Here is an insightful piece written by Tom Rickards about the pressure that the dreaded 'A' Word might bring and how we really want our students to develop self-belief and confidence that will set them up for years to come. Tom is Head of Senior School and Deputy Head of The Ridgeway Campus
'You are not your ATAR' is something students will hear a lot during their school years as teachers and parents seek to de-emphasise this at times over-hyped concept (and I realise ATAR is an acronym and technically not a word). And the opening statement is very true – as parents will know life is about so much more than this, that no one really cares about an ATAR within a day of the results being released, and that many people with a range of ATAR scores will have equally happy and successful lives. At Ivanhoe the rounded education and rich diversity of learning both inside and outside the classroom and contributing to the wider community is what we are all about.
But the ATAR does exist and a great many students aged 17 and 18 across Australia are part of this process. It can be thought of almost like a game with certain rules and desired outcomes and all the students are playing. Albeit a long game with lots of contributors and the above mentioned perceived importance of the outcome. The ATAR can also open doors as it gives a direct avenue into the tertiary course and future pathway of choice.
But messages may appear mixed: our Y12 students were greeted by Mr Foley on the Y12 Preparation Day on January 31 with the message that 'If an ATAR of 99 is your potential, or an ATAR of 60, we as a school will do everything we can to support you to get yourself there'; and as a school on Wednesday of this week we held our Honours Assembly and celebrated the high academic achievers of the Class of 2017. So how do we reconcile the ATAR with the School's stated purpose: 'To develop young women and men of character'? Clearly there is no mention of academic scores in this statement.
As our School Psychologists Kathy and Laura would be happy to tell you, the key to many aspects of life is how we conceptualise the situation. As a school we are encouraging Y12 students to have the mindset that their Y12 is going to be a great year – for many the best year of their schooling, but like many things worth doing, the best rewards come when we have worked hard to achieve them. Just as in sport the best games are often the hardest fought ones. Plus students will be leaders within the school and in all of its many curricular activities: music, sport, performing arts and service to name a few. In addition, hopefully students will know their subject matter better than they ever have before, and find it really interesting!
We want our cohorts to see their ATAR as an end point of the all-important process of working to set themselves up to become highly effective citizens. That one key part of Character is efficiently and effectively giving your best and working with others to help them be their best. Our goal is for students to feel that if they can apply themselves to all aspects of school life, and particularly to their study for this year, and in doing so they will develop self-belief and confidence that will set them up for the years ahead. And the big advantage is they will be collaborating with their cohort of great friends that they've shared their schooling with in an engaged and supportive community. They will show themselves and others that they know how to learn as individuals and with others. That by giving their all to this year, they are ready for many of the challenges that life might throw at them in the future, and that they have proved that they can apply themselves to a long-term task and achieve their goals, and experience the immense satisfaction that comes with this.
So going back to the School's attributes and character: we want students to have the courage to give this year their best shot in all they do, regardless of final outcomes and the 'A word'. But the ATAR is a clear goal to aim for and it can motivate. Make it work for you. No regrets, or in teenage speak – YOLO. 'Decide you want it more than you are afraid of it', and to work in such a way to be highly effective and efficient this year, and in doing so, embedding a healthy, balanced and effective lifestyle that is sustainable for years to come. And know that whatever your best is – the school will do all we can to support you to achieve this.