Warning: Do not let your child read further lest you be reported to the authorities.
Now that it's 2013, the countdown is on for about 13,000 (un)fortunate families across NSW. They're the ones who reckon young Josh or Beccy is smart enough to go to a selective high school next year. They'll know by July.
But next Monday many of the (un)fortunate 10 to 11-year-old kids in those families will return to cram school. Since last March they've been cramming for 6½ hours a week while other kids with less "concerned" parents have gone for a surf, hit a ball, played bad recorder and wrestled their dad.
The coaching colleges offer 45-week courses for $3990 (book early and save $3000!) to help kids game - sorry, prepare for - the selective school entry test on March 14.
It's for their own good, see. But you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy.
So what are we doing to childhood?
The selective school entry test is anathema to what I thought education was meant to be. It's feeding an anti-childhood industry. I have a good mind to lead a statewide boycott of the stinking rotten thing. Except …
I really want the best for my kid.
With two Higher School Certificates down, the pressure is on for my three youngest to do THEIR best. Not THE best. Most kids can't be THE best at anything. The minute we tell them they can, we fail as parents.
Anyway, whatever happened to the old adage that the cream will rise naturally to the top? Even the coaching colleges admit "a gifted child will probably achieve to potential if happy, supported and challenged, regardless of school attended".
The scant research of coaching colleges tends to agree.
What if the crammed-up kid misses out? As one coaching college admits, some "may not be suited to handle the competition if motivation is ego-involved".
And how about the cautions from researchers who say coaching doesn't help, but still admit the results may be skewed? Is it possible half the coaching colleges do good work whereas others are just ripping off gullible parents?
Beats me. I didn't attend coaching college. I just know that the student body at selective schools has changed markedly since my eldest sat the entry test successfully in 2004.
It's not ethnicity; it's pressure. The coaching college scourge has spread to the extent that you have to be in it to win it - even though research suggests intelligence quotient is the key predictor of selective school entry.
Last year fewer than one in three of the year 6 students who sat the NSW selectives test - it's worth two-thirds of the entry mark - won a place at one of the state's 48 full or partially selective schools where they will enjoy more plentiful resources and teachers who are vetted for academic results.
"Back in the day" kids with the highest IQ - the gifted and talented 1 per cent - would go to their local school or win a scholarship to a higher performing or prestigious one.
Nowadays every parent has been encouraged to think kids in the top 10 per cent of IQ are gifted and talented. With growing parental expectations, families with access to coaching colleges and out-of-school tuition give themselves a better shot at selective school entry than smarter kids without those benefits. With no Gonski-style equity reforms, socio-economic status plays an ever-increasing role, as does the "exams are all that matters" culture. Work hard, see the results, take the knocks, builds resilience in kids - that's a fair call, as long as equal opportunity plus equal effort equals equal outcome.
How would I feel as a 10- to 11-year-old knowing that the system doesn't work like that?
Here it comes: I remember when I was young and I did the HSC at my boring local school in the year (sorry, can't recall Your Honour). I drank, ate, surfed, fixed cars, listened to punk, watched Monty Python, pumped septics and licked road clean wit' tongue. And I turned out all right.
Except … maybe I didn't. Maybe I couldn't cut it today. One coaching college blurb says: "A student's top priority should be their studies. Students are required to learn a sense of duty and responsibility to themselves to excel in their studies."
Surely kids' time is better spent on becoming good humans rather than exam experts. Won't a few practice tests before the big one suffice?
Seems not. One coaching service reassures me that it's not too late for my kid. I can download three months of selective school practice tests today for just $99.
Anyone who pays that needs their head read. Maybe that person is me.
Such is life …