The power and the passion that fuels success

Inspirational teachers and a love of learning; Linda Doherty uncovers the motivation behind our HSC students’ results.

A male playing the flute A male playing the flute
Image: Inspired: Will Cassell dedicated his first in course in music to his late teacher.

Will Cassell has been playing the flute since he was eight and credits his HSC success to talented teachers who helped him overcome performance nerves and focus on “the power of music”.

The Barrenjoey High School student from Sydney’s northern beaches was equal first in NSW in Music 1 and is headed to the Australian National University next year to study an Arts/Law degree.

“I’m thrilled with my HSC result,” Will said. “It’s kind of a testament to a couple of years of hard work. It’s exciting to see the results finally.”

Will said his success in music has been influenced by a former music teacher at Barrenjoey High, Layne Visser, his Year 12 teacher Fiona Gudmunson, and tutor Janet Webb, former Principal Flute with Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

He was taught music in Years 8 and 9 by Mr Visser, who passed away in 2020.

“The biggest sway he [Mr Visser] had on me was challenging the way I thought about music,” Will said.

“My biggest struggle with music was always performing, I’d get really anxious, but he would say, ‘Music is something you should enjoy; focus on the power of music’.”

Ms Gudmunson, also a flautist, taught the Year 12 music class and “pushed me to do my best”. Tutor Ms Webb has been an important mentor to extend Will’s flute skills.

Music provided an outlet and stress relief during Will’s HSC studies and he plans to join the university orchestra next year.

“They say music is the purest form of art, it evokes emotion in the most vivid way,” he said. “It’s my lifelong passion.”

An older woman handing a certificate to a younger man An older woman handing a certificate to a younger man
Image: Distant lands: Toby Hill with Education Minister Sarah Mitchell was proud to be from a small rural school.


Strong regional networks

Toby Hill had a taste of Indonesian when he was part of a bilingual program in his primary years at Scotts Head Public School.

When it came time to pick his HSC subjects, the Macksville High School student chose Indonesian Beginners and studied through Camden Haven High School Distance Education Centre, learning online with weekly phone calls with his teacher.

The distance education experience taught Toby to be “more independent and diligent” although he missed the classroom interaction with other students.

That diligence paid off when Toby took out first place in NSW for HSC Indonesian Beginners, a proud moment for his home school and the distance education centre. He was also delighted today with his overall HSC results.

“I’m ecstatic and really proud because I’m from a small, rural school,” he said.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for the strong support network of my peers, teachers and parents; these networks are really strong in regional schools.”

Toby’s mum, Amanda Hill, is head teacher English at Macksville High School, and his father, Greg Hill, is a Technology and Applied Studies teacher.

A girl holding a puppet in each hand A girl holding a puppet in each hand
Image: Puppet master: Tamara McKeon with the marionettes she created as her major work.

The young achievers

At just 14 years and three months, Ethan Phillips from Caringbah High School is the youngest student in NSW to sit a HSC exam in 2022.

The Year 9 student has spent the past year studying Mathematics Advanced and Mathematics Extension 1 with older students.

Principal Alan Maclean said Ethan and 17 Year 11 students were in the school’s first accelerated Mathematics class. The class achieved 15 band sixes in Advanced and 11 top bands in Extension 1.

“Ethan just loves maths, so we are really happy to support him and start this journey with him,” Mr Maclean said.

“He would study maths with the older students and then go to the library at lunchtime to catch up on his other Year 9 subjects.”

Lindfield Learning Village student Katherine Lowbeer, also 14 and the second-youngest HSC student, sat the Mathematics Extension 1 and 2 exams.

“Top band in Extension 1 and 2 maths is an extraordinary result at the age of 14,” her principal Stephanie McConnell said. “She is an incredibly humble child.”

Armidale Secondary College had a trio of young achievers, with Year 10 students Flynn Hess and Khaiam Ali both scoring Band 6 in Mathematics Advanced and Year 11 student Toby Downes receiving the top band for Mathematics Extension 1.

Tamara McKeon, 15, of Engadine High School sat her first HSC exam this year and topped the State in Textiles and Design. Tamara is in Year 11 and has been accelerated since Year 2.

She is a member of Engadine High School’s High Potential and Gifted Education program, where a combined class of students from Year 7 to 10 meet weekly with a teacher mentor.

Tamara has a plan to study engineering at university to master robotics and then study Fine Arts to pursue a career in puppetry. Her major work for Textiles and Design were two marionettes.

“I’ve always loved craft and creativity,” she said. “When I heard I was first in the State I didn’t believe it. I was so excited.”

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