St Catherine's Year 9 students smiling in the classroom
30 October 2016

Year 9 the new start of the HSC

​​In July the NSW Government announced significant reforms to the HSC, with the aim of lifting its intellectual rigour. Although the aim is laudable, as the impact of the proposals has crystallised over the past few months, one proposal in particular is causing much concern – the government’s plan to establish a minimum literacy and numeracy standard for HSC students.

The government has stated that from 2017, Year 9 students will need to attain Band 8 or above in their Naplan reading, writing and numeracy tests to meet the minimum qualifying standard for the HSC. If students don’t meet the standard in Year 9, they will have two further opportunities a year to qualify by taking an online test.

There is increasing unease about this. As it is, the HSC is a stressful, year-long process of around 25 assessments on top of internal and external examinations. To move that stress on to Year 9 students is ludicrous. Even at St Catherine’s, which performs well above the state in Naplan tests, about 20% of our girls do not achieve Band 8 in Year 9. For them to have the pressure of ongoing online tests until they reach the standard, on top of being labelled below-par for the HSC, is really worrying. Furthermore, no school will want to have their Year 9 students divided into qualifying and non-qualifying cohorts. The potential damage to students’ confidence, self-worth and motivation is considerable.

If the proposal goes ahead, there is no doubt many schools will start teaching to the test to push through as many Band 8s as possible, which will be a great irony given the government’s aim is improving intellectual rigour. It will also mean a dispiriting situation for the 50% of students state-wide who do not attain Band 8 in Year 9. In an environment where anxiety and depression is at record levels, this will exacerbate the situation.

Students should be encouraged to love learning, not be fearful of every test. This particular hurdle to the HSC needs much more careful thought.​

Dr Julie Townsend Headmistress at St Catherine's schoolDr Julie Townsend
BA (Hons) Cert Ed
Ph D
MBA (Ed Leadership)