HSC in NSW: a happening (but not the only) thing

Responses include ambivalence and opposition

Last week Chris Hayes (Lab-NSW) suggested to the House of Reps, calling off the HSC, given the COVID-19 crisis in NSW saying it was “not a valid tool of assessment” for university entry (CMM August 26). Mr Hayes’ electorate of Fowler includes some of the communities hit hard by illness and lock-down.

Nothing doing. HSC exams will start late but at least some will run, with ATAR based university offers in January-February.

The state VCs committee chair, Barney Glover from Western Sydney U was quick to back the government. “The decision has been made in the best interests of students during a time of great disruption to their education.”

But he was also keen to make clear that the HSC and resulting Australian Tertiary Admission Rank it produces are not everything. “Do your best to complete your HSC appreciating that there are many pathways into university,” he tells students.

Good-o, but if there was ever a year to end the ATAR, replacing the ranking with universities own entry schemes this is it. Uni Wollongong reports record applications to its early-entry scheme.  Uni Newcastle will add “COVID points” to its entry scheme, “in recognition of the extraordinary challenges” Y12 students face. And UTS was quick Friday to remind Y12 that it’s Schools Recommendation Scheme helps people “when their ATAR alone may not be enough to gain a competitive place.”

The ATAR is a rank and as such adjusts to the range of scores, which could well be down across the board in this horrible year. But tell that to Y12 students in Sydney’s COVID-19 hotspots who will sit their exams in the context of way- worse community circumstances than the rest of the city. Plus, personal problems, not every Y12 student in southwest Sydney lockdown lives with a PC of their own, a quiet study space or internet access that always works

The NSW Education Standards Authority has a special consideration programme for Y12 students who face a range of COVID-19 disadvantage, including no access “to a device or the internet.” But this may not be a bunch of help to Y12 students from families who do not know how the system works and have a bunch of more immediate-worries.

As Mr Hayes put it to the House (August 12), “many high school teachers are less worried about their students’ results but most concerned about their students’ emotional wellbeing.”