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New South Wales: HSC students at Mt Druitt High School disappointed with newspaper portrayal of them as failures. -

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VIRGINIA HAUSSEGGER: Fifty-five students woke up today to see their photographs on the front page of a Sydney tabloid newspaper, along with the words 'useless' and 'failure'.

Late last year they sat for the New South Wales Higher School Certificate, the matriculation exam, but when their marks came out yesterday not one had results good enough to get into tertiary education. That's triggered a political row over public education. Determined not to be crushed by their sudden negative fame, the 55 students involved are fighting back. Annie White reports.

EXTRACT

ANNOUNCER: At 2BL we're talking through the morning about the Telegraph's banner front page ....

UNIDENTIFIED: We aren't, as someone said earlier, a bad school. We're a school that has a lot to work with and we will do it.

ANNIE WHITE: At this time of year, the dux of a school usually has a smile a mile wide, but Shannon Lewis.

SHANNON LEWIS: And I'm absolutely disgusted that a) my mark would be printed on the paper and b) that my photo is there. And my parents are well-respected within the community ....

ANNIE WHITE: While Shannon was top of his year at Mt Druitt High, he's now battling to hang on to his self-esteem after his result made front-page news.

SHANNON LEWIS: The whole world knew about it. Oh, when I say the whole world, the whole of Australia anyway. Whoever read the front page of the paper saw that the only person that went to that school, the highest mark getter, only got 44, as if it was no big deal, like big deal, he only got 44.

ANNIE WHITE: Shannon passed individual subjects but, like the other 54 students in his class, he had tertiary entrance results under 50 - too low to attend university. The apparent calamity of all 55 year 12s failing their HSC sent commentators into a spin - the system, the teachers, the students, the parents and even the outer western Sydney district are to blame. But for the kids the disappointment they may have felt when their marks arrived yesterday has been blown out of all proportion.

SHANNON LEWIS: Well, for myself, I don't believe anything went wrong. My marks here in front of me indicate that I did quite well across the board. I did not get under 50 per cent, just say if it's out of 100, I didn't get under 50 for any of my subjects. My assessment marks were quite well, and in four of the subjects I was in the top 61 to 70 per cent of the State.

ANNIE WHITE: While the top achievers from other schools have been posing for happy snaps, these kids were not thrilled by the prospect of having their school photo, along with the tag 'failure', dropped on their doorstep.

LEESA BUHAGIAR: The picture in the paper, it's there. You know, you can't avoid it.

FIONA DYER: Everyone is going to know your face.

LEESA BUHAGIAR: Exactly. Mt Druitt High - oh, you've got a bad mark, sort of thing.

ANNIE WHITE: Complaints about the front page have been made to the Press Council which will investigate, while the State Education Minister, John Aquilina, also defended the kids.

JOHN AQUILINA: Well, they're fairly defenceless, aren't they? I mean, they didn't even know that they were going to be on the front page of a major newspaper.

ANNIE WHITE: The students and their families say too much emphasis is placed on the university entrance mark which is made up of subject exam results weighed against other students and other subjects.

VANESSA FAUVETTE: My marks in the HSC were good. For the classes I took they were very good, but the TER was really low.

ANNIE WHITE: How was your family's reaction when you told them your score and I guess this morning's paper?

DANIEL WEAVER: Well, I'm the only person that's sort of completed the HSC, so they were just happy that I completed it. But with the TER and the paper this morning they were sort of shocked about it.

ANNIE WHITE: But Mt Druitt is under-privileged. Unemployment is high, opportunities somewhat scarce. Mt Druitt High is on the disadvantaged schools program because of the socio-economic situation of the students and the low literacy levels shown up by testing.

SHANNON LEWIS: I don't think they're angry with the school because they had the world at their feet, type of thing. They decided if they wanted to work, or whatever, and really to knuckle down, and the school was able to assist when they could.

DENNIS FITZGERALD: We find some schools with a declining average TER result because they've encouraged more battlers to go on. Those schools ought to be praised rather than being used in this particular way. And that is but one example where you can get a declining average result because you've had more kids going on to do the HSC. That is a scholastic achievement.

GARY DAVIS: These kids, what they really need to understand is that this is the first day of the rest of their lives. They're not failures.

LEESA BUHAGIAR: So when you go for a job or anything, they're going to immediately associate you with failure. And, I mean, straightaway you've got a mark against you, I feel.

FIONA DYER:And everyone's going to know who you are, too. As you walk down the street, they'll be looking and say: Oh, she came from Mt Druitt High, or they came from Mt Druitt High and they didn't do well in the HSC. They failed.

LEESA BUHAGIAR: And, I mean, nobody failed. Everybody got a blue bit of paper saying that they've met requirements, they've done the HSC. So, I mean, there's no reason at all for anyone to say that they failed, or we failed, because none of us failed.

VIRGINIA HAUSSEGGER: Annie White reporting there.