The Covid year of 2020 caught everyone off guard, but two local high schools said they could attribute their Year 12 Class of 2020's top HSC achievements with resilience and determination - not only on the part of the students, but also from the teachers.
Bede Polding College achieved extraordinarily high marks from its Year 12 students, with 75 per cent of all Bands achieved by students being in the top three bands (with Band 6 indicating a mark between 90 and 100).
There was a 71 per cent increase in the school's achievements in Band 6 compared with 2019, and a 177 per cent increase in Band 6 since 2018 - showing an upward trend had begun before the pandemic started.
Bede Polding principal Mark Compton said the top results were due to a wellbeing and learning agenda that was implemented two years ago, allowing the school to become more resilient.
"We're moving in the right direction at Bede. The teachers give so much of themselves for our students and I think it paid dividends in 2020," he told the Gazette.
Mr Compton said the wellbeing program provided a framework for last year's Year 12 students to really excel despite tough challenges.
"The GEM program is about Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness," he said.
Teamed with "a strategic approach" to learning based on the school's learning connections framework - based on curiosity, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking - the school was already prepared to "put young people in the driver's seat of learning" when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he said.
"[The program] really aimed to canvas the young people's character strengths such as grit, perseverance and strength, then during Covid and a pandemic we had a framework to talk about their wellbeing too," Mr Compton said.
"Within our wellbeing and learning agenda, the learning growth was off the charts. I couldn't be prouder with the class of 2020 of the staff who worked tirelessly so the class could achieve their goals."
Richmond High School principal Cliff Ralph said despite the disruption caused by Covid the class of 2020 performed similarly to past year cohorts, with a marked rise in Industrial Technology and Construction, both above the state mean.
"This is a reflection of the students and their teacher's efforts to maintain the continuity of learning during learning from home and ensuring that every student received ongoing support to enable them to achieve at their potential," Mr Ralph said.
He said the school is prepared for future disruptions to their learning - a lesson learnt from the pandemic - and they aim to have students equipped to move to alternate modes of learning at short notice.
"Richmond High School has a BYOD program that utilises Google Classrooms and Office 365 to provide access to learning materials at any time. This provides students with the opportunity to engage in learning at any time. While independent learning is a vital skill collaboration in learning is also essential in preparing students for future learning and ultimately the workplace," he said.