Secondary School (04) D.H.S 1964-65 – The Academic Side

November 16, 2015 at 1:30 am | Posted in Australia, Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 13 Comments
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Before World War II, the great majority of pupils who went to high school left at age fifteen or after the Intermediate Certificate in Third Year. Those who wanted a trade could then take on apprenticeships. Relatively few went on to matriculation at the Leaving Certificate (Fifth Year), and those who did were mostly from middle and upper rather than working class families, aiming for white collar jobs or to go to university and into professional employment.

However, between 1947 and 1961, with scientific and engineering advancements made during the 1940s, the proportion of the workforce in professional, technical and other white collar functions expanded. At the same time, in Australia, there was an explosion of immigration, mostly from Europe. This meant more students aiming for higher level employment and so going on to do the Leaving Certificate. Even so, at the end of 1963, three-quarters of the students in my cohort at Dapto High left school to find a job or an apprenticeship, leaving only two classes in Fourth Year – 4A & 4B, about sixty students.

Dapto High School, a year or two after I left

Dapto High School, a year or two after I left

After being in 2B and 3B at Dapto High, my Intermediate results put me into 4A. With a scholarship to pay my way for the last two years, I really settled into my work at Dapto High School. I had come to like the place – though not all of the teachers or other students – and I knew by now that my future would depend on my Leaving Certificate results at the end of Fifth Year.

In the last two years, our six subjects were set. Apart from dropping Business Principles, I followed through on the same subjects as the previous years. The teachers we had were of varying abilities and quality. In most cases, Senior classes were allocated to the heads of department or at least to experienced teachers. However that wasn’t always the case.

In 4th Year, I was one of only two girls doing higher level Maths, which was divided into two subjects: Maths I, based essentially on algebra and calculus; and Maths II, which was mainly geometry and trigonometry. Thus, Maths made up one-third of our whole academic course. Valerie, the other girl in my Maths classes, had gone through the first three years in the A class, so I hadn’t got to know her at all before then. We shared other subjects too, and she was studious like myself. She became the first real friend I’d ever had.

My friend Valerie and me in 1965

My friend Valerie and me in 1965

In Fourth Year, our Maths teacher was a young woman who had no idea of how to get concepts across to the class. I don’t know how experienced she was, but she also had no control over the boys. Valerie and I were upset that we hardly had any chance of successfully getting through the curriculum. It was so obvious, even to us, how having a poor teacher could result in devastating outcomes. Worse, we would be risking two subjects instead of one. Our results in that year’s exams pointed out the severity of the problem

At the start of our final year, we were extremely relieved to have a new Deputy Principal, Mr McKenzie, who was also Head of the Maths department. He took over the senior Maths I and II classes. We all had to work darned hard that year to catch up previous topics and to cover the new ones for that year. I wasn’t keen on the subject anyway, and many of the concepts I found hard to understand. In spite of my efforts, my half-yearly results that year were 50% and 40% – very discouraging. However, with Mr McKenzie’s help, I managed to almost get A in both subjects in the Leaving. Valerie aced it and went on to become a Maths teacher herself.

Class 5A, Dapto High School. I am front row at the right end, with Valerie to my right.

Class 5A, Dapto High School. I am front row at the right end, with Valerie to my right.

Students doing well in a subject were given the option of taking on extra classes to gain an Honours level at the Leaving Cert. I loved English and History, but wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped. Valerie took the Honours classes in both of those I think, but I decided not to. However, I was doing well in French– top of the class in the Fourth Year half-yearly, and I also enjoyed Biology in spite of the teacher, so I took on the after-school classes I needed to extend my knowledge to gain the higher level. I was the only student in the school to attempt Honours in those subjects.

As well as the exam for the ordinary subject, Honours students had to do a second, more advanced exam. The Leaving Certificate was the highest level one could go to in a New South Wales high school. The curriculum and exams were uniform across the state, so results could be compared. Thus, a school could look at its overall performance on the basis of its students’ L.C. results, and employers could take on the best they could get.

We’d finished our exams by early December, but then had to wait for the results, which didn’t come out until mid-January. They were published in local newspapers – ours The Illawarra Daily Mercury – so it was rather a tense time. Our Certificates were sent to us later. The local radio station also gave out the names of the students who had the highest results in the region. I was astonished when I was one of just a handful mentioned.

