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Does NSW still need a School Certificate in the 21st century? September 13, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Secondary Education.
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from Professor Margaret Vickers

In this post, Margaret Vickers examines the changing context of secondary education in NSW and the potential for the recently announced review of the NSW School Certificate to modernise the secondary school accreditation.

The basic architecture of the NSW system of secondary education was established almost fifty years ago, and some of its key features are still with us today. One of these features is the Year 10 School Certificate. Under the Wyndham plan, NSW established a four-year program of comprehensive education leading to the School Certificate, followed by a two-year academic program designed to prepare a talented minority for the Higher School Certificate and University admission. Despite the huge economic and social changes of the past five decades, NSW still divides secondary education into two phases and concludes the junior phase at Year 10 with state-wide formal assessments. In contrast, between 1968 and 1985, every other state in Australia abolished the Year 10 certificates.

The reasons behind this nation-wide shift away from Year 10 qualifications reflect major shifts that can no longer be ignored, and it is possible that NSW will soon find itself moving into closer alignment with the other states. In May this year a Review of the School Certificate was announced by the NSW Board of Studies, and its terms of reference open up all sorts of possibilities. In every state and territory across Australia, the school leaving age has already been raised. National targets have also been set, proposing that 90 percent of all young people should complete Year 12, or an equivalent qualification such as an apprenticeship. From 2010, young people in NSW will also be required to remain in school or in some form of structured training until they are 17 years old.

This creates a contradiction. Since the average age of a NSW student at the end of Year 10 is 15 years and 9 months, most students will now be staying on long after they have completed the School Certificate. However, a considerable number of these young people may not complete Year 12. What will they do, between the end of year 10 and the day they leave? What will they gain in return for the additional months they are staying on? It seems that there may now be a need for an exit qualification that recognises what students have actually accomplished at the time they do leave school.

Several other factors have also contributed to the need for a new approach. First, with the NAPLAN in place at Year 9, there is less justification for a formal academic assessment at the end of Year 10. Second, young people are seeking greater flexibility in the timing of their studies, with some undertaking senior academic or vocational courses in Year 10. Thus, the boundary between the junior and senior phases is being blurred. Third, there is a growing trend towards the recognition of out-of-school achievements (in employment or community service) as part of a new certificate of school achievement. While there will be no change to the School Certificate in 2010, all sorts of possibilities are opening up for the years ahead. If you want to read more about this, or participate in the debate about the future, go to:  www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/schoolcertificate/sc_review


Margaret Vickers is Professor of Education in the School of Education and Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She specialises in secondary education policy and post-secondary education pathways.


1. Diane Brook - September 22, 2010

I agree it is time to remove the School Certificate as an external exam, it is out dated and often restricts teaching and learning in Yr 10 to an exam outcome. In addition it creates a huge loss of learning time and focus during term 4 after the tests, all Secondary schools struggle for a meaningful curriculum and lose weeks of learning time in various ” minding” activities.

Margaret Vickers - September 24, 2010

Dear Diane,
Thank you for your comment. You speak, I think from the ‘chalk face’ and it is important for us to have your perspectives on this. Do you think your view is widely held by other secondary teachers? Yes, we will now have thousands of students who should be moving along with their learning at the end of Year 10, but they are held back by preparing for and sitting exams that everone else in Australia gave up on years ago. They then waste time after the exams as there is no suitable curriculum to get on with. Maybe this contributes to the poor overall retention rate in NSW? Best wishes , Margaret Vickers.

2. links for 2011-06-15 « The Domain - June 16, 2011

[…] Does NSW still need a School Certificate in the 21st century? « 21st Century Learning Good article on the cracked record of School Certificate Reform. No news, even though the review was completed a month ago. Once again, NSW lags. (tags: 21stcenturylearning) […]

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