What Works? Boys, Year 12 Academic Success, and the HSC

9 Jul 2021

What Works? Boys, Year 12 Academic Success, and the HSC

“I needed to pull my head in and give this study thing a crack. Ease up on the skateboarding and set some goals and priorities. I'm going to be here ‘til Year 12. I'm not going to lose anything from trying to do my best in these last two years.” (Joseph)

There continues to be much debate in educational circles regarding the efficacy of the   education of boys in Australia. Twenty years ago, the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Trainingreleased its report, “Boys: Getting it right: Report on the inquiry into the education of boys” (2002). A number of conclusions were reported, including that boys were achieving poorer academic outcomes than girls and were less likely to go on to tertiary education compared with girls. The years since have seen research and debate promote the publication of many books and papers around the issue of boys’ education. What does seem to emerge from the research is that, in some educational environments, boys and girls may be adversely impacted through what Hartley and Sutton describe as “academic stereotypes” (2013, p. 1729). In a paper examining the influence of gender stereotypes on teachers’ practice, “Boys are like puppies, girls aim to please” (2014), Riley discusses how some teachers may have lower academic expectations of boys than girls based on stereotypical attributions of behaviours and traits. Twenty years on from the “Boys: Getting it Right” report, what progress has been made?

Academic outcomes and engagement of school students in Australian schools do appear to be skewed away from boys. In Australian schools the latest NAPLAN data shows that, in Year 9, girls outperform boys by between 1% and 12.3% averaging 6% across all 5 dimensions examined; reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2019). At the other end of the educational journey, females make up 58% of domestic student enrolments in Australian universities, outnumbering male enrolments in both undergraduate and postgraduate studies (Larkins, 2018). Stahl, in a research project aimed at improving outcomes for boys in urban Australian schools, contends that educators need to consider their “gendered responses to boys’ performance of masculinity” (Stahl, 2021, p. 13)which tend to view boys in specific, often problematic and stereotypical ways. Despite this often deficit-oriented outlook, boys are strongly relational learners who are capable of producing academic outcomes commensurate with their ability. They can be engaged in the educational process and held to account with high but realistic expectations in an environment in which they feel valued (Pinkett & Roberts, 2019).

Rather than seeking to delve into this ongoing debate centred in gender stereotyping and gender-dependent academic outcomes, at NGS we were more interested in hearing from a group of young Year 12 male alumni following their completion of the HSC Year to find what worked for them.  In 2020, a group of Year 12 boys experienced a particularly successful conclusion to their HSC studies. Through conversations with the boys, we were keen to identify the attributes, influences and characteristics that enabled their successful navigation of their Year 12 studies. 

The participants described the strategies they employed, provided advice for students setting out on their HSC journey, and gave insights into their aspirations, goals, and motivations. The accompanying report reflects their optimistic outlook and upbeat approach to their senior studies. It is our goal to share their insights and wisdom with our community – parents, teachers, and students – to enhance all our students’ experiences as they journey through the adventure that is the HSC.

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Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2019). National assessment program — literacy and numeracy achievement in reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy: National report for 2019. Sydney: ACARA Retrieved from

Hartley, B. L., & Sutton, R. M. (2013). A stereotype threat account of boys' academic underachievement. Child development, 84(5), 1716-1733. doi:10.1111/cdev.12079

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training. (2002). Boys: Getting it right: Report on the inquiry into the education of boys: Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Larkins, F. (2018). Male students remain underrepresented in Australian universities. Should we be concerned?

Pinkett, M., & Roberts, M. (2019). Boys don't try?: rethinking masculinity in schools(1 ed.). Abingdon, Oxford: Routledge ProQuest, Ebooks.

Riley, T. (2014). Boys are like puppies, girls aim to please: How teachers’ gender stereotypes may influence student placement decisions and classroom teaching. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 60(1), 1-21. 

Stahl, G. (2021). ‘They make time for you’: upwardly mobile working-class boys and understanding the dimensions of nurturing and supportive student–teacher relationships. Research papers in education, 1-17. doi:10.1080/02671522.2021.1905705