Myriad Paths

Dr Adrian Johnson - Deputy Principal, Head of Secondary School

Dr Adrian Johnson - Deputy Principal, Head of Secondary School

Myriad Paths

I completed the Higher School Certificate in 1983 at a country high school, and gleefully embarked on my university studies in the ‘big smoke’ – Sydney – the following year.  What followed was an honours degree, a job and, 33 years and six workplaces later, I still work in the same industry.  Some of my classmates left school, accepting apprenticeships or took jobs.  ‘Gap Years’ weren’t invented then!  And those, pretty much, were our options.  How things have changed for the young people with whom we spend our days.  Some might argue: school leavers today are spoilt for choice?  And, I would contend, this trend is set to continue.

Education Council Report "Looking to the Future"What is making things tricky these days is that the boundary between school and work or university is becoming more and more blurred, and it is set to become increasingly so. 1 Our senior students can study university ‘H Courses’ at school; indeed, every state in the country now has a university senior college in which credits for first year tertiary subjects are gained before graduating secondary school.  Radford’s students studying an Australian School-Based Apprenticeship, or ASBA, are at school some days and engaged in workplaces on others. 

The competition between universities for the best Year 12 students in the land has seen application dates for university entry move earlier and earlier – now March for ANU for the following year.  This timing, of course, casts increasing doubt over the relevance of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (or ATAR). 2 Early and unconditional offers by universities may be the death knell for this system?  And, given the links between the ATAR and adolescent anxiety levels, this may be no bad thing? 3

When I worked in the United Kingdom from 2003 – 2009, students would blend A-Levels with IB Diploma Subjects and satisfy entry requirements for university entry.  Not Oxbridge, admittedly, but with A2 Maths and Economics, and IBDP English and some Theory of Knowledge (for example), an institution would take aspirant school leavers.  So, no, you don’t have to study a full suite of six subjects, the Core (Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and Creativity Activity Service) and be awarded a Diploma to leave school or enter a tertiary institution.  In future, I foresee our students deciding between BSSS and IBDP courses on their merits – and receiving Certificates for the successful completion of stand-alone Diploma subjects.  Fingers crossed that more and more universities in Australia acknowledge these sorts of pathways.  So, the ‘ticket’ with which one gains admission to university is certainly changing.

Even the nature of work has changed for young people.  My personal example – of working in one industry for life – is destined for the history books as, increasingly, young people these days engage in a range of work portfolios across industries. 4 And, as avid readers of my articles will recall, it’s the key skills that people can apply to a range of settings which enable such an outcome.  Increasingly, young people need to be adaptable to constant change and to deal with competing demands. 5 

Foundation for Young Australians "The New Work Reality"I detail this situation not to alarm, but to acknowledge the reality: there are myriad pathways to a worthwhile life post schooling.  There was an interesting article on this very subject in a recent The Weekend Australian Magazine entitled Late Risers. 6  People interviewed in that article included: Shane Drumgold (left school in Year 9 – now ACT Director of Public Prosecutions), Bronwyn Carlson (left school at 15 – now Professor of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University), and Barry Kirby (failed Year 12 exams – now remote rural GP with obstetric skills saving women in PNG).  Yet making a worthwhile contribution to society isn’t, necessarily, about being one of the traditional ‘pillars’ of society, like these examples.  The key point here is: the end of Year 12, and resultant grades and ATAR, is NOT ‘make or break’. 

So, attention now turns to Year 12s and our planning for the end of year.  Of course, our very best wishes go to our ASBA, BSSS and IBDP Candidates – we very much hope you achieve grades exceeding your expectations.  However, if you do not achieve your targets, life will go on.  You will find another path to achieve your dreams – at some point down the track.  And it is you confidently finding your way through life that we, as educators, find most rewarding after you leave the ‘sheltered waters’ of Radford College.

Go well, Class of 2020. 



Education Council. Looking to the future: report of the review of senior secondary pathways into work, further education and training. June 2020. 


Singhal, P. ATAR 'a strait jacket around our kids': Mark Scott.
Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 2019. 

Koziol, M. ATAR should be simplified or even abolished, says chief scientist Alan Finkel. Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2018. 


Bowden, T. Year 12 exams — are they worth the stress?
ABC News, 11 October 2017. 


Owen, J. An Education Worth Having. The Foundation for Young Australians,
accessed 20 October 2020. 


The Foundation for Young Australians. The New Work Reality 2018. 


Harari, F. Late risers: school dropouts who made it anyway.
The Weekend Australian Magazine, October 10 – 11, 2020.


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