WA minister, unis defend system amid calls for review
But the ATAR has recently come under fire in other states, with the University of New South Wales’ Gonski Institute for Education and the State School Teachers’ Union of WA calling for it to be reviewed to include non-academic achievements.
The union’s WA president Pat Byrne said the current system had worked well in the past channelling students from high socio-economic backgrounds into traditional tertiary courses such as medicine and law, but wasn’t the best option for the future.
“The issues around ATAR have been the subject of debate for many years now and the union agrees that narrowing the assessment of 13 years of schooling to a single score, such as ATAR is not necessarily the most suitable way to assess senior secondary achievement and future potential,” she said.
“The SSTUWA would be interested in further research into the idea of a more comprehensive assessment, which looks at both the academic and non-academic achievements of students. Certainly a learning profile rather than a single score would accommodate a far better understanding of a student’s potential.”
Ms Byrne said a learning profile could include previous employment, interviews and certificate qualifications.
Edith Cowan Univeristy’s School of Education executive dean Stephen Winn echoed Ms Byrne’s concerns, saying while ECU stood by ATAR, non-academic factors should also be weighed.
“ECU stands by ATAR as it applies to school leavers. Of course they are not the only students who
enter university. For example, equivalence is used for mature-age entry,” he said.
“While ATAR is one way to measure aptitude, non-academic requirements should also be used,
particularly for professional degrees that are regulated and accredited by professional and
“If a student is a self-directed learner, they will likely succeed at university regardless of their ATAR
However, Education Minister Sue Ellery has ruled out any changes to the ATAR in the near future, saying the ranking was a “fair and equitable” measure of student achievement.
“It is important to remember that most universities have alternative admission processes which
they use in addition to the ATAR for the purposes of enrolling students when they leave school,” she said.
Asked about the inclusion of non-academic achievements to the ATAR, Ms Ellery said volunteering and community service work done by students in Year 11 and 12 was already included in the WA Statement of Student Achievement, a formal record of a Year 12 student’s achievements.
“ATAR is just one indicator of potential success for students aiming for tertiary education,” she said,
“Perhaps the most important point is that not all school students want to go to university.
“That is why Western Australian students can study a combination of ATAR courses, general
courses, foundation courses, VET and endorsed programs.
“However, regardless of any post-school path a student decides to take, it’s not just about results.
It’s also about aspirations, dedication, determination and hard work.”
The Universities Admissions Centre also released research showing the ATAR was a strong predictor of a student’s success. The higher their ATAR, the higher their first-year grade point average is likely to be.
Higher ATARs also mean students were less likely to get a failing first-year grade point average, the research found.
UAC general manager of engagement Kim Paino said the ATAR was not perfect, but it was effective and transparent.
It is not the final decision on where you are going to go in life.
“It cops a lot of flak but it needs to be seen in the context of only university admission and even in that as being one very useful tool in a much broader ecosystem of ways in which students prove that they deserve a spot at uni,” she said.
“The reality is that it’s important for students to try to focus and do their best in the exams. When they get their ATAR it won’t just be their entry ticket into a uni course, it will also tell them whether they’re ready for it.”
Andrew Norton, an honorary fellow at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at Melbourne University, said anxiety over placement was overblown as more students were going to university than ever before.
In 2018, a majority of the 5000 people with an ATAR less than 50 who applied for a spot received an offer and those who missed out could eventually get there by enrolling in a pathway program, he said.
“I think there is a problem with the way people are reacting to the ATAR,” he said.
“People have whipped themselves into a frenzy over it, and people need to calm down, in my view. It is not the final decision on where you are going to go in life.”
WA’s oldest and most prestigious university, the University of Western Australia, would not comment on the rank.
“UWA does not wish to provide commentary on media stories about ATAR at this time,” a university spokeswoman said.
Marta is an award-winning photographer and journalist with a focus on social justice issues.