Karen Lomas
August 5, 2020

Victorian Year 12 students will receive an ATAR

Victorian students in year 12 will receive an ATAR, according to an announcement from Education Minister James Merlino.

The Coronavirus effect

Year 12 students across Australia have suffered the disadvantages that come from being “home-schooled” during the Covid-19 lockdowns. For sure, some schools are better equipped than others to support their students remotely. In particular, I am told that some of the independent schools have been able to adjust their systems, and are sufficiently well resourced with support staff, such that most students appear to be thriving. However, students at some schools, in particular in rural and remote areas, suffer issues with internet access, among other things. This is causing stress and anxiety for year 12s and their families.

Merlino added in his press statement that:

“(f)or VCE students my message is clear. You will sit your exams and you will receive an ATAR by the end of the year.https://www.parentsvictoria.asn.au/48-news/latest-news/798-update-2-august-remote-learning-for-senior-students I know it is challenging but we will support you every step of the way.”

I do not know whether this announcement is comforting, or otherwise. Many parents of year 12s that I have spoken to are worried about their child’s ability to perform to the best of their ability. One young adult I am helping has lost a family member to Covid-19 and this is sure to be detrimental to the study momentum of the year 12 student. Another has found it really worrying, as there have been no events, such as course Expos. This student has said she has, “no idea about courses and how to apply.”

“You will sit your exams and you will gain your ATAR”

It must be said that the Education Minister’s statement appears to address ALL year 12s. This is not accurate. Only VCE(VET) exam candidates gain an ATAR. There are a number of students who do not sit exams, and will not gain an ATAR, for a range of reasons. One simple example is of a VCAL student, as this learning path does not result in an ATAR.

Any parent whose year 12 student is their eldest child and so has not experienced year 12 before, or a migrant parent who knows very little about the education system in Australia, might therefore be baffled by his words.

Meanwhile, some groups are campaigning with extra vigour, this year, against the ATAR. The ATAR is the ranking system that grades each year 12 student against the entire cohort of year 12s. It is quite a unique system, but many argue it’s a fair system.

An international approach for year 12s

In the UK, final marks are given for each subject, EG: A, B, C, etc, for each A’ Level (year 11 and 12) subject. In addition, for applications to bachelor degree qualifications, typically a Personal Statement is required. But that’s all. There is no ranking system for degree course applications, as exists in Australia.

What has happened in Scotland, in 2020, is that final year students have simply been awarded their grades based on their teachers’ assessment of their likely outcomes. This has attracted much media attention, not least because the education authority has since made adjustments, mostly downwards. I’m sure that some parents in Australia anticipated that final exams for year 12s might also be cancelled in 2020, but that is evidently not the case.

The Australian System & what’s happening for year 12 students in 2020

By comparison with the UK approach, in Australia, VCE subject marks are called Study Scores. These are out of 50. So for a student applying for a degree, they not only need the required ATAR for that course, but they will also need to achieve a Study Score of at least 25 in English, and possibly other prerequisite subject Study Scores too.

Whereas ordinarily Year 12s sit their final exams in early November, and receive their results prior to Christmas, Australian year 12s in 2020 will sit their exams in December. They will then receive their results at the end of the year, 30th December to be precise. Please refer to VTAC for the Victorian key dates.

Importantly, if a student is not in fact applying for degree qualifications, the ATAR is not relevant. This is essential knowledge. For students applying for other higher education courses, such as delivered at a TAFE (vocational training college), the requirements are different.

Certificate and Diploma Courses

For entry into skills-based training at a further/higher education institutions, a year 12 student might bring VCE, VCE(VET/Certificate) subjects, or Vcal(VET/Certificate) qualifications. Please refer to VCAA to find out more. I have written about VCE, study, VCAL and VET vocational training in previous blogs, so will not go into it here. Suffice to say that, vocational training can be delivered either in school (VETis), or on half-day release from school. A student can then choose to continue to study at a TAFE, either full-time, or as part of an apprenticeship/trainee-ship.

The next level of skills training Certificate is called the Certificate IV, after which a student can move directly into a Diploma course. This is where the study score in English will come into the equation. If, however, the student did not study a VCE English subject, another way in which they might gain entry into a higher education qualification is by sitting a Literacy and Numeracy test.

From Certificate IV training therefore, you can “Pathway” into a:

  • Diploma
  • Advanced Diploma
  • Associate Degree
  • Bachelor Degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Graduate Diploma
  • Masters Degree, and beyond.

Credits and Recognition of Prior Learning

By means of these Pathway courses the prior study enables students to enter the next level of study. This is usually assessed on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, depending upon the number of units of study completed in a course, and the grades obtained, the institution may offer the student credits for prior study. Please refer to this weblink to find out more about the way in which a student might receive Credits, or Recognition of Prior Learning.

The example provided below looks at the training in Engineering. It must be stated here that it is not always possible to transition all the way from Certificate level to degree level courses at one institution. Some TAFEs distinctly focus upon practical training courses, whilst a great many universities do not offer Certificate courses. That said, a relatively new model of training and education provision does exist in the form of institutions, some called Polytechnics, that offer every level of further and higher education. The example, for engineering, below draws from two separate institutions.

Pathway of training and study in Engineering:


  • Certificate II in Engineering Studies – Engineering & Welding Trades
  • Certificate III in Engineering – Fabrication Trade
  • Diploma of Engineering – Advanced ATAR NOT APPLICABLE
  • Advanced Diploma of Engineering Technology (Civil Engineering Design) ATAR NOT APPLICABLE
  • Associate Degree in Engineering Technology
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)


My advice to year 12s

To sumarise, I wish to assure you that your year 12 child will get through this chaotic year so long as they are supported well and maintain a sense of perspactive. As I have said several times before, in contradiction to the mass media, year 12 is not the most important year in the life of a 17/18 year old. It is nonsense to claim that without a huge ATAR their paths are blocked. So what I advocate are the following:

  • Create a Schedule – in a diary/calendar/whatever works.
  • Find somewhere quiet to study. Ask the family for a certain number of hours per day priority use of a computer/the wifi.
  • Eat well, sleep for 9 hours, drink plenty of water, take breaks, get some exercise daily. Try meditation.
  • Make yourself proud, so that you can look back and say; “I couldn’t have tried any harder!”
  • Ask for help – do not be afraid to speak up, after all, VCE teachers are there for YOU.
  • IF you are applying to study next year, create your account in VTAC (or any other/your State’s admissions centre, eg UAC) NOW. Pay the fee and use your own email address to register.
  • Make sure you have a Diploma course in your preferences.
  • Consider options in discussion with your family. With approval, you may decide that 2021 is an ideal year to take a break. You could apply for Mid-Year entry to courses, or do an entire Gap Year.
  • Fianlly, contact Karen at Karen Your Career Coach, for any help you need, whether you are applying for jobs or courses.

I wish you all the very best. Parents, believe me I’ve been in your shoes. No, Covid-19 didn’t happen when either of my daughters were in year 12, but they did face enormous challenges, including bereavements. We all came out the other end intact. With love and care, you all will too.


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