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Why ICSEA fails our schools

By Mike Williss - posted Thursday, 22 April 2010

ICSEA is the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage constructed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The latter was tasked by the Rudd Government with constructing the controversial My School website.

Let me state my bias about ICSEA. The only honest thing about it is the word “community”.

Gillard prates about ICSEA being the mechanism that allows the public comparison of “like schools” (since refined to “statistically similar schools”).


Each and every Australian school now has an ICSEA value. The mean value is 1000. Schools above this are declared to be more advantaged; those below, less advantaged.

But ICSEA is not an accurate assessment of school similarity.

School data is not used to construct ICSEA values.

The data comes exclusively from what the Australian Bureau of Statistics calls Census Collection Data sets (CCDs). These are the approximately 220 households assigned to an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data collector on the occasion of a census. The ABS averages the data of these 220 families to construct four indexes of socio-economic data. Altogether, 35 pieces of data (or variables) are used between these four indexes.

ACARA discarded 20 of those variables, arguing that whilst they correlated for economic disadvantage, they did not assist in determining educational advantage. The remaining 15 were judged to be significant in relation to educational advantage, although one was subsequently dropped for being “below statistical significance”.

A regression analysis was then used to devise a mathematical equation into which the 14 variables are fed. Only at that stage were two additional variables (the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolments, and a measure of CCD “remoteness” ) applied to the value. The first of these is really the only piece of school data that is built into the ICSEA values.


Thus, ICSEA values, for all intents and purposes, are measures of quite small communities. That is why ACARA is at least honest in stating that it is an index of communities, not an index of schools.

I repeat, it is not ISSEA. It is not an Index of School Socio-Educational Advantage.

However, that is what Gillard tells parents that it is.

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About the Author

Mike Williss is a teacher of Chinese in South Australia. After 32 years in the classroom , he now works for the Australian Education Union in South Australia.

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