And the 2008 HSC?

Just to complete the set from the previous post: in 2008 I was tutoring some HSC candidates and others in Chinatown. Here is a sample:

My coachee was unfamiliar with the expression “can’t see the wood for the trees”, so I explained that it means losing sight of the whole pattern because details grow and grow at an alarming rate. This is a state many HSC students find themselves in. So how to guard against it?

darlingharbour 025

Photo by Neil Whitfield 2008: artificial forest at the Sydney Chinese Garden

Make sure you read and understand the course description. My coachee and I are working on the Frankenstein and Blade Runner pair. The first thing to note is that the module is called TEXTS IN TIME: TEXTS AND CONTEXTS. That is the wood.

This module requires students to COMPARE TEXTS in order to EXPLORE THEM IN RELATION TO THEIR CONTEXTS. It develops students’ understanding of THE EFFECTS OF CONTEXT and QUESTIONS OF VALUE…

Students examine ways in which social, cultural and historical context influences aspects of texts, or the ways in which changes of context lead to changed values being reflected in texts. This includes study and use of the language of texts, consideration of purposes and audiences, and analysis of the content values and attitudes being conveyed…

OK, that means:

1. You need to know what issues or themes of interest each text embodies. In our two, for example, one can think of: the moral/ethical issues in science and technology; the need for companionship or love; what it is to be human; what is “natural”… And so on. It does not greatly matter what the issues are, so long as they are important ones and are major issues in both Frankenstein and Blade Runner. Your teacher and your class will no doubt determine perhaps two or three big ideas to hang your readings on.

2. You need to appreciate what was being thought, said and done around the time each text was composed: 1818 in one case, and 1982 in the other. Consider also where each text was composed. How does what you discover about this explain why each text may have been composed? Be careful here. It can be tempting to write history or philosophy and forget about the actual texts. Not a good idea.

3. Having found an issue, explore where and how it is presented in each text. Don’t forget to be specific rather than general. Find key passages or scenes. Look closely at the techniques used in their making. Then ask “Why is this passage/scene like this?” What in the context may have shaped the way it has been done? What in the context made this issue of sufficient interest to the composer and his/her readers and viewers? Where does the composer stand on it? What does the composer regard as important, or troubling, or worth arguing for or against on this issue? Now you will be exploring values and attitudes.

4. There are also genre issues to think about: The Gothic, science fiction, dystopias, film noir… Why have these genres thrived at various points in history? Why have they persisted? What is the relation of our two texts to these genres?

It really is hard to coordinate all this thinking. Anyone who tells you the HSC has been dumbed down is just plain dumb! I know that I never had to do anything half as difficult in my final year of high school in 1959! The good thing is that the issues raised in these texts really are interesting – and important!

So, good luck. Also, any suggestions about how to organise the material in an exam-friendly way will no doubt be appreciated by others. You may use the comment space here for that, if you care to.

The truth is out there

Yes, you are also lucky. There is so much good material to explore, some of it suggested on my previous post on this….

How many HSCs is that now?

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald two once-familiar faces illustrating They topped the HSC over the past 40 years – what are they doing now?


Jason Hui (left) who topped the state in the 1988 HSC, is now a gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Sydney. 

I remember them both but not from Year 12 as 1988 I was at Masada College in St Ives.

Actually I have gone through 50 years of HSC, though out of the fray for the last eight. Some tutoring in Sydney’s Chinatown in 2010 was my last hurrah.

Now as for FIFTY years ago see Shire: Jannali, Cronulla, family.

1966 I began teaching at Cronulla High School, now in Scott Morrison’s electorate. My second HSC class there — and the second HSC ever! — have a reunion planned. I have been invited, but am not sure I can make it. Night-time events in Sydney are an issue for me these days, but I will surely be there in spirit.

Class of 1968 member Paul Weirick has also sent a list of those attending. Brought back lots of memories.  Fortunately, I had been able to attend a couple of events around the 50th anniversary of the school itself — so I haven’t totally missed out.


1978 I was on secondment to teacher training at the University of Sydney, but knew the Class of 78 at Wollongong High.

1988 is already covered. 1998 I was at Sydney Boys High again. Also finishing my Grad Cert TESOL at UTS.

Students at Sydney Boys High School sit their HSC English exam on October 25, 1981.

