Federal Politics


Education must prepare all students for a future

Those at the margins must find fulfilment too, writes Rosemary Follett

Throughout this month the media has been awash with stories of students who have achieved top results in academic subjects.

At the same time we have headlines announcing declining literacy and numeracy skills nationally. These stories are important to the Australian psyche. We want to be internationally competitive and reassured that our young people are capable of addressing the challenges ahead.

Whilst we celebrate the success of individuals in achieving excellence in academic subjects, educators and the broader community must ask: what constitutes success in senior secondary education? The essence of education is on the preparation of students for their future.

To quote Winston Churchill: ''to each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.''

The challenge for the ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies is to ensure that all students succeed in their preparation for living, earning and lifelong learning. The ACT year 11-12 curriculum must equip young people for life-long learning and career pathways, at the same time developing the whole person.

Indeed, in the recent Recognition of Excellence Awards, the board celebrated not just the highest academic achievers, but also the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, and students who have outstanding records in the areas of community service, vocational studies and the performing and visual arts.


In the ACT students are able to complete a traditional pattern of study, as well as nationally recognised vocational qualifications and pursue their interests in a variety of fields. Teacher engagement in the development of this broad curriculum is a key feature of the ACT senior secondary system. It recognises teachers' knowledge of their subject areas and their commitment to student achievement.

The board has been overseeing the education of ACT students in years 11 and 12 for over 30 years. One of the board's guiding principles is the provision of multiple pathways for all students to engage in appropriate learning opportunities. Teachers develop courses on a five-year cycle to ensure they are relevant and responsive to the needs of students, industry, employers and higher education.

This cycle provides more space for innovation, as is clear from such recent projects as the Global Studies course (which promotes an international perspective with a focus on Asia), the Specialist Mathematics major (which allows students to study mathematics at the higher level without taking extra classes), and the redevelopment of some vocational courses to incorporate options that provide pathways to university, as well as vocational qualifications.

There has been a substantial growth in the development of a variety of partnerships between colleges, external training providers, industry and universities to deliver curriculum that is rigorous and responsive to students' needs in trades, languages, sciences and the arts.

This is a departure from the ''typical'' pattern of study. The benefits for students are immense. Students are able to access facilities, resources and materials beyond the classroom. In addition, their study can contribute to their Year 12 Certificate, their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) and even further qualifications.

Recent ACT year 12 exit survey data shows more than nine in 10 graduates found their senior secondary experience to be satisfying and rewarding, enabled them to study a range of subjects and prepared them for future choices. We need to ask how we cater for that one graduate out of 10 who is not satisfied and for those students who don't complete year 12. Our system provides a flexible curriculum, catering for a diverse range of students, however, the integration of a national curriculum in the ACT is an opportunity to further refine ACT curriculum, ensuring the needs of all students are addressed.

The board's strategic plan has set ambitious targets to take into account these local and national initiatives. On behalf of the Board of Senior Secondary Studies, I congratulate all 2012 year 12 students and wish them success in the future.

>> Rosemary Follett is chairwoman of the ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies.