Parents and Education in NSW

Recently I overheard a conversation between parents in a bookshop. They were struggling to understand NAPLAN, “minimum standards” and what a “band 8” actually meant in the context of the Higher School Certificate. Neither were able to help each other.

Announced by former education minister Adrian Piccoli in 2016, the policy required Year 9 students to achieve three band 8 scores in reading, writing and numeracy (or sit an online test if this was not the case). Approximately 70% of students do not achieve this standard in Year 9.

Those parents in the bookshop have probably come to terms with what Piccoli’s policy meant for their children but now that has changed. Minister Stokes recently announced the “decoupling” of NAPLAN from the HSC. It was a poor policy – everyone knew it – except the politicians who championed it without consultation. The premier and minister who implemented – less than two years ago – are no longer members of parliament.

Minister Stokes announced the policy-reversal to the media this week and was praised for ‘listening’. Basically, NAPLAN will no longer be used to measure if students are eligible for their HSC. NESA had their own media release which says:

All HSC students will now meet the HSC minimum standard through short online tests in reading, writing and numeracy. Tests can be taken in Years 10, 11 or 12, in a process similar to obtaining the NSW Learner Drivers Licence.

It is quite challenging for parents to untangle what this means not least as the current Year 10 cohort are unaffected by the announcement and must have the three band 8 results. Of course, the current Year 11-12 are not affected by the 2016 policy or the 2018 reversal. This means that students in Year 7-9 are following a different policy to those in Year 10 and Years 11-12. Many parents could have three children at high school who will all have different sets of rules about being eligible to receive a HSC.

Here is NESA’s updated video explanation:

Parents and Citizens*

What does a parent-citizen in NSW need to know about the recent policy change? There is no document that covers all the nuances needed for parents to be thoroughly informed about the impact of the recent policy-reversal. One of the reasons for that is in education we have created many complex levels of bureaucracy where once the NSW Department of Education was (almost) solely responsible. Now there is ACARA, AITSL, the recently renamed NESA, the recently renamed NSW Department of Education and UAC (mercifully having kept their name since 1995) and other players – that impact on the work of teachers and the lives of students.

Here are the key points for parents (students and educators) to know:

  1. Students in the current Year 10 cohort achieving at least one band 8 result or better in their 2017 NAPLAN test are eligible for their HSC. Those who did not may sit an online literacy/numeracy test to qualify.
  2. The current Year 9 cohort will need to sit this same online literacy/numeracy test (anywhere in Years 10-12 or after leaving school) even if they achieve three band 8 results or better in NAPLAN. The standard to be achieved is not a band 8 one but at an AQF level 3. There are no links from the NESA site that explain this but one to ACFS Level 3. I have sought clarification about this and will update the post when NESA respond. The proliferation of such frameworks, bordering on the esoteric for parents, is hard to understand. UPDATE: This post explains the difference between AQF and ACFS levels. It is now clear that the online test matches ACFS Level 3.
  3. This online literacy/numeracy test is not ‘new’ but is currently completed by very few students in NSW (mostly those leaving school who need to demonstrate a level of proficiency for an employer). The site still says these are “optional tests in literacy and numeracy are available for students who intend to leave high school before completing their HSC.” Parents could perceive the minister’s statement that there are ‘no new tests’ to be a little disingenuous as there is effectively a test that students must now sit to receive their HSC. Previously it was for young people leaving prior to completing Year 12 (and of course the current Year 10 to qualify for their HSC if they did not receive band 8 results or better).
  4. Students who do not achieve the minimum standard will not “receive their Higher School Certificate” but a Record of School Achievement will be issued.
  5. Regardless, if a student has followed an ATAR pattern of study they apply via UAC for tertiary courses. If they achieved the required ATAR an offer will be made and the young person can go to university even if they only have a Record of School Achievement because the minimum standard was not reached or the test was not sat. This is important information not easily available for parents (that I can see).
  6. The above point is the same for our current Year 10 students who did not achieve the band 8 results needed last year, prior to the policy change. They can still access tertiary studies without reaching the minimum standard. NB I make this point as it is one of the main issues for the parents I know who have children currently in Year 10 who have not reached band 8.
  7. Here is a demo test to assist student and parents understand what is needed to demonstrate a minimum standard of literacy and numeracy in order to receive their HSC.

Questions, challenges and corrections are welcomed to the above information. It is important that parents have clear information about the rules and expectations.

*My daughter is in Year 9 (the other in Year 6) so, as a parent and educator, I have skin in the game from multiple perspectives. Of course, I want both of them to have a quality, contemporary education and yearn for genuine political reform/change. I explained all the above points to both. It was not easy to justify considering Miss Y9 has achieved band 8 results in Year 7 NAPLAN (which, ironically, were not ever going to make her eligible anyway as the standard had to be achieved in the Year 9 NAPLAN test). She did ask me who makes money from selling and marking all these tests? Her higher-order thinking and critical literacy skills are quite good. This new mandated test is irrelevant to her but will take more time away from her day of learning at school. The pen and paper HSC exams are also anachronistic to our young people. One has to wonder about all this managerial, name-changing style of reform and how it really helps our youth or society to prosper. One imagines there will be even more data about how the literacy and numeracy ‘bump-it-up’ strategy put in place by the former minister and premier is progressing.


Some may find the following Leonard Cohen track useful while digesting the above information:

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in


Policy is an interesting concept. The reality appears to many parents that even the most significant policy changes are more in the form of a media release than a thoughtfully crafted, much-discussed, strategy. Working Dog’s most recent satirical effort, Utopia, looks at how government appears to work.





1 Comment

  1. Alana Ellis:

    HI Darcy. I appreciate the time and effort you have put into this blog. I am asking the same question your Year 9 daughter is asking, but I move beyond the test to all the peak bodies you earmarked at the beginning of your blog. How many people are being employed to do similar jobs, or to counteract each other? And in amongst all of this who is talking about improving students outcomes, looking after students wellbeing and professionally developing teachers. Is that not our core business, rather than keeping people employed in all these organisations.

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