blueprint is a reproduction of a technical drawing…invented in the 19th century, the process allowed rapid and accurate reproduction of documents used in construction and industry. The blue-print process was characterised by light colored lines on a blue background, a negative of the original. The process was unable to reproduce color or shades of grey.                  SOURCE

I blogged about and contributed to the Great Teaching, Inspired Learning discussion paper launched by the Minister last year. We really need this kind of formal process to publicly discuss important issues in education. I liked how the Minister called it a ‘serious discussion’ and many of the ideas outlined yesterday, in ‘A blueprint for action’, signed by Michelle Bruniges, the Director-General, Tom Alegounarias, President of the Board of Studies NSW and Patrick Lee,  Chief Executive of the NSW Institute of Teachers, are excellent. The NSW Teachers Federation has responded positively to the blueprint.

My submission at the website focused on the first question:

Screen Shot 2012-08-23 at 8.04.49 AM

Who would disagree with the Minister’s line, “in today’s schools, 21st century knowledge, understandings, skills and values must be at the heart of great teaching and inspired learning”?

The problem is the elephant in the room.

The lack of public discussion from our most important political and educational leaders about genuine reform of a system that commenced in 1963, a vastly different era, is very evident. The HSC runs education in NSW. It certainly keeps everyone running and it is obsolete. Some may correctly argue that the HSC has constantly been updated and reformed, in a range of ways, including the school-based assessment using outcomes based education. There are many more courses and great flexibility to study VET subjects. However, the reality is that students still have to write fast with pen and paper, an obsolete skill in 21st century Australia.

The blueprint and media both highlight the need for quality teachers and a need to lift standards, especially in the selection and preparation of the next generation to grace our classrooms. However, it is the emphasis on the ATAR to sort out who should become a  teacher that is flawed. The cycle that is lifting standards by having students conform to an obsolete system while extolling the virtues of ’21st century’ skills is clearly problematic. The nature of the pen and paper exams needs serious consideration and a blueprint for action.

The reforms outlined in the blueprint are understandable, however, the real reform that students and teachers need is to the HSC. The other issue is money: “Mr Piccoli said the changes would be funded through the NSW Department of Education’s existing budget, and any requests for additional resourcing would need to be considered by the government.” Source

How much would it cost to reform the pen and paper HSC exams to a more appropriate 21st century system? Or rather, how much will it cost us not too?

Featured image: cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by alexharries:



  1. I’ve been reading Hargreaves and Fullan’s new book, Professional Capital, which gives real insights into the media response to the blueprint:

    ‘So we’re down to the last silver bullet. The target is teachers, especially those feckless time-servers who are messing up kid’s lives. The silver bullet is performance-based evaluation based on measurement of student growth…. Ready. Aim. They’re fired! What could be simpler and fairer than that?’

    • Andrew FitzSimons

    • 11 years ago

    The inschool experience of PEX students is only just mentioned. This is a key area. Universities are struggling to fund and focus, too many of their staff are so distant from the classroom that they can not usefully contribute. Trainee teachers need schools fully engaged, especially those whose initial involvement is problematic; a high ATAR does not ensure a good teacher will emerge.

    Schools collaborating with universities to ensure PEX students are supported/orientated/encouraged/corrected/inspired is a potentially strategic area of dialogue.

  2. Pen and Paper? whats that? Is that like those floppy disk things or is it more like those round black things that DJs scratch and spin? Never heard of it. Please explain

    • Paul

    • 11 years ago

    I feel this debate will go on for a few weeks yet, not least because of the volume of material on the site and the lack of hours in the day to get through it (which makes me wonder about the value of “instant pundit” comments on radio etc.!).

    I have only just skimmed the surface but already I can see one glaring hole in this and you have alluded to it in your post. The minister is talking about C21st education – a nice, soundbite-glib phrase trotted out to the media. It’s easy and flexible (because it’s never defined whilst still sounding good). The point is that reform is difficult and costly and that these two items are not necessarily related. It’s difficult because it demands that teachers become real professionals and plan out their work according to the needs of their students and their own professional experience (would we like politicians to plan surgical procedures?). It’s costly in terms of time and money and both are in short supply.

    To be honest, I’m ambivalent about the HSC and its mode of operation. Pen and paper are cheap and difficult to cheat. If it goes online, it’s still the HSC! If it goes, another will replace it because we have maneuvered ourselves into a position where credentials count. If we are looking for reform in this area we need to head towards a series of educational pathways of equal educational and societal value rather than worry about one test.

  3. Given the cost of paying for venue hire, paper transport/security and teacher time, surely the HSC is a more expensive endeavour than it’s worth, literally? One of my fears is that the next move by politicians will be to keep the externally examined terrorism-model of assessment used in timed HSC tests, but decide to ‘cut the fat’ from the budget by making them all short response and multiple choice exams…to save from paying teachers to mark long-response exams. This could happen whether the exams stay pen-and-paper, or they go electronic, don’t ya reckon?

    Up in Queensland, the system prides itself on having school-based assessment that is moderated by external people, rather than student assessment being so closely tied to an external exam. The thing they don’t tell you though, is that there IS INDEED an external test, the Queensland Core Skills test (‘core skills’…yep, it’s like that). Aaaand that students’ school-based assessment results are scaled based on their performance in the QCS.

    Sound familiar? The over-priced, under-whelming practice of forcing Year 12 through a massively-multiplayer-hoop-jumping exercise is everywhere, and it’s not doing any of us any favours.

  4. Thanks Andrew, Kelli, Stewart, Paul and Greg for your comments. After listening to some of Microsoft’s leading people in Australia today talk about the future I felt uplifted but a little glum too. They also cannot believe the limited vision in education and that the future of pen & paper exams apparently seems to stretch away endlessly with no plan for reform.

    • Paul Goggin

    • 9 years ago

    I agree with Kelli, school based assessment makes more sense, The ACT system has been doing it for decades successfully they used the Australian Scholastic Aptitude Test as a moderating tool (ASAT) not sure if it is still in use but sounds similar to QCS.
    Using a similar model to university for senior high school makes sense, the student needs to accumulate a certain amount of credits to graduate. If they want to go on to university let the uni’s decide which students they want through administration of their pre-admission testing ACER is developing general and program specific aptitude tests.

  5. […] – Great Teaching, Inspired Learning is the NSW Government’s plan to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the […]

  6. […] after a decade of examining data and making grand plans – the situation worsens. Review after review tends to create more jobs for those who do not work in schools as an entire supercargo of […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *