From the Principal’s Desk – Week 4

Mrs Mary Anne Evans

Mrs Mary Anne Evans

Welcome to Week 4. I was once again privileged to watch our IGSSA hockey and netball players represent the School in Sydney with enthusiasm and pride. Whilst it was a mixture of results, in the end it didn’t seem to matter as our girls played well; played hard and were gracious in victory and defeat. How lucky we are to have the girls we have?

Often parents send in useful articles and clips for us to share with the NEGS community. Once such clip I include for you now:


The two minute clip is worth viewing as it focuses on “Screenagers and Device Usage” – a phenomena we are all faced with, to varying degrees.

Also for your reference this week is an article on: “Breaking Down the Language Barriers in Education”. I trust you find it useful.

One of the communications problems of the modern age is the tendency for professionals to speak in their own obscure language, which is often impenetrable to people without their expertise. This is as true of educators as it is of people in other fields of knowledge. Indeed, as a breed, we educators can speak the language of education-ese, characterised by its own acronyms. This letter is intended to serve as a glossary, a kind of translation dictionary to help parents gather the meaning when educational bureaucrats, politicians and the media appear to be obscure. It is set out alphabetically in order to serve as a check list. 


  • ACARA – Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. ACARA is responsible for the Australian curriculum, which has steadily been rolled out across the nation (K-10) and is in operation in some senior subjects so far. ACARA administers NAPLAN and the MySchool website. ACARA reports to the Federal Minister of Education. The ACARA National Office is across the road from SACS, making interchange easy.
  • AHISA – Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia. AHISA meets nationally every two years but at Statelevel every term and essentially is an opportunity for Heads to be informed by relevant academics, by the AIS and by their own committee structures (curriculum, student wellbeing etc).
  • AIS – Association of Independent Schools (approximately 430 non-government schools in NSW and the ACT). Hence the AIS comprises schools attended by around 36% of the student population. The AIS employs around 90 staff. Unlike the Department of Education, which controls and administers its schools, non-government schools actually control the AIS, which, in centralising functions, for instance advice on Special Education, is a service provider to our sector.
  • AITSL – Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. AITSL is a body formed by the Federal Government to develop excellent teaching practice and to encourage quality leadership in schools.
  • Assessment Task –These are the formal pieces of in-school work (as distinct from HSC examinations) which together comprise 50% of the HSC. They are done gradually throughout the HSC course for each subject. This system is mimicked further down the curriculum; formal assessment tasks can be distinguished from normal homework.
  • ATAR – Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank. This single digit looks like a mark as it is expressed out of 100 (in recent years 99.95 has become the maximum ATAR) but is actually a place in Australia in Year 12. The ATAR decides in essence which students get into which courses at which universities (although increasingly universities are offering pre-admission places ie before the main admission round, based on the ATAR, and/or combining student portfolios with ATARs in order to gain a more holistic impression.)
  • Australian Curriculum – Until the 21st century, each state and territory operated its own curriculum independent of the rest of Australia. As mobility across borders has increased it has become more problematic for students to move between states during their schooling. This led to the development, for the first time in our history, of a national curriculum, which in fact owes a lot to the HSC and VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) as the credentials in the two most populous and best resourced states.

  • Band 6 – The media are obsessed with Band 6 results ie HSC results above 90% in any subject, as this is the only information they have been able to obtain from statutory authorities under freedom of information legislation. Band 6 results don’t actually determine anything. Band 6 results tell us who gained Band 6 results! The media have no access to student ATARs.

  • CAS – Creativity, Action and Service, all mandatory requirements that need to be authenticated as part of the IB Diploma.
  • CATEGORY B – a small number of less rigorous courses available in the HSC are denoted as Category B. Only two units of these may be included in the HSC.
  • CRICOS – Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students. SACS has CRICOS registration through NESA as authority to educate international students. Requirements are very comprehensive in terms of curriculum strength and pastoral care.

  • DET – Department of Education and Training. This is the federal department. Under the Australian Constitution, education is a state matter, but increasingly the “Feds” are forcing their way into this space by their control of the purse strings (allocation of budgetary money acquired through taxation). In essence “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. Federal politicians have been able to make funding dependent on compliance with aspects of the agenda of the Government of the day.
  • DIFFERENTIATION –Technical term relating to teachers making the curriculum accessible to all students across the range of abilities. This requires learning material to be adjusted (“differentiated”) to cater for students displaying giftedness and those experiencing specific learning difficulties. The capacity of any teacher to manage this across a bulk of students is finite.
  • DISABILITIES PROVISIONS – The HSC allows a range of special provisions such as extended time, rest breaks and a reader/writer during the HSC written examinations. The approving authority is NESA, which acts in response to usually specialist medical or other robust evidence provided by parents.
  • D of E – Department of Education (NSW). The Department is one of the largest educational bureaucracies in the world. Contrary to normal opinion, it has no authority over independent schools, only over Government schools. It is, however, the conduit for state funding, (which is minimal) to independent schools through a sub-branch of its finance department.

