Education regularly undergoes changes, so it’s important to have a thorough understanding of the current educational curriculum, policy and teaching methods when choosing a school for your child. Here’s an overview of what to expect from your child’s years of schooling.
The national curriculum is produced by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) in consultation with educators. The Australian curriculum sets out the core knowledge, understanding, skills and general capabilities important for all Australian students. It describes the learning entitlement of students as a foundation for their future growth and makes clear what young Australians should learn as they progress through their school years. It is also the foundation for the high-quality teaching required to meet the needs of Australian students.
ACARA developed the Australian curriculum in consultation with states and territories. Education authorities in each state and territory have responsibility for implementation of the Australian curriculum and for supporting schools and teachers.
Changes in 2014 ensure that new Kindergarten to Year 10 syllabuses for English, Mathematics, Science and History are taught in NSW schools. These syllabuses incorporate Australian curriculum content.
In May 2009, a law was passed that increased the school-leaving age from 15 to 17. This law became effective on January 1, 2010, and applies to government, independent and private schooling as well as home schooling. The change was made in response to research that shows children who leave school later are more likely to become employed, earn higher wages and enjoy a better quality of life. The new law applies to children who are younger than 15 on January 1, 2010, and also to students aged between 15 and 17 who completed Year 10 in 2009 or who were registered for home schooling in 2009.
Now that participation is compulsory up to age 17, students must continue to stay at school beyond their Year 10 studies and participate in further education pathways that are approved by the NSW Department of Education or be registered for home schooling. Approved pathways include the Higher School Certificate, TAFE vocational training courses, full-time paid employment or a combination of further education and paid employment.
From Kindergarten to Year 12
A student who has completed Kindergarten to Year 12 will have spent close to 15,000 hours in the education system. Their journey begins in Kindergarten before they are placed in primary school, where children complete seven years of primary education. Students leave primary school when they have completed Year 6 and move on to high school to begin Year 7.
Virtually all students continue their education up to the point when they are first eligible for a Record of School Achievement (normally at around 16 years of age). Most students then go on to complete the Higher School Certificate.
Many HSC graduates further their studies at a tertiary institution, such as a TAFE or university. NSW schools provide a variety of education pathways for students between the time they first become eligible for a Record of School Achievement (RoSA) and when they leave school.
After primary school, there’s a wide selection of secondary schools to which you can apply. The choices include both government and non-government schools or registered home schooling. All children are guaranteed a place in their local government primary and/or high school, but within the government sector you may also choose to apply to a non-local primary or high school, a selective school or a specialised school. This means parents have the opportunity to send their child to a school that best fits their child’s individual needs and abilities.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005, students with disabilities can participate in education on the same basis as other students.
The aim of educational authorities in NSW is to ensure that no student misses out. Hospital schools, community care schools, schools for a specific purpose and schools for deaf and blind children ensure education is available to all students regardless of their educational and physical needs.
Students can access the curriculum in a variety of ways, which may include adjustments to teaching, learning and/or assessment activities. For a small percentage of students with special education needs, particularly those with an intellectual disability, a decision may be made to access Life Skills outcomes and content in one or more subjects. Life Skills courses contribute to a student’s pattern of study for the HSC but do not contribute towards an ATAR.
All decisions regarding curriculum options for students with special education needs should be made in the context of collaborative curriculum planning and include the student and parent/carer.
Students Learning an Additional Language or Dialect (ELA/D)
Many students in Australian schools are learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D). EAL/D learners are students whose first language is a language other than Standard Australian English and who require additional support to help them develop English-language proficiency.
EAL/D students come from diverse backgrounds and may include:
EAL/D learners enter Australian schools at different ages and stages of schooling and at different stages of English-language learning. They have diverse talents and capabilities and a range of prior learning experiences and levels of literacy in their first language and in English. EAL/D students represent a significant and growing percentage of learners in NSW schools.
If you live in a remote part of the state, government education is available through resources such as Distance Education Centres. These are located throughout NSW and provide isolated students with a teaching and learning program supplemented with experiences such as satellite lessons and field visits. For those primary and secondary schools in geographically isolated areas that are educationally disadvantaged by their location, Commonwealth funding is provided by the NSW Country Areas Program (CAP). CAP is designed to assist schools and their communities to enhance the learning outcomes and educational opportunities for students in geographically isolated areas.
The early years of schooling
The NSW government operates 100 pre-schools across NSW and many private pre-schools operate across communities. Pre-schools provide educational programs for your child prior to enrolment in Kindergarten.
Kindergarten is the initial year of schooling in NSW. Children who enter Kindergarten in NSW must turn five by 31 July in the year in which they are enrolled. When starting Kindergarten, students in government schools undertake a Best Start Assessment that helps teachers identify the literacy and numeracy skills of the student and enables the teacher to develop learning programs accordingly.
The purpose of the seven years spent in primary school is to promote the development of individual students as well as to lay the basic educational foundations for their effective participation in society. With this objective, primary school teachers provide learning experiences that engage students in a wide variety of interesting and meaningful activities. These enhance the quality of school life and prepare students to respond creatively and effectively to the challenges of our rapidly changing society.
