From the Principal

Success and failure

As the Higher School Certificate examination season is upon us, there is much talk about what constitutes individual success and what constitutes failure.

This is in addition to the regular commentary on how badly schools are educating young Australians today:

“Students are entering Year 11 with lower than ever skill levels, so the ‘hard subjects’ scare them off. The Dept of Education’s ‘get them through’ mantra sees students being awarded a HSC for little more than turning up…occasionally.” (SMH September 2022)

It would be so easy if the way to assess a student’s worth could be distilled down to their HSC marks + ATAR result.

It should never be made that simple.

Using that matrix we could ignore all the other goals that a students has achieved, contributions he/she has made to their school and the wider community and the challenges that he/she faced to get to the end of Secondary school.

I am not denying the value of the Higher School Certificate but, I am in agreement with the Vice Chancellor of Sydney University who has said: “Early domination in any market does not ensure future success”. And I believe that that is the truth when we are talking about students.

Some students respond exceptionally well in school, gaining great examination marks, but struggle with the change of style that comes with access to university or the workplace.

For some students the maturity required for success in tertiary education and the workplace does not automatically come when they leave school and history is littered with stories of both high talent dropouts and late bloomers who achieve success late in life.

And what about the students who struggle due to family, social or economic circumstances that impede their ability to develop their skills and talents at the same pace as those who did not face the same challenges.

“The roads into the university are wide and smooth from certain schools and certain suburbs.  I think a student with an ATAR of 93 at Mount Druitt might be the equivalent of a 99 in Mosman. A student who’s achieved so well to get that ATAR from a disadvantaged school might well flourish here if you put the support around them. And we believe we can take students in without diluting our standards.” University of Sydney Vice Chancellor, Mark Scott.

How do we find a common view of what constitutes success at school or in life?

Should  failing an examination label a person a failure?

Should the ability to remember a series of facts and formulae in an examination label someone a success even if that person is not able to function effectively in the workplace?

The way of defining success and failure is such a subjective thing that there will never really be a simple way of assessing it, despite the efforts of those who seem to be intent on creating a simple answer to an increasingly complex question.

“A good start would be to drop woke & Marxist pedagogy from our schools.” and “Perhaps if schools stopped spending time and effort in teaching “feel good” subjects, they could concentrate on the basics and then we wouldn’t have illiterate children.” Comments in the SMH to an article on school quality.

Yes, we will be proud of this year’s Year 12 students who achieve great success in the Higher School Certificate and receive multiple university offers.

But we will also be proud of the students who excelled as leaders (in sport and the performing arts as well as prefects etc), students who excelled as performers, sportspeople, good friends, mentors and role models.

And we will know which students have struggled and “done it hard” but lifted themselves up and defied the odds.

And we will know that they are a success.

At St Columba, we know that: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Maybe it is really simple: Happy = Success?

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at

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