How North Sydney Boys pulled off the greatest heist in HSC history

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On a spring day 13 months ago, roughly 900 students from North Sydney Boys crammed into the school hall. The new school captain Jordan Ho was due to make his first speech.

Public addresses by well-meaning school captains are often dull and riddled with platitudes– but Jordan would not be having any of that.

“I guess I wanted to get the crowd kind of riled up, to have them cheering and stuff [so] at the end of my school captain’s speech, I said, ‘We will be number one’,” Jordan said.

The students might have been cheering loudly but quietly, some of them still had their doubts. That’s because for even the most intellectually gifted students, the notion of beating James Ruse Agricultural High School, the top-ranked school for 27 years running, is tricky to get your head around.

“I thought it was possible but not probable… but it was improbable because James Ruse have this reputation for coming first,” 17-year-old Wilson Thai said.

A couple of months after the assembly, the school’s principal of 22 years, Robyn Hughes, announced she was retiring. Just before the summer break, she had a meeting in her office with her replacement, Brian Ferguson. She told him about the job, the school and the students as part of an official handover. The pair spoke for two hours.

School captain Jordan Ho at North Sydney Boys on Thursday.Credit: Kate Geraghty

“One of the things she said was ‘This year group is special’,” Ferguson said.

Just how gifted the cohort was had actually been picked up by another teacher two years prior. A group of year 10 students had enrolled in an accelerated HSC course, information processes and technology. At a school like North Sydney, it is typically for two students to place in the top 10 in the state.

“The deputy principal came to us and said, ‘You are a special cohort.… you have three times the number of state ranks as normal. I can see you guys have incredible potential, don’t waste it.’,” Joshua Chan, 17, said.

Wilson Thai thought it was possible to beat James Ruse.Credit: Kate Geraghty

While it might be true the class of 2023 had something extra, the HSC data tells a different story. North Sydney Boys has been steadily increasing the proportion of band sixes (students who get over 90 per cent) in English every single year. Last year, it was ranked second in the state for the subject.

The school’s acting head of English, Loveday Sharpington-Recny, says teachers at the school have been working hard to promote English as a highly enjoyable subject. The school has been traditionally orientated towards challenging mathematics and science subjects.

“In English, we have for a couple of years now been fostering a strong love of literature and encouraging them to embrace it as a subject and see themselves as a student,” she said.

“That’s down to the teachers as well as the boys who came along for the ride with us.”

“Every teacher in English builds up our students towards year 12, fostering a love of English in year 7 is crucial. In the junior years we’re making sure they have been loving their classes.”

Head prefect Joshua Chan, 17, said he knew the students had it in them.Credit: Kate Geraghty

For the students, the final push of inspiration they needed came at North Sydney Leagues Club when the school held its graduation ceremony there in October this year. Head prefect Joshua Chan gave a speech thanking the teachers. It was clear the dream of claiming the crown from James Ruse was still alive.

“We said, ‘Thanks to all your support, we’re going to do it this time. After many, many attempts we are going to finally beat James Ruse and claim rank one’.”

Aaryan D Gandhi, 17, said:“It is unimaginable to actually get it done, there was a little bit of a fire amongst us. We really came together, at one stage, we realised if we put everything into this, we have a chance here.”

North Sydney Boys High School HSC student Aaryan D Gandhi Credit: Kate Geraghty

And in the school gymnasium about midday on Friday, they realised they had done it. Ferguson could barely finish his sentence before he was drowned out by applause and jumping students.

“The instant roar from the crowd was exhilarating,” 18-year-old Josh Gaynor said

“Our school captain told us in his first address that we were going to beat Ruse this year and just to see that promise followed through on, was a really rewarding for the effort we have all put in.”

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