IN 2009, the Hunter Valley Research Foundation responded to concerns about low high school retention rates in the Hunter by noting that regional prosperity depended, in part, on more people getting a better education.
At that time, it was estimated, fewer than half of Hunter secondary students were completing the HSC. Despite an outcry, and despite calls for a bigger effort on the part of the state government to lift the Hunter's secondary education performance, it does not appear that much has improved. The retention rates have risen, on paper, but this is likely to be mainly due to a legislated increase in the school leaving age.
Recent figures have shown that Hunter and Central Coast students are underperforming in all but one Higher School Certificate subject, compared with the rest of the state. Data for the 2010 HSC reveal the region's average performance in major courses was below the state mean in every subject except industrial technology.
In academic subjects including mathematics, modern history, advanced English and physics, Hunter students are achieving results up to up to four points below the state mean.
The same report also notes the proportion of Hunter students who scored at the top of major subjects was lower than the rest of the state, with the majority clustered in the middle performance bands.
A strong association has often been recognised between socio-economic status and educational attainment and it has not escaped the notice of social planners that the Hunter has a higher proportion of people on lower incomes than many other parts of NSW.
People with lower levels of educational attainment can find themselves locked out of the best jobs, potentially making it more likely that their children will face a similar problem in future.
Boosting educational performance across the region should have the opposite effect, opening doors to better jobs and greater prosperity and lifting the bar for future generations.
Educators protest that part of the problem is a low level of expectation on the part of sections of the community. While that observation is almost certainly true, it is, in itself, an argument in favour of better promotion of the value of learning.
A sound case remains for directing greater - and better quality - resources into Hunter and Central Coast schools.
The Glenrock trail
THE opening of a new mountain bike trail in the Glenrock State Conservation Area will be much appreciated by the growing community of recreational cyclists in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
The increasing popularity of mountain bikes had not, until now, been matched by an increase in appropriate places to ride them. One result has been damage to conservation areas caused by the creation of unofficial trails.
Glenrock's charms have long been known to bushwalkers and other outdoors enthusiasts. This welcome new development will reveal them to a whole new appreciative audience.