The HSC is the final credential that gives admittance to post school pathways, most commonly in our case, university studies. Performance in the HSC is often used to define the quality of student achievement and the efficacy of the school from which they come. At its most crude, the HSC is a system, a game with rules that can be manipulated. At its best, the HSC is a sophisticated instrument that enables students to select subjects that they enjoy and in which they flourish.
If I had any influence over public policy, I would disconnect the HSC from University entrance. I would reduce the content and the volume tasks that students need to cover in Year 12 and broaden the skills they need to acquire to reflect the experiences they might expect in the emerging futures they will face. I would require that English expression and Mathematical and Scientific reasoning be included within the mandatory skills. I would open the remainder of the curriculum for greater choice and optional pathways. Students should be supported in developing a practical understanding of human relationships, finances, ethical conduct, the law and decision making, indigenous and global languages units and global issues experiences. I would avoid the excessive demands of the public examinations, replacing them with a two-day only skills test and reasoning test that could serve to moderate internal assessments, like ones I have seen in other countries and states. After all, the Universities internally set and assess their own courses. Can schools not be trusted?
Schools are not permitted to see the ATARs their students gain. This has been the case since the late 1990s, when dreadful headlines in the news media condemned a western Sydney school to misery. Some readers may remember this happening. Consequently, ATARS now are only given to the student and a school is not permitted to see them, let alone learn from how they are working. They are high stakes assessments but taken out of the hands of those who are preparing the students. Trust in schools and in educators is so low in our country and yet no one raises any concern. Each year I observe with increasing distress the anxiety that our current system places on our students. I don’t want to add to their stresses by decrying the process at a time when they need positive support and encouragement but it is such a stressful time for them. Major reform is needed but there is little appetite to try. Interestingly, the Universities themselves seem to be moving away from the ATAR score as the only pathway into their courses. Perhaps change is happening anyway, but school reform is lagging woefully behind the needs of contemporary Australia.
Over the past two weeks, many of our Year 12 students have been involved in demonstrating some of the best things about the HSC. Last week, the Visual Arts Exhibition showed the enormous talents and deep passions of our Year 12 students. Without exception, every student’s work was a triumph of creative capacity and skill. A few days later, our Year 12 Extension II students presented their Major Works to an admiring audience. Varying from radio plays to poetry, short stories to speech making, the works were a window into lively minds and feeling hearts that abide in our students. It was marvellous to behold.
This week, we have enjoyed the 2019 HSC Design and Technology Exhibition. Once again, the students’ work demonstrated immense skill, practicality, diligence, creativity and imagination. They conceived of solutions to real world problems and showed how things can be done better. Robotics, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, works of immense dexterity and imagination were all put on display for an admiring Barker community.
While this was happening in Boyce Hall, Music students were performing their pieces in the Recital Hall to great acclaim over two marvellous nights. And while this was happening, HSC Drama Group Projects and Individual Projects were being performed and marked by HSC examiners who are visiting Barker. The HSC for these students already has begun. And another year is passing.
At its best, the HSC enables these things to happen. Pressure can sometimes be our friend and force us to achieve more than we expected of ourselves. Well done to them all. However, the credit goes not to the system but to our incredible students and to Year 12 students in other schools who are experiencing the same things at present. The future of the land is very bright, and we should never miss an opportunity to celebrate our clever kids.