  • EDUCATION COUNCIL – Advisory group of Ministers of Education as part of COAG (Council of Australian Governments).
  • EE – Extended Essay. This is a 4,000-word research essay which is an essential part of the IB Diploma.
  • ERI – Education Resource Index. Developed by the State Government in the early 1980s as a measure of school need for the non-Government sector, on which funding is based. It has remained unchanged since despite changes in the demographic structures and therefore level of need of schools. Categories range from 1 (least funding) to 12. SACS is category 2.
  • EXTENSION COURSES – These are HSC courses which have replaced the old 3 Unit subjects. They are designed for most able students. Extension 1 English and Mathematics commence in Year 11. In Year 12, Extension History, Music and Languages and Extension 2 English and Mathematics commence. A new Science Extension course has been offered state wide for 2019. Other subjects do not have extension courses. This was a political decision at the time of the redesign of the HSC in 1996.

  • HSC – Higher School Certificate. First examined in 1968, the HSC has been one of the most stable curriculum platforms in Australia. As the Australian curriculum rolls out, it will closely resemble the HSC, and NSW students (ie nearly everybody) who pursue this curriculum will be awarded an HSC. For seven years, I chaired ASISA Academic Committee, meeting frequently with the President of the Board of Studies, and so have been very invested in HSC developments.

  • IB – International Baccalaureate. The IB commenced in 1968 through a consortium of English, French and Spanish educators looking for a curriculum which would remain constant for internationally mobile European students, whose parents tended to be Diplomatic Corps or Military personnel. The IB has expanded internationally to the level of around 5,000 schools across the world, 180 of which are in Australia. The IB Diploma is the peak course, offered in Australia as an alternative to the domestic curriculum (in NSW the HSC). In the 1990s the IB organisation added the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and the Middle Years Programme (MYP). Unlike the Diploma, the latter two are not a separate curriculum but a learning paradigm through which the state curriculum is taught. The IB is managed from the IB Head Office in the Netherlands. It has administrative centres in The Hague, Virginia (USA), Geneva (Switzerland) and Singapore. Australia provides the 4th highest number of candidates (after the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom) in the world. As the IB is mapped to the outcomes of the Australian curriculum, it is deemed to fulfil the goals of the curriculum and so attracts conversion status to an ATAR.
  • ICSEA – Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage. Measure used by ACARA to determine school financial standing. Some claim it has an inbuilt bias against the independent sector in that it places great emphasis on occupation and does not distinguish within the term “Director” between Director of a Multinational Company and Director of a two-person family business (Director is regarded in the highest category of income). Moreover, ICSEA is determined from parental disclosures at the time of enrolment and hence is not independently verified.
  • ISCA – Independent Schools Council of Australia – A peak body which lobbies on behalf of the sector.

  • KLAs – Key Learning Areas – subjects are organised by NESA within Key Learning Areas, which are broad cognate areas of academic discipline, for instance, HSIE (Human Society in its Environment) includes History, Geography, Commerce, Economics, Business Studies, Legal Studies, Studies of Religion and Society and Culture. The Junior School curriculum is comprised of 6 KLAs while the high school curriculum features 8 KLAs.

  • LIFE SKILLS – A highly differentiated HSC course for students experiencing very substantial learning difficulties, and which will not progress to a standard HSC.

