Rumoring Scotch

The other day we were teasing a friend and colleague who teaches at Melbourne’s Scotch College, and we got seriously puzzled. We have a question.

Scotch is arguably the strongest and most prestigious school in Melbourne, now and always. Its alumni include a number of Australia’s greats, including Sir John Monash, Sir Ninian Stephen, Professor E R Love and Batfucker Smith. But here’s the question:

Why does Scotch College not offer the International Baccalaureate?

It is weird. Scotch has enough money for seven polo fields, and Lexus rowboats, and Gucci footballs. Whatever. The place is dripping with status and wealth and privilege. Moreover, and almost uniquely, the school has academic standards and, specifically, it employs some strong mathematics staff, who know mathematics and can teach it. So, why, when the school has an easily available option, does Scotch force their students into the fifth rate swill of VCE? Why not sell a couple of boats and start IB?

We really don’t get it.

62 Replies to “Rumoring Scotch”

  1. One guess: some school principles think that, on the whole, the VCE is pretty good…

    One principal you met (before THAT one) even publically said as much at a parent seminar.

    1. What principals believe is hardly automatically what they tell parents. They’ll defend the status quo, whatever it is. And, sure, I’m ready to believe that there are principals around who are dumb enough to think that VCE is “pretty good”. But the fact that they say it doesn’t mean they believe it.

    1. Hi, Glen. I know you’re just guessing, but what politics do you think might be at play here? I don’t expect principals and schools to be principled. But I don’t see why there would be *any* strong force for Scotch to not offer IB. Plenty of the big-shot schools do.

      1. I can imagine that the state government could see it as a slight if a school as prestigious as Scotch offered the IB. If others already do, perhaps this isn’t such a factor, but it would be my guess.

        Whatever is true, I think there must be a reason! Not lack of money, as you have already identified.

        1. Yes, there must be a reason, even if it’s as stupid as “We never thought hard about it”. Whatever the reason, it’s a stupid one.

  2. A prestigious school with delusions of national and global domination introduced the IB about 10-15 years ago. It was given every chance to succeed but never took off. The school never achieved a ‘critical mass’ of IB enrolments that made it financially sustainable. It lasted about 5 years but ultimately the pin got pulled. Lack of money was not an issue at this school, but I think a lack of ‘tolerance’ that the program might run at a loss for many years (maybe even forever) was what killed it in the end. The school has very much a corporate mentality …

    So maybe other schools like Scotch watch these things and make decisions accordingly.

    Overcoming the inertia of the conservative status quo might also be a factor.

    I’m not sure that “the state government could see it as a slight if a school as prestigious as Scotch offered the IB.” is a factor (although I’m confident the DET and certainly the VCAA are small-minded enough to be slighted). I’m sure powerful schools such as Scotch couldn’t care one jot if DET and VCAA felt slighted or not. However, there might be influential alumni that might prefer it didn’t happen.

    1. Thanks, JF. I don’t know the school to which you’re referring, but it sounds like they screwed up.

      I can appreciate that for many schools it is difficult or impossible to offer or to keep IB, and indeed I’m surprised at some of the not-top-tier schools that offer it. I hear that Tintern is now pulling out, which is probably a bad mistake, but you’d have to look at the circumstances.

      But I don’t see that any of this relates to Scotch, or that someone could see it as relating. All I can see is, if a school like PLC can have a popular and successful IB program, then why can’t Scotch? I don’t see how anyone associated with Scotch could see it differently.

      1. Add Lauriston to “popular and successful IB program”, which has run for many years. MLC also offers the IB (interesting that they’re all private girls schools …)

        Maybe Scotch is worried that its best students will do IB and their VCE results won’t look as good (not that their current results are setting the world on fire: https://bettereducation.com.au/CompareSchools/year_12/vic/compare_vce_school_ranking.aspx?enc=tKnToEoe9bzQi11qVUmnJEixdMY8zPN1nvY8L9XQcyKdTKYQ9a98jae+pvYdyAwv/YXbOdsSAe6Nu61i/CKHwQ==). It’s all about appearances … VCE results are what get the media headlines each year.