All NSW government primary schools are co-educational. Gifted and talented children may also be eligible for early entry to Kindergarten. If considering this as an option, organise an appointment with your chosen school where your child will be reviewed by the school in consultation with yourself.
The seven years of primary schooling are divided into Stages of Learning. Early Stage 1 is Kindergarten, Stage 1 — Years 1 and 2, Stage 2 — Years 3 and 4, and Stage 3 — Years 5 and 6. Reflected in the curriculum is an awareness of the central importance of basic skills for all children, including literacy and numeracy, reasoning and information processing, communicating and creative and imaginative thinking.
The Key Learning Areas (KLAs) in the primary years of schooling are: English; Mathematics; Science and Technology; Human Society and its Environment (HSIE); Creative Arts; and Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE). Each of the KLAs has learning outcomes for students that are used by teachers to develop their teaching and learning programs.
National Assessment Program
In 2008, the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was introduced for all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The purpose of the program is to assess the literacy and numeracy learning of students in all Australian schools.
The results of these tests will provide information for teachers and parents and help inform teachers in their ongoing efforts to address the literacy and numeracy needs of their students. It is designed to provide information on student performance across a number of achievement levels.
Secondary schooling commences at Year 7 level and is compulsory for all NSW students aged younger than 17, unless students are registered for home schooling. In Years 7 and 9, students sit the NAPLAN test, which is designed to assess students’ literacy and numeracy skills.
In Year 8, all students in NSW government schools sit for the Essential Secondary Science Assessment (ESSA), which is designed to test students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes towards science. It is optional but not compulsory for non-government schools to register for the ESSA test.
From the end of Year 10, students who have fulfilled their course requirements are eligible for the NSW RoSA. The RoSA is cumulative, meaning it records achievements and participation in senior secondary study up to the point that a student leaves school, and records A to E grades based on school-based assessment. Students leaving school also have the option of taking online literacy and numeracy tests.
Higher School Certificate
Most students choose to continue their studies to attain the Higher School Certificate (HSC). On successful completion of all course requirements, including assessments and exams, students participating in the HSC will receive a result for each HSC course. This information is used by the Universities Admissions Centre to derive the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), which is used to determine entry into university courses. This is the common name given to all existing selection indices in Australian states and territories (excluding Queensland).
The highest ATAR attainable is 99.95. This score would indicate the student is in the top 0.05 percentile of students in Australia. As well as the ATAR, students who participate in the HSC receive an HSC Course Report for each general education course they complete. This report describes their level of achievement as well as the standards reached by other students in the course. A “minimum standard expected” has been set for each course, which corresponds to a mark of 50 out of 100. Students who reach or exceed the minimum standard for each course will score between 50 and 100.
Each HSC Course Report for a general education course shows a student’s mark in relation to six performance bands, the highest of which is band 6 (between 90 and 100). These bands clearly describe what students know and can do at each level of achievement.
Student results in the HSC are based equally on both statewide examinations and school-based assessment. School assessments are adjusted to ensure results from all schools across the state can be fairly compared. Schools are not allowed to reveal to students the final school assessment submitted to the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW because of this adjustment process, but they do inform students of their ranking within each course after the examinations have finished.
In addition to a wide range of general education courses, HSC students are also able to select from vocational education and training (VET) courses. These can be part of the students’ HSC curriculum and enable students to gain both HSC qualifications and Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) accreditation.
Diversity and choice
Students have greater options in their choice of high school than ever before. There is a wide diversity of high schools within NSW: technology high schools; selective high schools and comprehensive high schools with selective streams; language high schools; single-gender high schools; agricultural high schools; sports high schools; performing arts high schools; creative arts high schools; multi-campus colleges; and senior high schools. These are all in addition to comprehensive high schools, which remain the backbone of the secondary schooling system.
All students are guaranteed a place in their local government high school. However, entry into non-local schools is subject to available accommodation. This should be kept in mind if you want to apply to a school outside your designated local area.
There are more than 2200 government schools in NSW, which employ more than 80,000 teachers, all of whom are highly trained and skilled. Most teachers in government and non-government schools have completed three or more years of training at a higher-education institution. Many teachers have also completed further studies and hold post-graduate qualifications. Additionally, teachers regularly attend professional learning programs developed by the Department of Education and Communities and other organisations.
The implementation of the Teacher Accreditation Act (2004) ensures that all teachers who commenced teaching after October 1, 2004, must achieve accreditation with the NSW Education Standards Authority. This requires them to demonstrate effective practice as described in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. These standards are also applied to mandatory participation by teachers in continuing professional development.
The Education Act 1990
The Education Act of 1990 established the framework for school education in NSW. Under the act, students from Kindergarten to Year 10 are required to study a range of subjects organised in what are termed “Key Learning Areas” (KLAs).
