Small schools rise to HSC challenge

Smaller schools across the state have been preparing their students for the rigours of the HSC exam period, as well as life post-school. Dani Cooper reports.

Four students sitting on chairs in a row. Four students sitting on chairs in a row.
Image: Four students from Bundarra Central School are sitting their HSC in 2023. From left are Hannah Palmer, Lily Milton, Brianna Groth and Shanae Gleeson.

While every HSC journey is an individual pursuit, for some public-school students across NSW it is a physical as well as mental challenge.

Six central schools in western and northern NSW have an HSC cohort of just one, while many other central schools, such as Bundarra Central School, have been supporting a handful of Year 12 students through their final year of schooling.

At Ivanhoe Central School, Shannen Gallagher is the sole Year 12 student.

Highlighting that distance is no barrier to achievement, the dedicated student has already secured a university place to study nursing, and this year travelled to South Africa as part of the Australian Clay Shooting junior team.

Bundarra Central School has just four female HSC students. All four already have clear pathways post-school, including university and further studies connected with SBAT (school-based apprenticeships and traineeships) courses they undertook in their final two years.

The efforts of both schools to ensure equity of access for their students, along with supporting teachers to deliver a broader curriculum, is a key pillar of the Department’s Rural and Remote Strategy.

Ivanhoe Principal Greg Edwards said attending a small school had its advantages.

“There’s bonuses to being in big schools and having those peer conversations,” he told media last week.

“But there’s also a lot of benefits for a central school setting where your teachers actually really know you.

“Shannen’s teachers knew exactly what she was capable of and exactly what they needed to do and what help she needed.”

As part of their commitment to give Shannen the whole Year 12 experience, the school hosted a graduation formal for its class of one, literally rolling out the red carpet.

Bundarra Central Principal Justin Stewart said the close connections central schools developed with students was a key benefit.

“What we can offer is more of that one-on-one learning. We know them and what they need. In a bigger school you can get lost,” he said.

He also pointed to the range of programs offered by the Department to support remote and rural schools to expand curriculum offerings.

This included distance education, the rural learning exchange, and the senior access program that all connect HSC students across schools.

“If we can’t run it in the school, we will partner with other schools to create the opportunity. We will cater for any student’s pathway,” he said.

Mr Stewart said his four Year 12 students had been incredible role models for the school, with all achieving more than 95 per cent attendance in the past 12 months.

Like Shannen, the students also had the chance to represent their school.

Two of the students were members of the school’s touch football side that won the state title in 2022, and school captain, Shanae Gleeson, received the Inverell Toastmasters Youth Communicator of the Year Award this year.

Visual arts student Hannah Palmer has secured a commission to paint a mural in the town of 300 people and is a three-time finalist in the New England Regional Art Museum competition. In 2021, she received a Premier’s Anzac Memorial Scholarship.

Mr Stewart said the success of the 2023 Year 12 students was a testament to their resilience, motivating each other, a strong work ethic and supportive teachers.

“We have a real focus on sending our teachers on professional learning and supporting them to teach outside their key learning areas,” he said.

On the first day of the HSC, Shannen had an added challenge to overcome. Having recently moved from Ivanhoe to start work ahead of university, she faced a five-hour return trip from Griffith to sit her exams.

Ahead of the exams, Shannen said she needed a quiet room to concentrate. As she acknowledged, that won’t be a problem during the HSC – as the only student, she is guaranteed silence.

Two photos side-by-side of a young girl wearing a black dress. In the second photo the girl is standing in front of a cake. Two photos side-by-side of a young girl wearing a black dress. In the second photo the girl is standing in front of a cake.
Image: Ivanhoe Central Year 12 student Shannen Gallagher is the only student from her school sitting the HSC in 2023.
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