Make Stage 6 English as easy as HSC

Scott Coomber

Jane Sherlock, above left, and Deb McPherson give their tips for teaching HSC

Presenters shared valuable insights and tips for teaching HSC English as part of the Secondary English Conference run by the Centre for Professional Learning in August and September.

An article by Jane Sherlock and Deb McPherson emphasised that proficiency in English enables students to take their place as confident, articulate communicators, critical and imaginative thinkers, and active participants in society.

The former long-serving English teachers, with more than 60 years’ experience between them, brought a wealth of knowledge to the floor and pointed to a number of simple steps, as well as some more detailed ones, that teachers can take to prepare an engaging English HSC course.

“See what’s in the book room,” Ms Sherlock told Education after conference. “The new syllabus is an opportunity. There are some things teachers should never trade away, the things we do well, but with this change it is a chance to do away with the things we are just hanging on to because they have always been there. "

She said some tips were as simple as making sure there were multiple copies available of the movie being studied, or encouraging the use of audiobooks, which students could listen to on the train to supplement a text.

Their article, "Welcome to Teaching the HSC!", which was included on a USB drive of resources given to attendees, sets out strategies to smooth the way for teachers and students alike.

“It is very easy to assume our students are at the same place we are,” they said. “The start of the HSC can be confusing. “The reality is teachers often have back-to-back HSC classes. With only two weeks between the new group and still helping the previous cohort, an audit of HSC preparation (see right) and organisation may help both teachers and students.

“An orientation program or checklist for the new cohort may help so that they are comfortable, confident and competent in their new role. It is vital the HSC year is transparent, clear, organised and does not contain any secret teachers’ business.”

The material suggests a possible plan for week 1 of HSC for the new cohort that:

  • emphasises the value of “personal best” and students achieving for their own satisfaction. Encourage life-long learning
  • promotes that the HSC is part of a life journey not the destination. Emphasise the need for balance and good health and keeping perspective on life
  • assesses where your students are at and what they already know or understand about the HSC, and what would they like to know
  • gives an overview of the course addressing the sequence of the area of study, the three Modules and a brief summary of both. Encourage students to develop a wider “brains trust” that looks out for productions, films, news articles, and university lectures on their texts
  • encourages the reading of texts and viewing more than once
  • discusses tips for a successful and happy year. Consider asking immediate past HSC students to share what they would have liked to have known at this point last year.

Deb McPherson taught English in public secondary schools for 28 years and worked as part of the committee selecting texts for the HSC. She was the Senior Curriculum Officer, English, at the Board of Studies working on the 2002 English Years 7-10 syllabus. She was the Manager of English for the Department from 2003-2006 and is the author of four anthologies and other texts including contributing to AATE journals on new titles in adolescent literature.

Jane Sherlock is retired head of English at Kiama High School and continues an active career in English teaching. Jane is the HSC Student Days Project Officer for the NSW English Teachers’ Association. She has worked on various syllabus documents and is a published author.

The Secondary English Conference Stage 6: Exploring the new Years 11 and 12 Standard and Advanced courses were held on 25 August and 18 September at Federation’s auditorium in Surry Hills.


Points to consider when preparing an audit of HSC preparation include:

  • what makes a positive English faculty culture, including whether the faculty enjoys reading, viewing and collegial sharing with a rich and positive teaching and learning culture
  • having an HSC culture that recognises the challenges for teachers and students; text choices that engage and inspire students as well as a detailed HSC program and assessment schedule that is frequently referred to during lessons; frequent feedback and communication with students and parents; and professional reading and learning
  • best practice in HSC text selection including familiarity with texts, which may merit a faculty meeting where each teacher discusses a few texts; a decision on pathways; a stock take of texts; and after a distribution date is set, an explanation of text selection and the pathway to students and parents
  • providing text support including having multiple copies of the film texts; audio versions of print texts; and a system for communicating and sharing the text selection with students that explains the reasons for your selection
  • allocation of staff to HSC classes by assessing faculty policy on teacher continuity from Year 11 to Year 12 and policy on allocation of staff to Advanced, Standard, Extension 1 and 2; succession planning for Advanced, Extension 1 and 2; an HSC professional-learning allocation in your budget or access to wider school budget for professional learning
  • promoting HSC courses, where the head teacher or experienced Extension 1 and 2 teacher organises Year 10 class visits to explain ideas behind extensions as enriching experiences, as well as talks by past students at Year 10 subject selection nights; promotion of parent awareness and understanding of extension courses
  • building an assessment schedule and tasks. Evaluate the previous year’s assessment schedule and tasks in early term 3 and build those findings into the program’s construction; negotiate suitability of your assessment dates with the rest of the HSC program; distribute the program to students
  • orientation lessons for the new cohort that provide an overview of the course including students’ pattern of study, directions for the order of reading/viewing of the texts, what to look for, and provision of a reading/viewing scaffold for their initial reading and viewing
  • constructing Stage 6 programs and units of work by consulting the Stage 6 syllabus when rewriting programs and units of work with regard to the units of work, syllabus focus, writing opportunities, academic reading and resources including English Teachers’ Association material.