I said “seems” homogeneous to set up my argument that….er, it is heterogeneous, as you confirm by your catholic list of schools. I wanted to use as small an area as possible to approximate the variability of a CCD (they average 220 dwellings) so even Ivanhoe East was a bit too big (that’s why I didn’t use Camberwell – way too big).

      There was a hardware store in the Ivanhoe shopping strip that closed circa 2001. Why? Hardware retailing went “big Box”.

      I say Cafe 232, but can you even afford coffee at McDonalds on $80 p.w.?

      1. Benno

        I say the milkshakes at Sophisticake. And no, I can’t afford coffee or milkshakes. Only mildly flavoured hot water.

        A real man or an internet nerd

        I only found this place (IRL) a couple of months ago. Fantastic 1930s milkbar there too.

    3. tracyrains

      carry on wiyh your good work and do possible development

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