  • NAIDOC – National Aboriginal and Islander Day Organising Committee. Each year we celebrate what has become NAIDOC Week, where we seek to honour our Indigenous families.
  • NAPLAN – National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy. NAPLAN was designed to give teachers feedback on the literacy and numeracy needs of their students. The government have allowed it to become a media feasting frenzy, from which league tables are constructed. These have little validity as NAPLAN tests a tiny part of the curriculum and has previously had a “low ceiling”, with little extension opportunity for more able students. Moreover the Year 7 test has been so early in the year that if it tests anything at all school related, it tests the effectiveness of the students’ last school while in Year 6. NAPLAN, with attendant parental anxiety, has spawned a whole industry of study guides and encouraged schools and teachers to teach to the test. Much of this is designed to help students circle the right answer without necessarily understanding the work. Constant test drills constrain the curriculum and stifle creativity. Our approach at NEGS is to focus on quality education, believing that if we do so, NAPLAN will look after itself.
  • NESA – New South Wales Educational Standards Authority. (formerly called BOSTES) Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards). NESA is responsible for all curriculum in NSW schools across all sectors and is in charge of all assessment and of the HSC. NESA is the organisation which accredits teachers in NSW and authorises their progression through the various levels of salary bands (in response to in-school evidence). NESA is the authority which registers (licence to operate) and accredits (permission to offer the HSC) independent schools. It reports directly to the State Minister of Education.
  • NSRB – National Schools Resourcing Body – The Federal body which determines school funding.
  • NSWPC – New South Wales Parent Council. Serves as an information and advocacy group for non-government school parents. It is regarded as a peak body and hence has access to government.

  • PATHWAYS – Technical term for extending the HSC over up to five years from the date the first HSC examination is taken. Pathways is particularly suitable for teenagers who are elite athletes, giving much of their time to training and international competition and to those with chronic illnesses.
  • PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment. PISA undertakes a tiny sample of Year 9 students across the OECD countries every three years to evaluate their competence in literacy, numeracy, science and much more recently critical thinking. Politicians become very stressed about PISA rankings and use them as proxy measurements of national educational quality. PISA was never designed for this purpose – its scope and sample is small. The independent sector of Australian schooling performs near the top of the world, but due to equity problems across sectors and between the city and regional areas of Australia, our national performance is moderate, but still in the top half of the OECD. Jurisdictions with the best performance tend to be small, largely mono-cultural with only a small proportion of non-native language speakers, or determined through careful selection of students who sit the test to massage the results.
  • PRELIMINARY COURSE – Year 11 or the first year of HSC studies. Students need to successfully complete this year to be permitted to enter formal HSC studies.

  • RoSA – Record of School Achievement – available to HSC students at the end of Year 11 or on request to students who leave school before this stage.

  • SCALING – A statistical adjustment of results in HSC subjects as they are converted to ATARs. The purpose is to try to ensure that students who score well in easier subjects or courses are not advantaged over those who attempt more difficult subjects and courses. The scaling algorithm is conducted afresh each year, based on a statistical analysis of the quality of statewide candidature in each HSC course.
  • SES – Socio Economic Status. – The (contested) mechanism by which the Federal Government currently establishes funding entitlements of independent schools. It is an amalgam of parental education, income and occupation. Critics point out that it does not relate specifically to the actual parents of any school but is rather the average of the “Collection District” of around 200 households in which their home is positioned. Accordingly, the individual parent whose child attends the individual school could be average for the “Collection District” or could be an outlier in either direction. Data on parental education, income and occupation is extracted from the last census, combined with aggregated and anonymised enrolment data required to be furnished by schools.
  • STAGES – The NESA State curriculum is set out in stages of learning which, apart from early childhood education, feature two years of learning in modular fashion, for instance Stage 4 (Years 7 and 8) has a broad range of subject teaching hours which must be completed across the two years.
  • STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. Emphasis in these areas represents a State and Federal commitment to increase the numbers of secondary students studying these subjects and hence boost the numbers of school graduates entering related university courses and careers. The goal of politicians is to make Australia the “Clever Country”. Critics say the emphasis minimises the importance of humanities, most of the arts and creativity.
  • STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Another version of the above without Art.

  • TEMAG – The Educational Ministers Advisory Group – a meeting of the Federal Minister of Education and the Education Ministers of each state and territory to make educational policy decisions – occurs as a response to need.
  • TIMSS – Trends in International Maths and Science Study – the companion testing regime to PISA.TOK – Theory of Knowledge, the mandatory IB Diploma course in introductory epistemology (Philosophy).

  • UAC – Universities Admission Centre. UAC is responsible for scaling of NSW Year 12 result from the HSC, and converting IB Diploma results, to an ATAR. They process university admission applications and offer places on behalf of all public universities and some private universities and colleges. UAC is part of ACTAC (Australian Council of Tertiary Admission Centres).
  • UNITS – Both a time and mark measurement within the HSC. Most courses are 2 unit subjects which therefore are marked out of 100 in the HSC. NESA requires each unit to be taught for an indicative (approximate) time of 120 hours over Years 11 and 12.

  • VocEd – Vocational Education Courses, a small number of which may be taken as part of the HSC. These can be studied in school or through external providers such as TAFE.