Secondary Pathways: Big Picture leads with the Learner Profile

It was interesting to read Jordan Baker’s story in the Sydney Morning Herald about Professor Peter Shergold’s view about the future of the ATAR (June 5, 2020). As CEO of Big Picture Education Australia, I contributed to the Curriculum Review led by Professor Peter Shergold, and the language of ‘learner profiles’, ‘portfolios' and ‘lessons from within and outside school’ are central Big Picture design concepts.

Education stakeholders will be interested to know that Big Picture Education Australia already has a Learner Profile in development with the University of Melbourne’s Assessment Research Centre, headed by the eminent Professor Sandra Milligan (

This is a rigorous re-invention of the grammar of secondary school assessment and final year certification, based around capturing the aptitudes, achievements, skills and knowledge of a student in a way that values the whole person, while providing valuable insights to employers and universities (the end-users, if you like) about each candidate's likelihood of success at further study.

Our Learner Profile is also designed to include metacognitive qualities such as disposition to learn, organisational skills, realistic self-appraisal, and ability to nurture networks and support systems. It is to be rolled out with its first 2020 Big Picture graduates in December.

We are already fielding much interest from those keen to learn from our implementation of the Learner Profile and from our dynamic approach to forcing educational change. Big Picture is a serious contender in the education innovation stakes. We operate within public school systems in over 40 sites in Australia, 10 of these in NSW.

We are not a smoke and mirrors for-profit entity. We are a group of serious, professional educators who have been doing things differently for young people in this country for over 15 years. Since 2016 we have negotiated formal partnerships with 16 out of the 37 universities in Australia, (including Western Sydney University) to facilitate university entry for 30 Big Picture graduates using our rigorous Graduation Portfolio and now, in 2020 our Learner Profile that is underpinned by 6 micro-credentials in key areas of learning ranging from 'empirical reasoning' to 'knowing how to learn'.

Unlike Professor Shergold, I don’t believe that it is feasible to have a bet each way and keep the ATAR while introducing a Learner Profile on the side. The reductionist numerical score will always dominate because it is easy to ‘use', even if no-one really understands how a student arrived at that score or whether it is truly fair to students of all stripes and backgrounds.

Vivienne White AM, CEO Big Picture Education Australia