Conversation around the benefits and potential disadvantages of the ATAR system (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is one of the most contested in the Australian education landscape. With so much debate around the merit of the ATAR and its purpose in education due to its inability to view a student in a holistic way,, we're left with the question: should the ATAR system go? In this article, Brendan Fordham, Head of Student Programs at Toorak College, discusses the relevance of the ATAR system and whether we are asking the right questions when it comes to the discussion of scrapping ATAR altogether.

ATAR as part of the Australian education system

The ATAR debate has been around since the system was established in 2009 as a way to standardise the university entrance process. ATAR replaced state-specific assessment systems as a single ranking system for the whole country. ATAR score is a numerical score ranging from 0 to 99.95, representing a student's relative position compared to their peers across the country.

While the system worked to unify the process for Australian school students to get into their preferred university courses, it has been under scrutiny from many students, principals, education authorities and teachers alike for putting too much emphasis on exams, as well as not recognising students’ achievements and capabilities that might not show through an exam-based system alone.

Is the ATAR system fit for purpose?

Each year, the Year 12 cohort at Toorak College work tirelessly to receive an ATAR that allows them entrance into their chosen tertiary course and career pathway. However, an ATAR score is simply a ranking and does not define a student, or provide any context on the knowledge or skills that the student has developed throughout their schooling.

Indeed, many Australian universities are beginning to look beyond the value of the ATAR when making tertiary offers, with many Toorak College students applying for, and accepting, early offers to tertiary courses based on their strong skills in leadership, communication, work portfolio and critical and creative thinking. All skills that, for centuries, have set great leaders, great thinkers and great students apart from the others.

Alternative roads from high school to university entry

The continued debate should not focus on abolishing the ATAR, instead it should focus on universities demanding the measurement of a diverse range of skills to create a more equitable playing field for all Australian students. Better yet, industry should be encouraged to connect with schools to develop cadet programs and shape these skills in students in the way they desire, benefiting not only young applicants but also corporate Australia.

At Toorak College, we recognise the need to provide students with valuable industry pathways, and have proudly partnered with government and industry organisations to give students the opportunity to develop their real-world skills while working towards an ATAR. Students have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders, solve real-world problems, and build the key skills that will develop their ability to work outside of the classroom.

Our partners provide a range of interactive opportunities including incursions, immersive work experiences and cadetships. Our cadetship program allows industry to select students from our graduating class and offer them paid employment in their areas of interest whilst completing their tertiary studies.

While these programs and partnerships are not designed to replace the importance of academic growth and the ATAR, they simply highlight the real-world skills Toorak College is seeking to develop in its students. The ATAR may provide a final rank of a student’s achievement through their VCE, but the breadth of work completed by each student will go a long way towards preparing them effectively for the challenges they will face in an ever-changing modern world.

Student voice: how Toorak College students are embracing academic growth


Academic Growth is the growth of somebody’s education or learning. An example of academic growth is learning your times tables fluently, or signing up for something you wouldn’t normally do. I have been challenged by attending the Math Olympiad every Thursday at 8am. We do Senior School level tests that help us learn new and different strategies in Maths and English. This term, I was proud to achieve the role of Class Captain. During my time as a leader I was a role model, I shared kindness, helpfulness, and happiness to not only my class, but the whole Junior School. This made me proud and excited for the many leadership adventures to come. This year, I have flourished academically in area and perimeter, with learning how to measure area in triangles. I hope to continue my academic growth as I continue my journey at Toorak College.


I strive every day to achieve my best, utilising the support of my peers and teachers. They are always happy to lend a helping hand and motivate me when I need some inspiration. Academic Growth is important to me as I want to extend my learning potential. I have persisted in studying two languages, which not only provides me with the richness of learning about other cultures but also equips me with the tools to flourish in my other areas of learning. As I progress through my schooling life here at Toorak College, I feel more confident and prepared to tackle whatever challenges come my way. By embracing the opportunities presented to me I hope to become the best version of myself.

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