        It would be nice if some powerful schools held VCAA to account and applied genuine pressure. Offering the IB would be a big step in that direction. I’d love to know what feedback on the proposed Stupid Design a school like Scotch will give to VCAA.

        1. Thanks, JF. I’m aware of Lauriston and MLC, and many others, and I assume their IB programs are happy and healthy. I didn’t want to declare that without more specific knowledge.

      1. Tom, I don’t know any of that data. I was merely a small pygmy in the big machine looking from the outside. But it was made pretty clear that the program was being terminated because it could not come close to paying for itself in the long term.

        1. Why? Because of intrinsic difficulties for that particular school, or because the school screwed it up?

          Again, and for whatever reason and with whatever book balancing, there’s a decent number of not-top-tier schools that offer IB.

          1. For whatever reason, the school could not get and maintain a critical mass of IB students. In the end the school decided to Bury the program.

            1. Thanks, JF. You don’t know the reason? I take it the school is officially strong. So, I guess either the students weren’t strong enough or the teachers weren’t strong enough or just the general academic culture wasn’t strong enough.

              1. It might simply have been a case of

                1) wanting to be superior to everyone else in everything – academics, sport, performing arts, extra-curricular, infrastructure (including number of campuses across the state, nation, world, galaxy) etc., and then

                2) discovering that this is a pipe dream, and then

                3) cutting some things back (like the IB) in order to try and maintain the illusion with other things such as sport etc.

                At the end of the day, only the CEO and the Board of Directors would know for sure why they decided to bury rather than hail the IB program.

                It’s possible the IB results weren’t strong enough for students to feel confident in choosing it over the VCE … The cost of the IB may well have been a drop in the ocean, but this school was tight-assed about even drops in the ocean …

        2. There is an “Annual IB School Fee” which was around 10000USD in the early 2000s. A fee per student of around 500USD and then a fee per student per subject which was pretty much negligible.

          If you have more than 50 IB students, the fees are pretty non-consequential compared to the immense benefits.

          In terms of resources, staff need to learn the “IB way” as it were (a few online courses, a lot are free) since the IB assessment is quite different to VCAA (teachers can get access to FULL MARKING SCHEMES…) and the DP Coordinator needs to get their head around a document known as the HoP (Handbook of Procedures) which is also very well written and easy to understand.

          In short: IB good, other options not so much. If you are an academic student, you will LOVE the IB experience.

                  1. I’d count three terms per year. Pretty damn close.

                    In any case I’m sure you agree with the point. If Scotch would just sell a few Louis Vuitton pencil cases, they could easily pay for IB.

                    1. Oh, there are three terms in the year? I had no idea. In NSW there are 4, in primary and high school.

                      I *do* agree with your point. I suppose my point here is just that the vast wealth of these schools (including the local grammar school) doesn’t come from (the mandatory) fees.

                    2. Hi Glen. There are four terms in Victoria too, but in practicality only three terms for Year 12 students. The Year 12’s come back for the first 2 weeks or so of Term 4 and then have a week or so of ‘swot vac’ and then the exam period starts.

                      But students from Yr 11 downwards get four full terms. And of course all teachers get four full terms. Private schools actually finish Term 4 significantly earlier than Public schools – in fact, there have been some years where Public schools have not finished until 23 Dec, whereas most Private schools finish by early Dec.

                      I guess Private school teachers work so much harder and are so much better educators than Public school teachers that they deserve that extra 3 weeks (on top of the several tens of thousands of dollars per year of extra pay, on top of generous performance bonuses, on top of their 3 week break [rather than 2 weeks] typically at the end of Term 2 etc.) Clearly Public school teachers need to lift their game – Public school teachers need to work harder and need to become better educators. Then maybe the AEU, which I’m sure negotiates just as hard with the Govt for its members as does the CFMEU, ANMF, VAU, UFU etc. will have a stronger bargaining position for better conditions.

                      (On the other hand, maybe Public school teachers do work just as hard and are just as good educators, all done without the resourcing of Private schools, and the AEU is just as weak as piss, a shadow of its former self).

            1. If having the IB means 10 students per year enroll at the school that would have otherwise gone elsewhere, it is surely worth it?

              Given that these students will, most likely, boost the top end of your results report and are less likely to be in the news for the wrong reasons… I would think it a fair price.

              Only problem might be (for the large corporate school being discussed in thinly disguised terms…) if a school has more than one campus that offers the IB, the fee may be per campus as they are likely to require registration as separate schools… My school had this problem despite years of trying.

          1. Thanks Mr Five
            I guess I assumed that a school offering IB would have all senior students doing that. If only a handful then that means a separate small class, needing one of the best teachers who may then be not available for VCE? That would be a major consideration …

            1. Tom, some schools DO try mixing VCE and IB students in Year 11. It rarely works.

              The other complicating factor is that IB courses prescribe a MINIMUM number of teaching hours for each SL and each HL course, with the HL courses being considerably longer. Schools can be asked to demonstrate that they are meeting this requirement.

              So… yeah, the VCE and IB students rarely mix in academic classes in most schools.

              It is possible to do Year 1 IB and then change to VCE with no penalty (so the IB subjects are able to count as prerequisites for Unit 3&4 VCE), but one cannot do units 1&2 VCE and then the IB diploma in only 1 year.

              To complicate matters even further, Mathematics really requires the SL and HL students to be separated from day 1 (some subjects can keep them together for Year 1 and split them in Year 2, but in Mathematics the courses are just too different). So 10 IB students could well mean 12 teachers required to have IB knowledge… which takes a while to obtain.

  3. My more intuitive answer is “because they don’t need to”.

    Sure, they could improve the educational outcomes for students by offering IB, but would that achieve either of:

    1. Increased enrolments? (I’m sure they have a waiting list)

    2. ATAR scores (IB is very unfairly treated at the moment compared to historical comparisons or international ones)

    If not, the argument for the status-quo (perhaps even from a board-of-governors level) could be quite tempting…

    1. Thanks, RF. You might be right, although I’m not sure what “need” means for a school like Scotch, with an arrogantly proud reputation.

      Whatever, in my mind it is inexcusable, and it makes Scotch a second rate school. To me, if I’m gonna pay a million bucks a year for my kids to go to a Melbourne school (and I might), it is non-negotiable for the school to offer IB.

      1. Many years ago in a school a long way West of where I now work, I was an IB Diploma Program Coordinator.

        I remember sitting in a meeting with the IB DPs from other schools in the state and being told, of the perfect scores of 45 in the previous year:

        5 were in the USA.

        6 were in Canada

        14 were in the state of Victoria.

        The discussion was about how different states were using different tools to convert IB scores into ATAR results (despite the ATAR being national). For example, Victoria used the GAT. Queensland used NAPLAN results.

        The translation of IB scores to ATAR scores has been getting worse each year and this, ultimately, is a pressure that schools cannot withstand for long. In my experience, finances were a secondary (but very close secondary) concern to the overall results conversion.

        1. Hi Red Five!

          I’m kind of confused. Do you mean that *nowhere* else in the world a perfect score was achieved in the IB? I was under the impression that it was reasonably common around the world, not particularly focused in Victoria… I would have thought that there would be contenders for a perfect score even from NSW. At least, there is a high school just next to where I live that offer the IB and should have pretty good students.

          1. There were somewhere between 50 and 100 perfect scores that year. Mostly in Europe and Asia.

            NSW I’m not sure about – Victoria has (or, had, pre-COVID) an IB only school that represented a rather large portion of the top grades each year. A school in the Brighton area also fared very well in this regard.

            But, the IB only school found they suffered a small disadvantage when advertising graduate results as VCE results came out about a month before the IB results PLUS, when you asked about their VCE results the answer was “we don’t have any.”

            Interestingly enough, the other way this school suffered in “the guide” was that according to official statistics, 70% of students from this school went to university. Not true. 70% went to *AN AUSTRALIAN* university. The other 30% went overseas for their university studies. Many on scholarships.

