Lucy Hobby

Date of Submission



Provision of the optimal educational environment for the nation’s high academic achievers is of critical importance, so as to enable these students to attain their full potential. In New South Wales (NSW), Australia, one of the principal governmental measures employed to achieve this end has been the establishment of specialist academically selective schools. This practice is entrenched in deep tradition and based on assumptions about the benefits of these schools, rather than on a measured response grounded in methodologically sound, evidence-based research. This project begins to address this gap in the research with a sound, multidimensional assessment of the differential impact of contrasting school settings (academically selective and mixed-achievement comprehensive schools) on the academic achievement and psychosocial health outcomes of secondary students. A mixed-methods research design was employed in which 1,993 students completed a survey on two occasions, and select students participated in focus group interviews. Analyses reveal that the selective students outperformed the high achievers in the mixed-achievement schools across all achievement domains. However, the selective students reported significantly lower Mathematics, English, and General School academic self-concepts, more negative perceptions of their relationships with their parents, an increased experience of competition and comparison, and greater school life worries than did their counterparts in the comprehensive settings. Moreover, the findings highlight the individual characteristics that served to enhance or impede students’ psychosocial wellbeing and academic success across time, and the consistency of these relations across educational setting. In addition to school setting, the cultural background of students, for those who self-identified as being of Asian Australian heritage, also emerged as a critical factor in shaping students’ school lives. This study supports the notion that not all high achieving students will benefit from the same type of educational setting. The findings imply that interventions targeted at improving self-concept for students within selective schools, and parental education regarding strategies that foster achievement and wellbeing could be beneficial, to ensure all high achieving students are reaching their full potential.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


449 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Health Sciences