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pressure over more than passing


If you’ve finished your high school education, one thing you probably wouldn’t have asked for more of in retrospect is court room drama. No matter how you go about it, there’s no real beating around the bush to be done on this one: year twelve is a rather monstrous experience.

This is maybe why we’re so easily captured by stories of students who take their schools to court over high school results. Stories like these are click bait because, well, so many people have an experience of schooling that they can project onto other people’s experiences. While we’re at about the halfway point in the academic year, how can we consider the year twelve beast so as not to lose what minor sanity remains?

In May, news sites reported the experience of a student from Victoria who had taken her secondary college to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for failing to ‘get her’ the mark she required for her number one preference of uni course. Just as that story had faded into the background, a similar tale surfaced: this time of a student in NSW who had lost a case she’d brought against the Board of Studies claiming she’d been disadvantaged in the HSC, despite her mark of 99.95.

If the comments on these stories are anything to go by, Australians tend to get a bit riled up when those who have achieved at the top of their cohorts claim that they could have done even better. Even so, we don’t know enough to consider outright the sensibility of students who take legal action, nor can we do anything more than guess what we ourselves would have done in the circumstances.

That said, we can probably think about the way year twelve continues to manifest immense yet fleeting pressure on its young charges, and how being so caught up in ideas of perfection can take away from your own achievements and that of others around you.

In general terms, the process of capping of your education in Australia takes about ten months. It isn’t a full academic year and that means that not only does your mind have to be turned to mush in order to fit all your subject knowledge into it, emotions tend to run high the whole way through. If you’re the studious type, you can find yourself in a cycle of early nights and mammoth study efforts, all working towards the idea of being ‘the best’ in a pretty abstract way. If you’re not so keen on the books, all the talk of weighted averages and assessment cross-marking could be enough to have you block it out completely.

This is maybe why, when results come out, even some of the most gifted students want to bury their heads in their doonas and look for who to blame for it all going wrong.

The students who took year twelve to court might have other explanations, but it seems fair to posit that the nature of the high school beast prevents everyone’s attempts at good work from being celebrated. In Victoria, for instance, only the top 8% of students in each subject get a shout out in the newspapers for their hard work. That doesn’t mean that the other 92% were asleep for the duration of the year. There’s only so much space to publicly congratulate students, and this feeds the notion that year twelve is only worth it if you’re the best student.

This is rubbish, of course. The variety of situations in which people complete high school is much wider than the subjects offered. You can be lucky enough to do well, but you might also be having a really crap year and the odds of 99.95 won’t ever be in your favour. If you’re studying now, it’s probably worth remembering that sticking at it is in itself a pretty huge achievement. Finishing high school, while certainly not the be all and end all, is a difficult task no matter what score you come out with.

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One thought on “pressure over more than passing

  1. I had the same experience during Year 12, as I was a perfectionist with my studies. After getting some distance and perspective I really think the Board of Studies and school staff did more damage than good. Why should english be compulsory when math isn’t? A rocket scientist could be a mathematical genius without being able to understand Shakespeare`s poetry. The Board of Studies and the HSC curriculum needs to take the pressure of kids and teach them more about the real world rather than forcing texts, theories and ideas that my mother studied when she was in school. The HSC isn’t reality and I think Year 12 should be more grounded, preparing kids for the big wide world.

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