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  • Ned Manning

My Year With Year 12

At the end of 2017 I was appointed to the role of Head of Year 12. It came as a bit of a surprise as, in a teaching career spanning over 40 years, I had never been appointed Head of anything. 


What attracted me to this position was that it gave me an opportunity to play an active role in shepherding Year 12 through their HSC year. I didn’t quite know how I was going to do it but having taught Year 12 for more years than I care to count, I did know that for some inexplicable reason the pressure on students in their final years has multiplied exponentially. 


Let alone the pressure on Teachers. And Parents.


When I addressed Year 12 for the first time a year ago the first thing I told them that it was their HSC not anyone else’s. I told them I would be there for them, I would try and help them through the inevitable stresses that would arise. I told them their teachers, every one of them, would be there for them too.


Then I called a meeting of their parents where I pretty much said the same thing with more emphasis on whose HSC it was. I asked the parents to think back on their HSC’s and to try and put themselves in their children’s shoes. I also pointed out that we were heading off on a shared journey as I had a daughter doing her HSC too. 


It’s has been a big year and I’ve been on a very steep learning curve. You’d think that, since I taught HSC Drama for 17 years straight from the early 90’s I’d have the HSC pretty much covered. That’s what I thought too. 


I was in for a shock.


Having only just returned to the classroom, after a five year sabbatical in Melbourne, I discovered that there has been an exponential increase in anxiety and depression amongst students sitting their HSC. That has translated into a 62% increase in Disability Provisions since 2011.

Such an increase in anxiety related issues on that scale is a cause for concern in anyone’s language. Serious concern.


I quickly learnt that my trite words to parents about it not being their HSC’s was naïve in the extreme. When your child is suffering anxiety, whatever the cause, of course it is your concern. 


It is all of our concern. 


The HSC has always been stressful. Although, I have to admit way back in my day “stress” wasn’t a word I was familiar with. Nor were many of my peers. 


In my 17 years of teaching HSC Drama we managed stress pretty well. Performing an HSC Drama piece is clearly stressful. There were a few anxiety issues but nothing anywhere near the scale it is on now. 


Anxiety and Depression seem to be part and parcel of the contemporary Higher School Certificate and that, frankly, is totally unacceptable.


Many of the parents I have worked with this year have been as nonplussed as I have been about this development. They haven’t been able to work out why their teenage children have been suffering so much. 


The question that needs to be asked and it needs to be asked as a matter of absolute urgency is, why is this happening? And, what are we going to do about it?


Is it because the stakes are so high? That an HSC score is now way more important in determining a student’s future than it ever was? We all know that isn’t true. That all the evidence points in the opposite direction. That the HSC doesn’t necessarily determine your future.


But that’s not what are children are hearing. 


Every signal they are receiving from the Media, Social Media, the Coaching Industry and Politicians is that this is it. Blow this and you’re dead.


The recklessness of this messaging has caused untold damage to thousands of teenagers. It has affected parents so that they have believed spin they know, deep down, is untrue. They haven’t been able to avoid it. It has affected teachers who have felt pressured to achieve “results” instead of teaching. 


Before anyone rolls their eyes and says something about teaching young people “resilience” look at the facts. Such an incredible increase in mental health issues amongst HSC candidates cannot be dismissed so easily. 


It needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed now.


If doing away with the HSC altogether is the answer then we need to get rid of it. Now.

By the way, my daughter finished her HSC today and she managed it brilliantly. But she is one of the lucky ones.

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