ATAR Plus curriculum

Principal's news Wednesday, 10 Aug 2022

Over the next two years, we will be focusing on developing an ATAR Plus curriculum for Shelford. This is recognising that whilst the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) remains important – it is the composite score students receive at the end of their VCE studies and has traditionally been the key decider for tertiary entry to courses – it is, increasingly, not the sole arbiter of inclusion in tertiary studies.

We have students who receive early offers from tertiary institutions during their Year 12. These offers are based upon the students’ previous school results and their other skills, talents and abilities.

Some courses require students to do an aptitude test (like the Medical UMAT test) or show a folio (many design courses) or attend an interview. It is clear universities are increasingly recognising that the ATAR alone does not indicate adequately the capacities, skills and dispositions, required for success in a particular field.

So where does that leave schools? If we continue along this way, it may be in a few years’ time that the ATAR is no longer relevant at all. Many more students may opt to do an unscored VCE. Universities and particular courses within them, may be looking for a whole range of skills and aptitudes they decide are relevant for their area and they may disregard the ATAR altogether.

An ATAR Plus education at Shelford

At Shelford, we have always focused on the development of the whole person, and we offer a range of activities, opportunities and development and growth programs, in order for our students to be ready for the transition to part-time work, university, a gap year, travel and life. 

In the near future, we will be introducing more programs that provide Shelford students with an ATAR Plus education. An example of this is the piloting of a program in Year 10 this year – a student is pursuing an independent task (setting up a Shelford Zine) instead of taking an elective. This enables choice, follows student interest, provides a benefit for our community and enables the student to gain a variety of different skills and real-world experiences. Allowing students an independent project enables the student to have a rich and engaging learning experience.

Internships and training

Internships and training opportunities for a semester in various areas of the school, could provide important real-life experiences and skills, that would benefit a student’s development. Students may wish to work assisting the Art Faculty as an art technician in the classrooms and curating displays or learn about ICT through working with the IT department; helping the Performing Arts Faculty with productions and administration; supporting the events, publications and marketing department. Short courses could support skill development in these areas.


Similarly, micro-credentials – short, skills-based courses – offer students the chance to build a portfolio of their own; a comprehensive overview of a range of capacities they have developed. These could be in areas of ICT, public speaking, leadership, first aid (as recently offered by Shelford), food handling, design, financial literacy, mechanics or administration. In forging relationships with Swinburne University and Holmesglen TAFE, and other online avenues, we are exploring ways to offer these short-term courses to our students in a way that enables them to pursue interests, gain skills, learn in new ways, be flexible and build a portfolio, that will enable them to gain entry to universities, find employment and adapt to the new world of work.

Academic learning

These programs will always lie beside more traditional academic courses and classes. It is of course imperative that our students be challenged intellectually at the highest level and for many students, learning languages, writing academically, reading complex texts, learning about the history, culture, law and politics of our society and understanding mathematical and scientific concepts, remains important. We are a school with a rich tradition of academic learning. 

Yet what that academic learning looks like is adaptive and changing too; we no longer expect to see a teacher at the front of the class using ‘chalk and talk’ or lecture style lessons. We increasingly expect and develop critical and creative thinking by the students; group and individual problem solving; applying facts (that many times the students have learnt themselves in pre-reading or videos) to new situations or real-life scenarios; and spending class time re-ordering facts, challenging each other, debating and discussing.

How academic learning is changing at Shelford

The English Faculty has piloted a Year 10 Shelford English program this year using the Harkness method in all classes – a discussion-based, disciplined, challenging way to have our students lead, think and express themselves, learning to listen, respond and analyse. These are the skills our students need to develop in the classroom, and we are excited to extend this program to Year 11 in 2023.

Our Mathematics classes in Years 7–9 are increasingly moving away from textbook work to students coming to class to discuss, problem solve and apply their learning. Experiential and hands-on learning lies at the heart of the Year 9 Challenge program. In all areas, we are expecting students to be active in their learning – to come to class ready to extend their knowledge, to understand themselves as learners and to be more independent.

In 2023, there may be opportunities for senior classes to have less class time and more time completing asynchronous master classes and off-line activities, enabling faculties to collaborate in delivering lectures and curriculum materials, for students to work in break-out groups online, or individually, opting in or out of class time activities, based on their own individualised need. This model prepares students for tertiary study and work practices.

It is an exciting time in education. At Shelford, we are interested in adapting and changing, in engaging with staff, student and parent feedback, to ensure our students enjoy rich and deep learning experiences. We aspire to a culture of excellence in all that we do and welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Katrina Brennan

This article was originally published in our Shelly Newsletter.