Sydney high schools — which will help your child the most academically?

Jesse Whelan
6 min readNov 5, 2020


Part 2: Educational value add: making the most of the students you have

In part 1 I argued that educational advantage, measured through ICSEA, has a substantial impact on a school’s HSC results. The implication was that schools with higher ICSEA scores should perform better all else being equal. The so what is that schools can improve their performance by picking the best and brightest (linked to being more advantaged). This is akin to a sports team winning by selecting the best players.

A good coach (and sports system) will be able to get the most out of the team that they have. An average team will become good, and a good team will become great. I’d like to extend the analogy to schools. A good school will enhance the academic and social performance of its ‘team’ — the students.

Combining these two ideas allows us to understand which schools are the best at making the most of the students they have vs picking students more likely to succeed.

Just before we begin…

This is the second of a two-part series. If you haven’t read part 1 yet I encourage you to do so to understand what ICSEA is and how it correlates with school performance.

Determining the educational value-add of schools

In part 1 a strong relationship between ICSEA scores and HSC performance was demonstrated.

The trendline above was used to derive a relationship (formula) between ICSEA scores and predicted HSC performance.

This relationship was used to calculate

  1. Expected Band 6 % for each school based on its ICSEA score
  2. The difference between the actual and expected Band 6 percentages
  3. The actual Band 6 performance as a % of expected. What I call educational value-add.

From the above measures you can get a sense of how well each school value-adds onto their student cohort. This measure tries to answer How good is a school is converting socio-educational advantage into academic results?

The chart below displays those 3 measures. The horizontal axis is the expected Band 6 % and the vertical axis is the actual Band 6 %. The colour of the dot demonstrates the level of educational value-add. Green indicates that the school outperforms in the HSC based on its ICSEA while red indicates that it underperforms in the HSC based on its ICSEA score.

Those who are interested can play around more with this data on interactive Tableau Public page I created.

The following sections dive into school performance in the Independent, Catholic, Government non-selective and Government selective sectors.

Independent Schools — Sydney

While looking at the chart above, one thing you may notice is that Sydney Grammar is a significant outlier. Sydney Grammar students achieve 60% of Band 6s in the HSC courses they take. However since its ICSEA score is 1277 (almost 3 standard deviations above the median school), the model expects Sydney Grammar to actually achieve over 80% Band 6s. So Sydney Grammar underperforms based on the socio-educational advantage of its student cohort.

Removing Sydney Grammar allows us to zoom in more on the other schools.

Top 5 Independent schools by educational value-add

  • Al Faisal College
  • Alpha Omega Senior College
  • St Euphemia College
  • Maronite College of the Holy Family
  • St Charbel’s College

Bottom 5 Independent schools by educational value-add

  • SCEGGS Redlands
  • Penrith Anglican College
  • Trinity Grammar
  • Newington College
  • St Aloysius College

What is interesting for me in the results is how poorly some of Sydney’s most expensive schools performed when it comes to educational value add (although plenty of other high fee schools outperformed such as Reddam and Kambala). Of course when paying over $30k per year there are many non-academic services that you get. However, for those families for whom teaching and learning is a key factor when selecting school, this data should at least make you pause to consider.

Catholic schools — Sydney

Top 5 Catholic schools by educational value-add

  • Mary MacKillop Catholic College
  • Patrician Brothers’ College, Fairfield
  • Marist College Kogarah
  • Bethany College
  • Holy Spirit Catholic College

Bottom 5 Catholic schools by educational value-add

  • Marist College — North Sydney
  • De La Salle College (Revesby Heights)
  • St Leo’s Catholic College — Wahroonga
  • Holy Cross College
  • Marian Catholic — Kenthurst

Government non-selective schools — Sydney

Top 5 government non-selective schools by educational value-add

  • Canley Vale High School
  • Prairiewood High School
  • Cabramatta High School
  • Fairvale High School
  • Bankstown Girls High School

Bottom 5 government non-selective schools by educational value-add

  • Holsworthy High School
  • Sir Joseph Banks High School
  • Glenmore Park High School
  • Richmond High School
  • Belmore Boys High School

Government selective schools — Sydney

Top 5 selective schools by educational value-add

  • Sefton High School
  • Auburn Girls High School
  • Bonnyrigg High School
  • Hurlstone Agricultural High School
  • Sydney Technical High School

Bottom selective schools by educational value-add

  • NBSC — Manly
  • Kooringal High School

There are only 2 Government selective schools in Sydney that underperform versus expectations. One explanation for this is that these schools select the best students relative to their ICSEA score. Another explanation is that they these schools have better teachers and teaching approaches which enable the students to outperform.

Remember, picking schools is a multifaceted decision

Perhaps after reading this you are wondering what to do with this information. You may have children in primary school and thinking ahead to high school, or perhaps they are in high school but you are looking to make a change.

My hope is that the information above can be one data point to help in your decision making. It is important to remember that there are many factors that affect school choice. Academic support and traditional ‘learning’ is just one factor. For many families other factors are equally/more important, such as the student cohort, religious doctrine or values, and the range of sports and extra-curricular activities on offer. Another key consideration is the cost of schooling. Not just tuition but also all the extras such as uniforms, excursions, mandatory fees, etc. What value are you getting for your money?

All of factors are important to consider to arrive at an informed decision.

Interested in finding out more about how your school performed? Simply share this article with 3 others I’ll DM you the results of how your school went.

Jesse Whelan is the Founder of Sandbox Learning Australia an academic support organisation that helps students who have fallen through the cracks at school gain confidence, learn and succeed so they can thrive now and in the future.

He is passionate about making high quality learning accessible for all and is working on creating a low-cost private school concept. Reach out if you would like to be part of this new innovation.



Jesse Whelan

EdTech entrepreneur, passionate about improving education impact through tech and research-driving practice. Former consultant and engineer. Harvard MBA.