Hunter Sports High has been at the forefront of the introduction of Big Picture Education in not only the Hunter but Australia wide.
Big Picture Education is an alternate educational learning model that focuses on individual student interest.
Students enrolled in Big Picture spend a day or more per week on internship and complete a project to further their learning experiences in the community.
“It’s beginning with the student and using their passion and interest as a starting point,” Big Picture Education Australia co-founder Viv White said. “They will go out once a week and do whatever the individual is interested in with an expert, because teachers aren’t experts in whatever it is they love.
“The kids will be in an advisory class with  others with two advisory teachers all day, every day. Their work will be mapped and moderated.”
Successful Big Picture Education students are able to attend universities without obtaining an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR), or they can transition into internships or work more smoothly.
The program has generated powerful data for schools encountering student disengagement most notably increases in student attendance, decreases in suspensions and improved learning results.
Students in the Big Picture Academy at HSHS have completed a range of internships in physiotherapy, carpentry, bricklaying, mechanics, jewellery making, bike servicing, hairdressing, beauty therapy, photography, technology game design (at university) and as veterinary assistants and teaching assistants at primary level.
“Big Picture learning is defined by its commitment to educate ‘one student at a time’ in a community of learners,” Principal Rachel Byrne said.
“We offer Big Picture Education in Years 8-12 with approximately 80 students enrolled into Big Picture.”
Hamish Thomson was in the first cohort of Big Picture Education at Hunter Sports High School, along with David Parsons and Sophie Nenadovic.
All were elite athletes who found Big Picture enabled them to work their studies around their passion and their academic development as well as their sporting prowess.
“My first passion was AFL, I’m in the Swans Academy and play for Newcastle City,” Hamish explained.
“Then that transitioned into a passion for business and law, and that's what I’m studying at Newcastle Uni. I got the opportunity to finish in Year 11 with a portfolio and get into uni a year early.
“I’m the youngest in my classes and it’s great, I’m loving it. Big Picture allows students to focus on what they are interested in, keeps them in school, and it’s been a huge bonus for me.”
It was a similar story for Sophie, who is now studying physiotherapy and David, who got into bio-medicine.
“Hunter Sports High has been very progressive in their thinking about education philosophy,” Hamish said.
“My parents wanted to move me out of the school in Year 9 but Big Picture kept me there and it’s been really positive.
“The new facilities look great, the new building fits the philosophy of Big Picture Education, it’s new progressive and accommodating for all, and I think the students can only benefit from that.”
Ms White applauds Hunter Sports High’s commitment to Big Picture Education,
“It was originally set up to serve local children, not elite students, but it turned out they wanted to be in it too, and that has been one of the best outcomes,” Ms White said.
“Big Picture is generating very powerful data and Hamish, Sophie and David have been leaders in Australia for Big Picture Education.
They are three articulate, determined people who wanted to go to uni without doing the HSC and they got there.”
The Big Picture graduation portfolio is now accepted at 14 universities in Australia.
“If not for Hunter Sports High, we wouldn't be where we are now,” Ms White said.
“The commitment and enthusiasm of people like Rachel and Louise Gallagher has led the way in facilitating a movement in education away from the teacher-based model to more learner-centred.”