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70,000 students put a difficult year behind them as HSC ends

March 19, 2021

Original Article: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/70-000-students-put-a-difficult-year-behind-them-as-hsc-ends-20201111-p56djl.html

The principal of the state's largest year 12 cohort faced a mammoth task preparing for this year's HSC. Sally Smithard's 450-odd students at St Marys Senior High School in western Sydney would require 30 back-up exam halls in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Halls were deep cleaned ahead of the main English exams as a precaution and the school "spent a fortune" on wipes for students. The deputy principal managed to find alternative exam venues - albeit across two Western Sydney University campuses.

"We didn’t have to use them which was absolutely wonderful," Ms Smithard said. "With each day that went by with exams, you could feel the relief."

That sentiment was shared by almost 70,000 students, hundreds of principals and thousands of teachers as the written HSC exam period formally concluded on Wednesday following a testing final year.

The potential for school closures or cancelled exams had loomed over the students from the moment a demanding period of remote learning ceased earlier in the year. Schools prepared alternative exam locations, students operated in bubbles to avoid contact with the wider community, and teachers checked temperatures upon entry to exam halls.

But in the end it was a spate of threatening emails that caused most disruption, forcing students at about 30 schools to evacuate during HSC exams.

When St Marys students Clare Wilkes and Andrhea Alabe walked out the school gates after their final design and technology exam on Wednesday, it had not sunk in that the year was officially behind them.

Clare said the year "was all a blur": of bedrooms transforming into home offices and study groups outside of school. Andrhea's memories were of being able to sleep in and stay in bed during remote learning and the study period.

 

"It's exciting that we get to move forward," Clare said. Their next steps will look different - 18th birthdays have been cancelled, parents can't attend Thursday's graduation and their formal will be held across separate rooms next weekend - but they're still looking forward to small gatherings and the chance to catch up with friends.

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said she hoped year 12 would "really celebrate". "I think they really have earned that opportunity to have a good night out ... given the year that they’ve had. And we just wish them all the very best for their future," she said.

Ms Smithard said she was "most proud of the way [students] just got on with it. And that they did it together."

"It's easy for people to make judgments about young people," she said. "I think what we’ve possibly seen here is young people understand the bigger picture more than they are given credit for. They care for more than themselves; they care for their peers and people outside their own community."

Ms Mitchell said she felt fortunate COVID-19 had not caused school closures or mass disruptions during the 120 HSC exams.

"The fact that every single school had alternative venues in place, some of which we did actually have to use where the bomb threats were present in some of those school communities, was a real testament to the support from teachers, principals, support staff," she said.

"For these kids, particularly those who had their schools disrupted by those threatening emails that went out a couple of weeks ago, it’s been so tough."

NSW Education Standards Authority chief executive Paul Martin said some students had been able to return to exam halls and complete their exams after the threats, but that he expected affected schools to apply for misadventure.

"We’ve learned that the resilience of students knows no bounds. We have an amazing group of young people coming through in Sydney and NSW," he said. HSC results are released on December 18.

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