            1. That’s interesting. Statistically it’s a crazy low amount, considering that according to

              https://ibo.org/about-the-ib/facts-and-figures/

              there are 5400 *schools* offering the IB. To only have ~100 perfect scores tells me something is wrong.

              Also, just a comment on the rate of students going to university: since the Aus average is ~35%, having 70% (even if misleading!) is nothing to sneeze at.

              1. I’m not sure what “perfect score” means in IB but in general I prefer fewer perfect scores than more. VCE is too easy and so has way too much “perfection”. As a consequence, VCAA’s obsessive nitpicking can be the difference between Law and Not-Law, or whatever.

                1. Hmmm. Not many students in NSW get “perfect” scores on their math exams, especially Extension 2 (old 4 unit). The average is typically super low. I always thought they were too *hard*, not too easy.

                  Anywho, I’m not sure what perfect score in IB means either, I’m kind of assuming it doesn’t actually mean perfection but in the highest possible percentile. That would mean that there should be quite a few achieving it each year.

                    1. Well sure, and to answer an off-topic comment with another off-topic comment: Is the NSW HSC at a similar level to the IB? I’ll have to think about this question in a few years….

                  1. Glen, there are MANY perfect scores in each subject each year (roughly 2%) but to get a perfect score in *every* subject PLUS three bonus points to get 45 is quite a challenge.

                    So, to answer Marty’s question, a “perfect” IB score means to be in the top 2 to 2.5% of all your subjects for that year.

                    To understand why the USA scores are so low compared to Australia, look at the IB scores required for universities in the respective countries…

                    UPDATE: Glen – send me an email (Marty has my details) and I can send you a few IB Mathematics (and other subjects, tell me which you want) exam papers. NSW is the closest in Aus, but the difference is quite remarkable still. IB is vastly superior in Mathematics, economics and languages, less so in subjects such as history, but still superior.

        2. Hi, RF. You mean that IB scores are being devalued relative to VCE scores? That would be nasty, and it wouldn’t surprise me. I wrote about such crap here.

          But it doesn’t matter. If your kid has half a brain and you have the option to give them IB, you give them IB.

          1. Yes, that is exactly what I mean. In 1998, a score of 26 (an IB “pass”) translated to an ENTER (pre-ATAR) of 78.85. I suspect now, such a score would translate to something in the mid 60s.

            45 always translates to 99.95 but from what I recall, once the conversion for a score of 26 is determined, the rest is done with a linear model. I have a few issues with this…

            ALSO… VCE has (without a hint of shame) tried to poach bits of the IB course (Extended Investigation anyone???) It all contributes in some way.

                  1. A familiar story…

                    The Gillard government launched the idea of the “Australian Baccalaureate” some years ago. I often wonder what happened to that…

                    Not VCAA’s doing of course, but a familiar story-line none-the-less.

  4. Hi Marty,
    As someone who attends a public school, I’ve always wondered what they feed those kids in Scotch such that they receive such strong scores consistently each year. How much does a “strong mathematics staff” team really affect their students?

    Tsui

    1. If it is backed up making students repeat if they don’t understand the material sufficiently well, then it can have a massive impact.

    2. Sorry, Tsui. I answered your feeding query but not your second question. How much does a strong maths team matter? As long as the principal is not a moron, it matters hugely. You don’t think having a David Treeby or two, for example, would make a big difference to the maths in the school? Of course it would! Even *if* the principal is a moron.

    3. I’ve heard that their principal or head of maths or someone personally coaches some of the students in maths.

      Don’t know how true that is, though.

      1. At Scotch? I’d be very surprised if the HoM, like most HoMs, didn’t. And sure, all these rich schools have plenty of resources for the kids. (Not so many resources, however, that I don’t periodically get handballed tutees.)

        But that’s not the point. The point is that (some of) these schools have standards. They have (some) more solid teachers, who (sometimes) teach more solidly.

  5. Hi,

    The additional cost of IB is a deterrent for many students and the school has to comply with IB regulations from Switzeland . My daughter completed IB a couple of years ago and there were two students with scores of 45 in her class of thirty approx . The arguement used by the school was you are competing only against yourself rather than your cohort and that 5 scores of 7 are easier to achieve than 99.95.

