General education in New South Wales

The importance of a general education

Almost all schools use Years 7–10 to give their students a solid grounding in the most important areas of learning and a chance to find out what they like and are good at before they specialise. Schools in New South Wales focus on eight key learning areas:

  • English
  • human society and its environment
  • languages
  • mathematics
  • personal development, health and physical education
  • science
  • creative arts
  • technology.

These ‘core’ subjects form a substantial part of the timetable, although there is some room for choice with electives in subjects such as languages, music or the visual arts. Even as they begin to specialise, many students like to keep their options open as long as possible by choosing a combination of subjects.

Students who leave school at the end of Year 10, before completing their Higher School Certificate (HSC), receive a NSW Record of School Achievement (RoSA). The RoSA is designed to provide a cumulative record of all academic achievement and takes into account school-based assessment, records extracurricular activities and gives students the option of completing online literacy and numeracy testing.

In the more specialised Higher School Certificate (HSC) years — where fewer subjects are taken and each is more demanding — students must select at least two units of English, with the choice of the remainder of the subjects left entirely up to the student. Most students continuing with an academic program suitable for university preparation tend to divide into subject streams by choosing several units in areas such as maths and science, the arts, humanities or business.

Students going into the HSC must also complete the ‘HSC: All My Own Work’ module, which is a program designed to assist students in understanding more about key ethical practice areas such as plagiarism, copyrighting and how to work with others. The program takes between five and ten hours to complete and is integrated into Year 11 classes either over a number of short workshops or over a single day.

Apart from those students who choose subject areas with a view to gaining university admission, others contemplating Vocational Education and Training (VET), including trades, have a comprehensive range of options in technologies, hospitality and business.

Before choosing to specialise, students need to have a fairly clear idea of their future, and one to which they, not their parents, are committed. Often students do not have their future neatly planned and there is no compelling reason why they should. It has become increasingly common for people of all ages to swap between study and work as their ideas about the future evolve. It is very important for students to take every opportunity to get a good general education, to keep interests alive and options open. 

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