Although attendance at school is not compulsory until a child turns six years of age, most children begin school when they are five. They leave primary school after seven years when they are young adolescents, about 12 years of age. It is during the K-6 years that students develop important attitudes towards learning and school.
The primary years are important in assisting students to experience and understand their environment and lay the foundations for further learning. What students learn and experience during these years shapes their views of themselves and the world and can affect their later success or failure at school, at work and in their personal lives.
In NSW Primary Schools: classes are usually organized around grades or years but schools also establish classes combining more than one year or grade within any single class, the social and emotional development and the ability and achievement levels of students can be significantly different teachers use personalized learning strategies that cater for the needs and talents of each student learning is divided into six key learning areas (KLAs): English; mathematics; creative and practical arts; science and technology; human society and its environment; and personal development, health and physical education students usually have one teacher who teaches all the KLAs taking into account a number of curriculum related policies and perspectives learning is divided into three major stages. Stage 1 relates to Kindergarten to Year 2, Stage 2 relates to students in Years 3 and 4 and Stage 3 relates to students in Years 5 and 6 the assessment of student achievement is based on a variety of evidence gathered over time; it may include what students demonstrate informally in lessons, achievement on structured assessment tasks and information from tests including statewide testing programs such as the Basic Skills Test student progress is assessed against outcomes specified for each KLA at the various stages of learning most students progress to the next grade at the end of each year parents and carers are encouraged to work with their child's teacher to identify special learning needs, either for learning assistance or enrichment and acceleration.
The importance of the primary years is well recognized as laying a positive foundation for learning throughout life.
Most western systems focus on learning outcomes and strategies to track student progress over time
There is an increasing recognition of the benefits of high expectations and personalized learning
There is an increasing demand on teachers to be accountable for student learning
Learning is generally organized around learning areas or subjects
The primary years are usually taught by a "generalist" teacher
School structures vary; for example, some primary schools keep students until the end of Year 8, and some schools have a separate organization for students in the middle years (Years 5 to 8).
In NSW a number of reviews or evaluations have focused on what is taught in the primary school years:
Students - Secondary School Years
Students enter secondary school at about 12 or 13 years of age and are legally required to remain at school until they are 15.
These adolescent years can be difficult for students, parents and teachers. Students in the same year group can be at different stages of physical, social and intellectual development. During these years, young people seek greater independence, continue developing their own identities and beliefs and often make lifelong friendships. Many young people begin to emerge as leaders in academic, social, sporting and creative and artistic fields.
Schooling for adolescents must be relevant and flexible and take into account their personal differences and needs. It must keep them on a path of continuous learning and prepare them for a world outside of school.
Students are encouraged to stay on to Years 11 and 12 and sit for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) or progress to TAFE to undertake vocational education and training. The HSC provides a great variety of courses and areas of study including the opportunity to undertake TAFE and university courses as part of the HSC.
Approximately 2/3 of public school students in NSW stay on to complete the HSC.
Each year public school students achieve excellent HSC results. In the 2003 HSC, they represented 50% of the Distinguished Achievers, 54% of the All Rounders and 56% of the Top Achievers in the state. In addition, 73 government school students were ranked first or equal first in an HSC course in 2003, representing 56% of such awards.
Years 7-10: The NSW Board of Studies (BOS) provides outcomes-based syllabuses which lead to the School Certificate and prescribes compulsory subjects and their minimum hours of study. The Department sets additional mandatory time requirements for a number of subject areas for government high schools e.g.: in Years 7-10 an additional 100 hours each of English, mathematics and science.
Years 11-12: The BOS provides outcomes-based syllabuses for Years 11 and 12 and prescribes patterns of study for the award of the HSC. In addition the Department requires government schools to provide a 25 hour personal development course.
There have been significant changes to the curriculum in NSW, including: the introduction of the new HSC in 2000; a new framework for assessing and reporting students' achievement against standards; and the current revisions to Years 7-10 syllabuses.
NSW government school students are assisted in planning and managing their transitions from school to work or to further education and training through the School to Work program. The central elements of the program are the individual school to work plans developed by students themselves in Years 9 - 12, case managed by their teachers.
Secondary schools generally operate on traditional structures of six hours a day, five days a week, based around six to eight lessons per day. Within this framework, schools develop a variety of welfare and pastoral care structures such as house groups, homerooms and vertical groups to provide support for students.
Many schools have organized the school week in different ways to enable senior students to undertake workplace learning or attend TAFE, and to provide extension courses and extracurricular activities for students.
NSW has considerable variety in its types of government secondary schools. These include co-educational comprehensive, single-sex, academically selective, specialist sports or performing arts, senior and multi-campus colleges, community and central schools and schools for specific purposes.
Some emerging themes and trends
Parents and students are exercising choice in their selection of a secondary school. For many parents the issues of discipline, values, uniform and tradition are important.
In NSW the provision of specialist and selective schools or streams within schools is giving parents greater choice.
Students with high levels of literacy and numeracy are more likely to continue at school, enter university and go on to high status well paid jobs.
Students are more likely to stay on at school if they are satisfied with school in general, if they perform well at school, if their relationships with teachers are good and if they find school programs relevant to their current and future goals and interests.
Many schools have increased their retention rates through introducing broader and more relevant curriculum and more adult learning environments. This is evidenced by the growth of vocational education and training (VET) in schools and also the increase in enrolments in more academically challenging courses.
Multi-campus colleges in NSW have been introduced to provide a broader, more appropriate curriculum and provide learning environments specifically suited to the junior and senior secondary school years.
What is happening in other places?
Worldwide there is an emphasis on standards and on curriculum which is relevant to students' lifelong learning needs.
In the UK and the USA there is an increasing focus on school specialization and autonomy, encouraging schools to develop their own local identity in partnership with the local community.
Most states and territories in Australia are looking at strategies to improve the retention rates of students beyond the legal leaving age, to increase curriculum opportunities beyond the school and are setting targets for increased student retention over a number of years.