Pollock said a curriculum review around 2013 had identified a possible problem in the Stage 6 subject offerings for such a small secondary school.
“The only way to reduce classes is in the senior years because they are essentially electives, and that can lead you into a spiral where more students leave because they can’t access the subjects they want to do,” Pollock said.
Core science subjects such as physics and chemistry only had three or four students in each class some years, which was not sustainable.
“If you can’t keep these subjects running you risk losing your really good academic kids.”
In consultation with the Lismore Catholic Schools Office and via its own research, the executive team at St Mary’s decided adopting a compressed curriculum was the best way of “future proofing” the school.
The executive managed to find about 15 schools, mostly regional and some quite isolated, which had adopted this style, and consulted with them widely.
St Mary’s is now transitioning into the compressed curriculum this year.
Compressed curriculum means that Years 11 and 12 students work together in class. So in Term 4 Year 10 will begin their HSC learning with Year 11s.
Students study three subjects only in Year 11 and complete the preliminary and HSC courses for these three topics. The next three subjects are completed the following year.
As students are studying half as many subjects, twice as much teaching time is allocated to each subject – classes are one hour lessons but there is often two hours of classes in a day.
Pollock, the school’s Assistant Principal and the Leader of Pedagogy spent quite a while gathering information and models on compressed curriculum before the idea was floated with the school community.
“We didn’t want people imagining what it would be like and coming up with the worse case scenario,” Pollock said.
“ I had a good look at the structural side of things like timetabling and hours for subjects. Most schools we had spoken with were very positive about compressed curriculum.”