My Leaving Certificate

My Leaving Certificate

I received an A for English, B for History, Maths I and II, and Second Class Honours for Biology and French. The Maths results, I found later, had been very high B, almost A. My dedication to study and to doing my best had paid off.

The principal, Mr Stacey, wanted his school to get a 100% pass rate in the Leaving Certificate that year. It was such a big thing with him that he actually tried several times during the year to persuade those he saw as the poorer performing students to leave before sitting the exam. I didn’t find out all this until many years later, and I found it hard to credit that a school principal would jeopardise the future of his students in order to get the credit for himself.

When I look at it now, it is an even better result in that every student, including those he’d tried to get rid of, did indeed pass the Leaving Certificate that year – the first time in the history of the school. The school’s Parents and Citizens organisation even put on a dinner dance later to congratulate the students.

(c)  Linda Visman


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  1. That’s a pretty bright Leaving Certificate Linda. Did you maintain your language and Maths prowess?

    • Thanks Don.
      Not the Maths I’m afraid. Looking back, I don’t know why I went for that top level!
      You will find out about the French in a later post 😉

  2. I did my HSC in1968 but if the Leaving Certificate had been retained it would have been 1967 – 2 years after you. The introduction of the Wyndham Scheme and the first HSC in 1967 was a complete revolution and yet only 30+ students at my high school (Bowral) stayed to the end. I am very impressed with your results. Your aptitude in languages I envy greatly!

    • My younger sister would be the same age as you, Linda. She was also in the first class of theWyndham Scheme. However, she left when she turned fifteen, believing she was no good. It wasn’t until her kids were all grown and married that she started doing things with her church & found out that she is indeed very good at lots of things. School (Catholic High school in Dapto) spoiled her chances of achieving what she was capable of as a young person.
      I suppose Bowral High would have been rather smaller back in the 1960s that Dapto was. With the huge influx of migrants along the coast, there were plenty of kids to fill up the schools & to create the need to build new ones.
      Bowral – the whole Tablelands area didn’t get the increased population, and it was still a rural area I think, so not so many kids. We found that farming kids were less likely to stay on and finish high school because they were expected to ‘just’ work on the farm anyway.

  3. Great achievements Linda and beautifully recorded as part of your memoir.

  4. Good stuff, Linda! The Leaving Certificate sounds like a valuable prize, and an efficient way of assessing someone’s overall potential. You did pretty well, yeah? I recall how good and bad teaching could affect results: we had a Geography teacher who spent our entire lessons dictating notes (too quickly). She rarely explained anything, and communication was nil. It’s a pity, but I suppose inevitable, that the system should shelter so many bad eggs.

  5. The L.C. certainly was a great prize back then Frederick.
    There will always be those teachers who don’t make the grade, I think. 🙂

  6. An impressive Leaving Certificate, Linda 🙂

  7. Your posts are always fascinating glimpses of a different time and place. You show how so much of excellence comes down to sheer willpower. And, of course, quality teachers. It’s interesting to me how many students used to end their educations early (by today’s standards). Times certainly change.

  8. […] in January 1966, I received my hard-earned Leaving Certificate. My results were good enough to earn me the choice of any one of three scholarships to university. After […]

  9. Linda; I just came across this while poking around on Facebook. It’s quite amazingly close to my own experience. I did the same year, as you know. I went through much the same stuff, except that at our school the A level students were taught by the subject masters who were all WW2 veterans, and there was never any issue of discipline in the class nor of poor quality teaching. My father was the Ag and the biology teacher, so there was no let-up at home either.

    My Intermediate results were less than optimum and serious approaches to study began 01 Feb 1964 for 2 years. I was told in no uncertain terms that to go to University I would require a Commonwealth Scholarship which meant being in the top 2% of the State. I managed this with A’s (must ask Dirk about that ‘) in English, Maths 1, Maths 2, Physics, Chemistry and a Bo in French. I did not achieve the Honours I attempted in Chemistry. I think I did as well as I possibly could.

    Immediately the results came out I got offers of scholarships, including several I had not applied for (e.g. in banks), and by mid December 1965, two weeks after my 17th birthday, was at work in the Newcastle Steelworks. And there another story starts. It ended 50 years later when I retired at Easter 2016, and there another story starts.

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