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Opinion: High school leavers need to be armed with more than just a ranking

3 min read

When graduating Australian high school students receive their Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) it is the culmination of years of hard work and determination. The successful completion of high school is a significant milestone for these young people and their support networks – parents, teachers and school communities.   

With the ATAR announcement comes a flurry of news stories celebrating and elevating the top performing students – those with the elusive 99.95 ranking that will open any door to any university course around the country. Add to this, stories of  “top-performing-students-past” to get a glimpse of where they are now.  

While we absolutely celebrate in those successes, I’d like to suggest we pause and recognise all students who have learned lessons, overcome challenges, achieved personal growth and are ready for their next chapter. The young people who are prepared for the world, equipped with the skills to thrive as curious learners, creative and critical thinkers, and our future leaders.   

Those attributes can’t be measured by an ATAR, and yet it is the standard to which our young people are held. Is a ranking the ultimate end game and an appropriate reflection of 13 years of formative school life?   

What if we shifted our thinking towards how to best prepare young people for life after school and careers of the future? What’s the measure we put on that?    

Evidence shows that bringing the outside world of work into the classroom, and doing this early and at every stage of their education can play a tremendous role in preparing young people for their futures.  

Australian governments recognise that developing stronger partnerships between schools and businesses is pivotal to each Australian young person pursuing, and fulfilling, productive and responsible life.   

A consistent finding from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) is that working together benefits students by providing inspiration, confidence, learning and networks. Benefits can also extend to families, educators, employers and employees, and governments.  

The old-school view was that schools and businesses were separate. Students would leave the high school grounds for a week in year 10 and go into a business to conduct work experience. More often than not, it involved photocopying and filing. That world of work experience is outdated. What is needed in its place, and what has proven to be most effective, is purposeful partnerships between schools and businesses to provide real-world learning opportunities.   

By bringing the real world of work into the classroom, it provides students with the opportunity to see a range of career options to which they may never have otherwise been exposed. Meaning they can make more informed decisions about their pathways after high school and be better prepared.   

An example of this in practice is the partnership that Origin Energy has developed with Rooty Hill High School over the past five years. The Explorers Day, co-designed by the school and one of the nation’s largest energy companies, has provided Year 8 students with access to a range of hands-on workshops in various job clusters run by industry professionals working across various fields. It is designed to help inform students’ choices as they select their Year 9 electives.   

The result has been students becoming more aware of different career pathways, with students choosing a broader spread of Year 9 electives, and swapping subjects less. Origin’s volunteer workforce meanwhile benefits from connecting with students and teachers where they are challenged by new thinking and develop skills that are relevant to their roles in the business.   

Despite the importance of education and business sectors working together being high on the national agenda for the last 30 years, there have remained significant barriers to embedding this practice more broadly. One significant challenge has been that both schools and businesses are time-poor, and lack the tools and resources to help guide this activity and make it easier.  

The Origin Energy Foundation believes in the power of education to help create better lives for young Australians and has worked in collaboration with our partners in the education sector to tackle this problem with the development of Purposeful Partnering – an online resource to support schools and business on how to work together towards improved outcomes for young people.    

It is our hope that as more school and business leaders embark on developing partnerships, we will see improved outcomes for young people and our community.   

It’s time to recognise there is more than one impactful way to measure success and help prepare young people for life after school, and to become our leaders of tomorrow.   

Michelle was appointed Head of the Origin Energy Foundation in 2022 to lead the team and continue the Foundation’s work focused on supporting young Australians and helping to break the cycle of disadvantage through education.

Having worked with the Foundation for six years prior to her appointment, and with Origin since 2008, Michelle has a deep understanding and passion for the Foundation’s work in the non-profit sector.

Michelle has strong leadership and commercial experience, with a career spanning more than 25 years in senior Corporate Affairs roles across the non-profit, energy, finance and technology sectors.


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