HSC syllabus gets overhaul

Having taught the very first HSC in 1966-1967 and many more after that, I still take an interest. See If the jacarandas are out, the HSC must be coming… and HSC 50 years on. Today’s news: New South Wales HSC syllabus gets overhaul with more complex topics and NSW HSC: Back to the future in first major overhaul of the syllabus in 20 years.

The chairman of the standards authority, Tom Alegounarias, said he expected some criticism that the new syllabuses were “old-fashioned” or “dumbing-down and back to basics” but he denied that, saying it was about “depth and mastery”….

He said a new topic, the Craft of Writing, would be mandatory for all English students. English is the only compulsory HSC subject.

Mr Alegounarias said being able to write well, and understanding the mechanics of good writing, including the correct use of grammar, had never been so important, with the demand for digital content increasing at a rapid rate.

The executive director of the English Teachers Association NSW, Eva Gold, said she could not comment on the final English syllabuses because teachers had not yet seen them. But in a submission to the draft syllabuses, the association raised several concerns.

It warned that reducing the range of texts was not appropriate “for 21st century learners” and it would be difficult to maintain students’ interest while spending “40 hours on a single text”.

The association also questioned whether the Craft of Writing module would be simply “subsumed into other modules”…

In History, students will look at how the modern world was shaped, with topics including the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the expansion of capitalism, while there would be a requirement to study a non-European and non-western topic.

The new syllabuses will be introduced next year for students doing the HSC in 2019.

At the moment only the draft syllabuses are available at the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW. I had a quick look at Modern History and Advanced English.


On that Craft of Writing module:

Students write for a range of authentic audiences and purposes using language to convey ideas and emotions with power and precision.

Students examine and analyse at least two challenging, short prescribed texts as well as texts from their own wide reading, as models and stimulus for the development of their own ideas and written expression. They explore how writers of sophisticated fiction, nonfiction and poetry use language creatively and imaginatively for a range of purposes to express insights, evoke emotion, describe the wonder of the natural world or invite audiences to share an aesthetic vision.

Through the study of enduring, quality texts of the past as well as recognised contemporary works, students analyse, evaluate and appreciate the versatility and power of language. Through considered appraisal and imaginative engagement with these texts, students reflect on the complex and recursive processes of writing to further develop their ability to apply their knowledge of textual forms and features in their own compositions.

During the pre-writing stage, students generate and explore ideas through discussion and the compilation of ideas and speculations. Throughout the stages of drafting and revising students experiment with various figurative, rhetorical and linguistic devices, such as imagery, narrative voice, characterisation, dialogue and tone. Students consider purpose and audience to carefully shape meaning. During the editing stages students apply the conventions of syntax, spelling, punctuation and grammar appropriately and effectively for publication.

Students have opportunities to work independently and collaboratively and to reflect, refine and strengthen their own skills in producing highly crafted, imaginative, discursive, persuasive, and informative texts.

Note: Students may revisit prescribed texts from other modules to enhance their experiences of quality writing.

This module may be studied concurrently with the common module and Modules A and B.

Quite a lot of that is stuff I would have done from 1966 through to my last coachee in 2010. So no great surprise. The NSW English Teachers’ Association did have reservations.

Using the fourth module, The Craft of Writing as a support module for the three others is an elegant solution to the division amongst teachers of whether there are too many modules in the current syllabus. Teachers were tentatively supportive of the structure but wanted more detail.

There still needs to be greater clarity on how the Craft of Writing module fits in, will be implemented, and what is required from both teachers and students. Branch

This is the section that Standard students struggle with the most. It is somewhat unclear as to whether the craft of writing modules will be focused on authentic, real-life writing or more ‘creative’ responses. Again this section is incredibly vague. It seems somewhat like current ESL Module B, which can be rather laborious and monotonous. Faculty

Others warned that The Craft of Writing would simply be lost as it will be subsumed into the other modules, reducing the variety of textual experiences for students.

I imagine it [The Craft of Writing] will evaporate under the pressure of school life. After all, isn’t the craft of writing about how we teach composing, the processes we use to teach students to create texts. It is as much about how we teach writing in the classroom on a daily basis. Member

Additionally, members could not see how, what seems to be essentially a repetition of ‘Reading to Write’ offers progression for students in the Advanced course

Not seeing any particular benefit for Advanced students. Wide experience of a range of texts is essential for success at this level, and there is no reason to think this will stop. Member