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Our 15–19 year olds: opportunities and choice

Department of Education and Training, New South Wales

This article is an edited and abridged version of the report of the same name published by the Department of Education and Training, New South Wales.

The New South Wales Government has launched a new strategy covering students from Year 9 to Year 12. It aims to keep them engaged and interested in learning and give them more options as they prepare for life after school. The strategy combines an increase in course and pathway choices, increased careers education from Year 9, extensive use of ICT and access to advanced courses and expert, university-style lectures.

Existing provision

The strategy builds on a range of prior government initiatives designed to open up opportunities for 15–19 year old students, some of which emerged as recommendations of the McGaw Review into the Higher School Certificate (HSC). VET courses recognised at industry and university level have expanded HSC Pathways for secondary students. The School to Work program provides vocational and enterprise learning programs and assists students in planning their career and transition pathways.

Plans are under way to establish ten trade schools over the next four years.

For specified HSC studies, students can receive credit or advanced standing at TAFE Institutes and New South Wales universities. Currently, credit transfer arrangements give credit into more than 500 TAFE modules, and some Years 10 and 11 VET courses attract credit into TAFEs. A growing number of government school HSC students undertaking university-level courses are given credit or advanced standing.

Multi-campus colleges have been set up, involving schools, TAFEs and universities, offering increased and more diverse subject choices to senior secondary students.

Other State Government reforms, designed to benefit all students, have also had an impact on 15–19 year olds. They include existing professional development for teachers, targeted programs for priority schools; technology; literacy and numeracy; and the establishment of the New South Wales Institute of Teachers.

The new strategy focuses on three goals:

  • Aiming higher – means setting high and clear expectations for students, providing regular feedback and monitoring their progress;
  • Supporting strongly – emphasises the importance of knowing each individual student well and acknowledges that students who are well supported and who know they are valued and respected are more likely to be engaged in their studies; and
  • Strengthening connections – focuses on building highly connected pathways and relationships to give students access to a wider range of options and support.

ICT will play a significant role in furthering these goals. Virtual environments will provide all students, anywhere in the State, with opportunities to discuss issues with their fellow students, teachers or experts from a particular field while they access material online. A virtual university environment will be facilitated by the use of online shared work spaces, video conferencing software, shared whiteboards, real time audio, email and a variety of other approaches.

There will be an increase in the use of ICT to facilitate the development of communities of learners across the State and beyond. Gifted students will have access to a virtual university environment. Learners in special study and interest areas will be linked. Other new programs will offer academic extension and innovative and effective ways of engaging students in courses that have particular significance for university entrance, such as Physics.

Teacher professional learning programs will be enhanced to address issues such as adolescent development and recognise individual differences and youth culture.

The flexibility of school-based traineeships in Years 11 and 12 will be enhanced, in consultation with industry, making this option more attractive to students in Years 11 and 12.

Critical thinking and reflection, creative thinking and the skills of entrepreneurship will be linked to curriculum outcomes and to the skills that industry wants, such as problem solving, team work and communication. 

An interagency think tank will be set up to investigate ways of increasing the participation and retention of young people in mathematics and science courses. The think tank will focus on improving the quality of mathematics and science teaching and learning in K–12. It will promote mathematics and science as intellectually exciting academic disciplines in their own right, and as key contributors to an educated and skilled workforce. The think tank will be led by an eminent Australian in this field, and teachers, students, academics, industry, other agencies and community members will be invited to participate.

Support will be given to schools to develop strategies that allow students to have input into learning and subject preferences and the learning environment. There will be more support for students in academic studies, study management, careers and pastoral care. Support structures and programs for students considered to be at risk of leaving school early will be strengthened and coordinated.

A Taste of TAFE program will introduce students in Years 9 and 10 to hands-on skills training in TAFEs to assist them in determining their career options. The initiative will focus on local industry opportunities in local skill shortage areas and complement the Early Apprenticeships for Young People initiative.

Career support will be redefined and strengthened to enable students to plan more effectively for their careers. Students and parents will have access to information and programs that will facilitate career decisions. Comprehensive career planning, transition and tracking programs to better equip school students to individualise their learning pathways, make improved life decisions and maintain continuity of learning will be provided.

An annual destination survey of Year 12 leavers will be conducted to determine ongoing relevance of course options and pathways. A longitudinal study will be undertaken to track the longer-term destinations of these young adults.

Supporting young people in building their character as they prepare for adulthood and participation in a democratic society is an important element in the strategy. All 5–19 year olds will have opportunities to continue to develop and practise the core values of public education and demonstrate responsible citizenship.

Opportunities will also be given for young people to engage in the creative and performing arts in ways that enable them to experience a sense of fulfilment and equip them for a well-rounded, balanced adult life. All 15–19 year olds will be encouraged to develop a healthy lifestyle that includes maintaining fitness and participating in physical activity.

Technology will be used to provide greater flexibility in the way courses can be delivered and to give access to a wider range of options for students anywhere in the State. By developing partnerships between schools, parents and caregivers, TAFEs, universities, industry, other agencies and the community, students will be able to connect to multiple and diverse support and career options. As well, they will be able to expand the horizons of their learning experiences.

The use of technologies will be extended to provide access to a broader range of resources and support for students, teachers and parents.

Schools will be encouraged to be flexible with timetabling and organisation to increase curriculum and course choice, open up pathways and strengthen student engagement. More opportunities will be offered for parents to actively support their 15–19 year old in decision making and academic progress. There will be improved pathways from education to skilled employment and further study for Indigenous students.

To meet the challenges facing 15–19 year olds, existing external relationships will be strengthened and new partnerships identified at both the system and local levels. Parents of 15–19 year olds will receive reports that give clear information about their child’s progress and commitment to learning.

Where appropriate, feedback will be provided to employers of 15–19 year olds who are undertaking traineeship and apprenticeship pathways in schools and TAFEs.

Connections with government and non-government organisations will be strengthened to provide relevant re-entry programs for young people who have left school early.

In order to provide a wide range of relevant, work-related learning experiences, networks and the links between and among schools and TAFE Institutes, community local businesses and industry will be strengthened. New forms of locally driven, shared, specialist facilities in government schools and TAFEs that maximise education and training opportunities for students will be encouraged.

Through this strategy 15–19 year olds in New South Wales will have more opportunities, greater choice and more personalised pastoral care. They will be better prepared to make decisions about their futures and life options, better equipped with the skills and values to be lifelong learners and they will have a better understanding of what it means to be a responsible citizen in our democracy.


Subject Headings

Educational planning
Education policy
New South Wales (NSW)
Senior secondary education
Transitions in schooling
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Career education