    The HL Mathematics curriculum with no CAS provided a solid grounding to tertiary study

    It surprises me that Scotch doesn’t offer this opportunity to its students given its vast resources

    Steve R

    1. Hi, Steve. Of course the additional cost would deter most schools, but are you suggesting there is some additional cost for the student? As for complying with Swiss direction, I don’t see why that is a concern. No question IB is far from perfect; in particular, having your student’s extended essay being graded by an anti-mathematical half-wit is not ideal. But consider the alternative.

      And, as you suggest, none of this explains or excuses Scotch’s not teaching the IB.

      1. Solution to one problem: don’t write the EE in Group 5 (Mathematics). They tend to score lower than essays written from Group 1 (1st language) or Group 3 (Humanities).

        Solution to the second problem: if you’re that good a student, any reasonable IB school should have IB-only scholarships. Some are more generous than others of course.

        As to why Scotch doesn’t offer IB… I still reckon some level of apathy is at work here.

      2. Marti,

        Only the hours of community service (;) and a few other compliance boxes to be ticked off but overall our experience with IB was positive

        Steve R

    2. Having spent my schooling around people from these ‘elite’ schools, the question is actually often raised by students themselves.

      The theory/rumour that ran around in my years was that this lack of IB was largely in the pursuit of preserving the school’s image. Ultimately these schools are business and their biggest selling point (to new and prospective parents) were their VCE results. Given that IB is released later then VCE and not really reported on by the media or used as much for internal rankings, the theory goes that if IB were implemented, a significant cohort of ‘intelligent’ students would take it and cause the overall ATAR average of the school to nosedive.

      1. Thanks, CW. An interesting thought. No question that, given the choice, stronger students tend to do IB. Which Is The Whole Fucking Point. But that doesn’t negate your point. These born-to-rule establishments tend have the principles of used car salesmen. So, if *not* offering IB turned out to be a bigger selling point, perhaps for the reason you suggest, that would be a strong force.

        There’s a few aspects, however, that I don’t understand. Firstly, I gather VTAC and schools *do* convert their IB scores to ATAR scores, albeit in an unclear and inconsistent and, as suggested by Red Five, deflationary manner. So, to what extent do IB schools really lose out in the high-scores marketing game?

        Secondly, we’re talking about parents willing to shell out $100K a year for a school. They want, demand, the best for their little Snorthswop. And sure, their notion of “best” can be warped, with a focus on “most” of “most expensive”, rather than a culture of learning, or a culture of culture. And sure, the systemic awfulness of VCE is not generally understood, even by the “well educated”. But still, we’re generally talking about a highly educated and massively privileged class. There has to be at least a significant minority that smells, or knows, that things are not right, and has the confidence of privilege to demand better.

        Finally, there are a decent number of Victorian schools, Scotchesque and other, that offer IB. Why do PLC and MLC, not to mention Our Lady of Anonymous Progress, offer IB? Why does their reasoning not apply to Scotch?

        In summary, I’m quite willing to be convinced that Scotch’s decision is primarily cynical rather than primarily stupid. But, I’m not yet convinced.

  6. A school in Bendigo is planning to adopt IB. At present the school takes students from Prep to Year 10. Students go on to another school to complete Years 11,12. This school has decided to move into offering Years 11,12 under the IB umbrella. This will be the only IB school in Bendigo.

    This school is not a wealthy school. According to MySchool, its Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) is 1037 compared with the average of 1000, and 20% of its students come from families in the lowest 25% of ICSEA. Fees are about $3500 per student.

    However, the school has an excellent reputation for its teaching. (I spent 5 weeks there during my pre-service experience.)

    I gather that to offer IB, a school does not simply write a check and off you go. There is a process, and this school has embarked on the process. It will be interesting to watch.

    1. Three cheers for Our Lady of Anonymous Progress.

      Thanks, Terry. Please keep us informed. Any reason to not mention the school?

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