Thousands of Year 12s have been away for schoolies week, which now goes on so long it might be called a gap year. But the sobering reality of the future and its OP statements is due before Christmas, and for some the mail might end the fun. This year’s school leavers will not be the last squeezed into Overall Position bands for tertiary entrance decisions. Although changes recommended by a review are currently with the Queensland Government, implementation of a new system will not take effect before 2017, and it’s more likely that 2015 Year 8s will be the first post-OP Year 12s.
When the OP system was introduced in 1992, its authors said it could be simple and unfair or complex and fair. If this is true, it must be very fair because it’s certainly very complex. The system has also been criticised for privileging subjects like maths, narrowly focusing on tertiary entrance – rather than other outcomes of a school education – and doing nothing more than finely calibrating academic prowess, which doesn’t predict vocational aptitude – so you head for the career you get into rather than the career you’re passionate about and most suited for. But most of all, the current system is bagged for the unfairness inherent in its fairness. Your own OP relies on your school’s results, which means your cohort can squeeze you into a higher band, or loosen you into a lower one. This introduces impurities like socieconomic background in what should be an academic merit system. It’s vulnerable to being worked by sly schools.
The review of the OP system was undertaken by Geoff Masters and Gabrielle Matters from the Australian Council for Educational Research. Matters told me the current system is not unfair and she could explain it very simply if only she had a piece of rubber hose. The bigger concern, she said, is that it now only caters for just over half of all tertiary entrance school leaver applicants. The rest take alternative pathways. It’s one way schools work the system. This, she said, really is unfair.
Unlike other states, which use external examinations, Queensland has prided itself on ranking students with school-based assessment, toggled with a statewide core skills test, the QCS. It’s the toggling that’s exasperatingly complex. Masters and Matters want school-based assessment to stay but they’d replace the QCS test with statewide exams in every subject worth 50 per cent. I don’t know how complex the new system will be, or how fair, but I don’t accept that to be fair, you have to be complex. Still, what would I know? I’m a novelist whose score – and it was a score then – was not stellar.
What I wish is that someone had told me, when I was finishing Year 12, how little the score would matter. At the time, it felt like it was all that mattered. It was relevant for a minute, and I’ve never needed it since. I wish I’d understood that I would change careers, and my first degree would become largely irrelevant too. I wanted to do forestry, but a career counsellor told me I was too little to move logs off tracks, which made me wonder exactly what foresters did. I’d assumed they lived in national parks and walked early in the morning. I have a friend who did forestry, and he doesn’t move logs off tracks anymore either, if he ever did; he reviews organisations. If you look at the G20 leaders who visited last month, hip German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chatted to locals in Caxton Street, did a PhD in physics. US President Barack Obama studied law, worked in community development and was on the way to being a writer. Indonesian President Joko Widodo really did do forestry, although I don’t know if he moved logs off tracks. Whatever you start now, you can be fairly certain you won’t be doing it for your whole life.
Most of all, I wish I’d known that happiness would matter more than achievement by the time I got to here. Research shows that the happiest career of all is flower-arranging, so perhaps I was on the right track with forestry, or at least in the plant kingdom. Happy days finishing Year 12s. You are here.