Photo from Essential Kids.

More on Jason Hui — found online.

HSC stars 10 years on  (Edited Extract From “Sunday Life” January ’99)

Jason Hui, 27, of Sydney Boys’ High, came first in the state in 1988 with 496. He studied 4U maths, 2U English, 2U physics, 2U chemistry and 2U economics and is a doctor.

When he arrived in Australia at 13, Hui’s English skills were poor. He started year 9 and could barely understand the teacher.

His parents had sent him and his older brother out from Hong Kong to study. They boarded with an Australian family throughout high school and their parents visited when they could. “If you come from overseas with the aim of studying and going to university, you tend to be very focused and less distracted by other things. As the HSC drew closer I just studied whenever there was time. But I loved maths, physics and chemistry so it wasn’t a burden.

“Working hard was the norm in my school. It was a fantastic year with a lot of very bright people—there were two 4-Unit maths classes. I think we all pushed each other along and there was a lot of competition. I’m sure I wouldn’t have done as well at another school.”

At the time, Hui was tossing up between medicine and engineering and says he probably chose medicine “because there were a lot of engineers in my family and I wanted to do something different.” Looking back, it was the right choice. I can’t imagine myself in anything different.

“The amazing thing about medicine is you never stop learning. At each stage you encounter new situations and you have new and difficult decisions to make. That’s what makes it so interesting.”

Hui did six years at Sydney University, sharing the University Medal with Mark Gorbatov (88)—a former Sydney Boys’ classmate who came second in the HSC in the same year with 495.

“When I did the HSC, people said it was the hardest exam you ever did. At Uni, you quickly realise that is totally untrue. Exams get harder as you become more advanced and studying and working at the same time is much harder. To work 9-10 hours a day and then get home, have dinner and spend three or four more hours studying is very difficult.”

And that sparks my memory! I recall — and this was before my getting expertise in teaching English as a second language — seeing in 1985-6 that Jason had a problem. I referred him to a then neighbour of mine in Chippendale — unfortunately I can’t recall his name: a delightful young man who was then doing Linguistics at Sydney University under the famous Professor Michael Halliday and Dr Jim Martin. The neighbour gave Jason some help with his English.

Shire: Jannali, Cronulla, family

Is it really a week since I posted this on Facebook’s Sutherland Shire Heritage page?


That’s my sister-in-law Aileen and my niece Christine (Parkes) in front of The Cotton Shop, Box Road Jannali in 1959. My mother owned The Cotton Shop, a very successful dress shop — until she broke her spine falling over a vacuum cleaner in the shop. The business went on under a manager and in the early 1960s moved to Sutherland, but was never the same without my mother running things. In Jannali she had customers coming from all over Sydney, not just The Shire. On Facebook Mark Wright said: “Mum remembers it mate. She knew Mrs Whitfield.” That’s nice.

Couldn’t help reflecting that in 1959 I was in my final year as a student at Sydney Boys High, and that it was also the 8th term of Prime Minister Robert Menzies! He seemed to me then to have been PM forever, though I did dimly recall his predecessor. Menzies continued until 1966. They built them to last in those days!

1966 I began teaching at Cronulla High School, now in Scott Morrison’s electorate. My second HSC class there — and the second HSC ever! — have a reunion planned. I have been invited, but am not sure I can make it. Night-time events in Sydney are an issue for me these days, but I will surely be there in spirit.

Class of 1968 member Paul Weirick has also sent a list of those attending. Brought back lots of memories.  Fortunately, I had been able to attend a couple of events around the 50th anniversary of the school itself — so I haven’t totally missed out.


Today: the 50th NSW Higher School Certificate!

And I taught the first one! See If the jacarandas are out, the HSC must be coming… and HSC 50 years on.

Sheep Husbandry was not on offer at Cronulla High School where I as a newly minted English teacher fronted what would be the first 3rd Level (i.e. bottom) English Year 11 class in 1966. So strictly speaking this year it is 49 years since that first HSC, which was sat in 1967.

I did return to Cronulla back in 2011. See these posts: How young we were! (and do read the comment thread!) and Here I am at the Cronulla High 50th!


Revisiting Cronulla High in 2011

See also 2017 HSC written exam timetable and HSC begins for 70,000 NSW students. There were 18,000 in 1967.

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