Spotlight on: Senior Pathways

4 March 2022

By Mrs Jennifer Brown

This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 4 March, 2022

We are indeed fortunate to be able to offer our students the opportunity to choose either the HSC (Higher School Certificate) or the IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) for their senior studies at Queenwood. However, with opportunity comes choice and students and parents are understandably keen to make the right decision.

I’ve heard some interesting stories in my time! Some believe that the IBDP is the only choice for those wishing to pursue study overseas but in fact both the HSC and the IBDP are internationally recognised and gives access to universities in Australia and overseas. Other urban myths include the idea that teachers are dedicated to a particular credential (not true – Queenwood teachers do both pathways) or that only students expecting an ATAR over 99 are suited to the IBDP (emphatically not true!). It is clear that some of these rumours are grounded in unfamiliarity, so we work to keep our School community well informed about how the HSC and IBDP actually work.

The HSC was introduced in 1967 in NSW and there have been many iterations since its inception. The only compulsory subject is English and extension level courses are offered in English, Mathematics, Science, History, Music and Languages.

HSC results are calculated using two components: moderated school-based tasks (50%) and a statewide external examination (50%). These marks are combined and scaled to reflect the differences in the student cohort between subjects (for instance, 90% in an Extension course is more difficult to achieve than in a Standard course so it will be weighted more positively). Student results are then ranked as a percentile and this rank (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank - ATAR) is used for domestic university admissions.

The IBDP is an international two-year course that also completes a student’s secondary education. It is available in over 140 countries and has up to one million candidate students each year. In all Australian states except for NSW, the IBDP is available in both government and independent schools.

The IBDP organises subjects into six groups (Maths, English, Science, Humanities, Languages, Arts), with students required to take six subjects, including at least one subject from the first five groups. Half of these must be taken at ‘Higher Level’. Three additional programs are compulsory: an Extended Essay (4000 words on a topic of their choice), Theory of Knowledge and service learning. Grades from 1-7 are awarded for each subject, using school-based assessments (20-30%) that are moderated against the external examination (70-80%). The total score is converted to an ATAR as described here.

How to choose a pathway?
Parents are naturally concerned to guide their daughters in the best direction – and often a little worried that they don’t understand enough to be able to do so. As a parent, I know myself that it is not a case of ‘one size fits all’ – which is why I have two sons who chose different pathways according to their interests and needs. We work closely with parents throughout to ensure that they and the girls are getting all the information they need. We have regular seminars open to all (e.g. Kindergarten parents might be keen to know more about the IB, even if the choice is a long way off) and then a series of presentations and meetings when it gets close to decision time.

The HSC and IBDP differ in the subjects, components and levels offered and their appeal varies between students. Choosing the credential and subjects that best suit a student’s needs is of paramount importance and this should be driven by the passion and joy of learning and her goals for tertiary education.

When interviewing students in Year 10, our first questions are: What are your favourite, best, most enjoyed subjects? What subjects do you prioritise when it comes to study? What might you want to do after school? Are there any prerequisites to these options?

The most suitable pathway usually becomes very clear. Examples might include:
•    Want to study both Ancient and Modern History? HSC
•    Want to study three Sciences? HSC
•    Want to investigate different forms of knowledge and their theoretical bases? IBDP
•    Want to study Drama and PDHPE? HSC
•    Want to study a range of subjects, including a Language, and prepared to complete a two year course with three subjects at an extended level? IBDP

This must be an informed and guided choice and it is not immutable. It is clear from Queenwood’s excellent results in both pathways over the last five years that the outcome is driven not by the pathway but by the students who strive to achieve these results.

Each student is unique and choice is individual. Choosing a pathway that plays to one’s strengths is the key to an informed choice and success. When the time comes, we are here to help each girl get the best out of her senior years of study and prepare for the adventures to come.