At 6am this morning, more than 66,000 NSW students learned their HSC results, marking the end of what has been a school year like no other.
The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) released the long-awaited results, followed by the much-anticipated merit lists, which include All Round Achievers, Top Achievers and Distinguished Achievers.
Then at 9am, 55,000 students learned their ATAR, the primary criterion for their entry into undergraduate courses at university.
About 17% of students scored an ATAR of 90 or above, while 34% scored at least 80. About 50% of students scored an ATAR of least 70.
This year, 48 students - 15 girls and 33 boys - received the highest possible ATAR of 99.95.
The overall median ATAR was 70.15, but boys fell slightly short at 68.7. The median ATAR for girls was 71.3.
'A year like no other'
For senior students across Australia, prepping for their final exams this year was challenge unlike any other they’ve collectively faced. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more than 1.2 million students falling behind in their studies, and many more left anxious and confused about their future.
A report in May revealed that four in five students feel disadvantaged for their HSC under COVID-19 restrictions, highlighting the impact of the pandemic on Australia’s senior year students.
However, an analysis of PISA 2018 data by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in September found Australian senior secondary students are likely to have the important qualities they need to help them cope during this difficult time.
The research found that most Australian students believe they usually manage one way or another (93%), and that when they are in a difficult situation, they can usually find their way out of it (86%).
This was particularly evident in public schools, with students from that sector dominating the HSC honours this year, securing 71 of the 126 First in Course awards.
“Those students who received a First in Course – and their families - should be rightly proud of their achievements,” NSW Education Secretary, Mark Scott, said.
“Considering the particular challenges of 2020, we are extremely proud of every student that has shown the determination and resilience to achieve their best and finish their HSC.
'An inspiring cohort that rose to the occasion'
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said students studying the HSC this year have endured “one of the most challenging years in a generation”.
“In a normal year finishing first in an HSC course is an outstanding achievement, and to do so in a year like 2020, is a credit to the dedication and talent of the students being recognised today,” Berejiklian said.
“Congratulations to the exceptional young people who achieved top marks this year, I am sure your teachers, family and friends are incredibly proud of you.”
NSW Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, congratulated “an inspiring cohort of students who rose to the occasion”.
“The First in Course award recognises student’s intellect, perseverance and a passion for learning that will hold them in good stead for the future,” Mitchell said.
“Thank you to the experienced and dedicated NSW teachers who, along with family and friends have supported and encouraged these young people to achieve at the top of their class in a year like no other”.
‘An outstanding result’
The Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) said 2020 “threw everything it could” at the class of 2020.
“They faced drought and bushfires at the start of the year, followed by all the COVID-related disruption to their schooling and daily lives,” AISNSW Chief Executive Dr Geoff Newcombe AM said.
“With the support of their schools and families, they have shown remarkable resilience and have proven to themselves what they can achieve in times of adversity”.
Dr Newcombe also acknowledged the HSC students who achieved a First in Course result in 2020.
“According to NESA data, 39 students from 26 independent schools topped the state in 36 HSC courses in 2020,” he said.
“This represents 41.5% of all students who came first in a subject other than a community language [where the student’s main school is not identified]”.
Dr Newcombe said this is an “outstanding” result, especially as independent school students make up only a quarter of all NSW secondary school students.
“This is testimony to the dedication of the students and their families, as well as the professionalism and commitment of their teachers and school leaders,” he said.
“I congratulate all students from every school and all sectors who achieved a First in Course result. It’s a tremendous achievement every year - even more so this year.”
‘The ATAR is just one option’
Professor John Fischetti, Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Education and Arts of the University of Newcastle said senior students punched above their weight this year in the face of overwhelming odds.
“Our 2020 graduating Year 12 students have demonstrated maturity, resilience and commitment, and this has been amazing to witness,” Professor Fischetti told The Educator.
“They did not sign up to complete their HSCs during a global pandemic”.
Professor Fischetti said that as the HSC and ATAR results are released this week it is important to reaffirm that, while the ‘score’ is important, every option for tertiary education is still available to school leavers from here.
“For those who did well on their HSCs, the high ATAR likely means a direct pipeline into a program of choice. For those that came up just a bit short of what they expected, there is the opportunity to be admitted into other related degrees,” he said.
“Based on first-year success in those options, students can apply to move laterally into their program of choice”.
For those who did not achieve a desired outcome, Professor Fischetti said there are enabling pathways at universities or TAFE courses that can provide six-month or one-year booster shots of necessary knowledge and skills that can lead to admission to the program of choice – or to assist them in choosing another direction.
“The ATAR is really just one option, it is one key to open a door. There are other keys and other doors,” he said.
“High school completion and the ATAR are the beginning, not the end. As we evolve new approaches to TAFE and University admissions – and there are many being trialled right now all across the country – our goal should be to help every individual develop their potential”.
Professor Fischetti said schools can no longer be testing centres designed to sort people based on arbitrary criteria.
“Schools are learning centres designed to empower and to open doors not shut them based on one flawed measure”.