It’s December. This means Christmas is nearly here and as usual, I wonder where the year has gone. It can’t be that time again already where we steel ourselves to brave the dreaded shopping mall and grope around in the shed for the plastic Christmas tree. Some 70,000 or more NSW parents though, will also be either eagerly awaiting − or anxiously anticipating − their child’s HSC results! I am one of these parents. You see, I consider myself nearly a veteran of this gig now, having lived through it as a parent in 2015 for the third time, and having experienced it as a secondary educator some 29 times. I hope I don’t sound complacent, because I’m really not. However, what I have come to know is that it’s not an end of anything really, but rather a beginning − regardless of the outcome.
Following two years of senior study and 13 years of formal schooling, our children are approaching the ‘what comes next?’ phase in life. The HSC is a rigorous credential that has international recognition. It is marked by experienced teachers, and rarely have I seen results that students haven’t earned; they are almost always very accurate. Like life, responses to the HSC results will be many and varied. Some students will wake up on 16 December and will be deliriously happy. Others will barely register that it is results day, and may check their phones or the web sometime in the late afternoon. For some, there will be disappointment. As parents, we prepare ourselves for any eventuality. It’s easy to respond when the news is good – hearty congratulations, a celebration dinner, proverbial pats on the back all round and an excitement about the post-school offers that will flood in, sometimes in the form of university or TAFE courses, employment or other opportunities.
How do we respond though when our child is the recipient of marks that they were hoping would be better and so they fear what comes next, rather than looking forward to the next stage? First of all, we do nothing. We listen, we empathise where we can and we seek to avoid blame. Whilst it may be tempting, it will be a fruitless exercise. Then we get proactive. We seek help from those who know stuff – schools, TAFE, universities, training colleges, counsellors if required, friends and colleagues. We make a plan for our child’s future together with them. We seek out realistic alternatives to begin a path for tomorrow. This path does not have to be the rest of your child’s life.
Whilst the HSC is important, it does not define our children. Whether or not the results are good, it is not the answer to their future, nor is it the dictator of that future. Some young people will experience doubt, concern and maybe even some anxiety about what comes next. Our job as parents is to steer them gently. There are many avenues to success, not just one road.
When was the last time someone asked you as an adult what your HSC result was? Has it defined you, your life, your passions and interests? Let the HSC be in its rightful place this Christmas. For those who would have wished for something different: the blunt fact remains that it is done now and we can’t undo it. So, instead, make positive plans with your child about his or her future. For some young people, who do not receive an offer from their preferred university or TAFE course, the best decision may be to accept an offer into a similar or more generic course and seek advice as this course unfolds about possibilities for articulation into the more desired course. For those students who feel they’ve missed out on a course offering altogether, there is always another way in – for example, a pathway program such as Newstep is often an alternative into university. And for some young people, there is something wholesome about taking a job for a year as a ‘breather’ before regrouping and deciding what comes next.
A year later, the world looks tremendously different. Of course, if your child is very distressed about the results, as always, seek professional advice from your GP, a counselling service or an online or telephone service such as Kids Helpline or Lifeline.
The HSC is a measure of performance on a handful of academic and vocational courses, not an estimation of the worth of a person. Of course our children will respond differently to life and the day of the HSC results will produce myriad reactions. So, on 16 December, I urge you to congratulate your child on completing two years of senior secondary study and plan with them possibilities for an approach to their future – one characterised by positivity, resilience and hope, regardless of the numbers.