There are six Key Learning Areas for Kindergarten to Year 6:
There are eight Key Learning Areas for Years 7 to 10:
Each subject has a detailed syllabus document developed that outlines the course of study and the learning outcomes to be achieved
Eligibility for awards
Students will need to have completed the mandatory requirements for Stage 5 (Year 10) to be eligible for a RoSA. Those eligible students who choose to leave school prior to receiving their HSC may receive a RoSA.
Students will be required to submit assessment tasks as delivered by their schools, which will then use marks from those assessments to allocate a grade for each student. Teachers will submit those grades for inclusion on the RoSA if required. Students may also undertake optional numeracy and literacy exams online.
There are two stages of the Higher School Certificate that candidates must complete, referred to as “patterns of study”. The Preliminary pattern of study comprises a minimum of 12 units (each subject is worth a certain number of units) and the HSC pattern of study comprises at least 10 units. Both patterns must include a minimum of six units of Board-developed courses and at least two units of a Board-developed course in English. At least three courses must be of two-unit value or greater (either Board-developed or Board-endorsed). Both patterns of study must include at least four subjects. To satisfy pattern of study requirements for the HSC, a student may count a maximum of six Preliminary units and six HSC units from courses in science.
Apart from Board-developed courses, students can also study courses developed by their school. These school-developed courses are known as Board-endorsed courses and can be included among the courses that count towards the HSC. Additionally, the Board has made some exemplary Board-endorsed courses available to all schools. These are known as content-endorsed courses.
HSC students can also combine study of traditional academic subjects with courses that provide vocational training. A number of TAFE courses are recognised for the HSC and students who successfully complete these courses will receive credentials from TAFE as well as a listing of the courses on their Higher School Certificate Record of Achievement. There are also eight dual-accredited vocational courses that are recognised by industry and also count towards the award of the HSC.
Courses for the HSC can be accumulated over up to five calendar years from the year in which a course examination is first attempted. Students who wish to balance study with work, family commitments or other interests can use this option to design a study program and complete the HSC in a way that suits their needs.
Under the 1990 Education Act legislation, school councils were developed as an option for school communities seeking to increase relevant community participation in the policy making of local schools.
School councils provide a focus for school community activity. They comprise parents, staff and community members. Where established, these councils set policies and goals for their schools including directions for the future based on the needs of the local community. The councils combine the efforts of parents, staff and the community in a genuine partnership to promote quality school-based decisions.
Schools are interested in more than academic instruction; there’s also concern for the welfare of their students and their overall development.
Student discipline in government schools is one section of the Department of Education and Communities’ student welfare policy. The emphasis of this policy is on good discipline — the development and care of the whole student as opposed to modifying behaviour under the threat of punishment. Such positive school programs do not replace or undermine firm discipline policies but aim to deal with the causes of any problems.
The Student Discipline in Government Schools policy states that all government schools must have an individual school discipline policy. This policy is to be developed in consultation with school community members.
It has four areas of focus:
All parents and students have access to a copy of the school’s discipline policy, including the school’s homework policy and dress code, if desired. This is regularly updated by the school.
Every student who is enrolled at a school, regardless of their age, is required to attend on every school day. It is the parents’ legal responsibility to ensure regular attendance. Rolls are marked every day. Students who have been sick or absent need to provide a note from their parents within seven days. Schools will inform parents of any cases of truancy or unexplained absences.
In l986, the government initiated the Home School Liaison Program (HSLP) to consult with teachers and principals at schools and provide support to parents. The program’s officers form an essential link between the home and the school as they are specifically trained to work with families, staff and students to improve student attendance. Home School Liaison officers can be contacted through the school principal or your closest regional office.
Student leadership and student representative councils
The school community is an excellent training ground for the development of student leadership skills. Student leadership programs assist in developing skills in young people, with one of the best-known initiatives being the Student Representative Council (SRC). All secondary schools have an SRC and primary schools are also beginning to establish them. It consists of student leaders from each year who have been elected by their fellow students. They have the task of representing the interests of their peers to the school, staff and parent and community groups. SRC members participate in school planning and decision-making and initiate projects within the school as well as organise ways for other students to participate in school life. Some high schools have a prefect body as well as an SRC. In most cases, these high-profile student leaders within a school have come through the ranks of the school’s SRC structure.
The secondary school student leadership network extends to inter-school and regional SRCs and a state body known as the New South Wales Student Representative Council (NSW SRC). This forum of 22 student leaders, including two Aboriginal students, is also peer-elected. It is consulted by senior officers in the Department of Education and Communities, other government departments and business and community groups.
The other state body of peer-elected student leaders is the State SRC Conference Working Party. This group plans and conducts an annual State SRC Conference with regional SRC participants from across NSW. The annual conference deals with student welfare themes of interest to young people. As a result of the conference, information and action-planning flow to
the NSW SRC, regional, inter-school and school SRC forums.
Such conferences reflect the fact that SRCs are increasingly involved in student welfare programs such as peer mediation and conflict resolution, drug education, health and safety, student leaders on teacher committees, Aboriginal student leadership, anti-discrimination and anti-racism.
These activities provide opportunities for the development of student leadership skills that will not only assist school organisation and planning, but will also be beneficial for the students in many areas of their life in the future.