David Parsons is one of the 44,000 students in NSW that took his place at university this month. David is the youngest of seven siblings, a competitive athlete and unlike the majority of students, is heading straight from completing Year 11 to first year Biomedical Science at Newcastle University.

David is part of the Big Picture learning design offered at Big Picture Academy, Hunter Sports High School. The program takes a rigorous and highly personalised approach to education combining academic work with real-world learning. It focuses on educating ‘one student at a time’ and places the student, their passions and their interests at the centre of the learning process.

2017 will see the first cohort of students using Big Picture Graduation Portfolio as a parallel pathway to university. The Big Picture Graduation Portfolio provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their learning and their readiness for tertiary study.

“I decided to study through Big Picture Education Design offered by my high school because I wasn’t getting noticed very much by teachers. I was getting bullied for the way I walked from my back injury and thought that it could be a refuge for me. I initially wanted to be a butcher but my back injury sparked an interest in neurology,” says David.

By Year 10 David knew it was medicine that he wanted to pursue, doing projects on biomechanics in sport and studying the human body systems and disease.

“My brother suffers from a rare kidney disease called Nephrotic Syndrome so when he relapsed I used it as an opportunity to undertake a portfolio project on the subject. I was able to do research by speaking to my brother as well as his doctors and nurses.”

David was placed with a mentor with whom he spent up to six hours a week over four months developing a practical understanding of his field of interest of surgery.

“By engaging in the Big Picture design, school graduates like David are more prepared for the rigours of university learning because they have experienced authentic learning in their areas of passion as an integral part of their education, they are more certain about their career pathways,” says Viv White Co-Founder and Managing Director of Big Picture Education.

“Our work maps back to National Curriculum Achievement Standards and the advisory teacher manages each student’s learning plan, ensuring that all Big Picture learning goals and the national curriculum are covered,” says Viv.

David is one of four students that are participating in Big Picture Graduation Portfolio entry to university in 2017, with students attending Newcastle and Curtin universities. The universities and Big Picture Education will support the students and their progress will be tracked through a National Advisory Group. There are 11 schools and seven universities formally signed up to the project with negotiations continuing with another eight universities.  You can find out more about participating organisations and the Graduation Portfolio here.

“When I was accepted into Bio Medicine at Newcastle University I was told some of the work in my portfolio equated to third year subject matter. I eventually want to transfer to medicine and in 12 years I can see myself as a neurosurgeon” says David.

David’s advice to others wanting to pursue the Big Picture Graduation Portfolio, “don’t underestimate the value of brain storming, do your research and don’t neglect your journals. Whether you want to be a brick layer or a neurosurgeon Big Picture requires commitment and hard work.”

Big Picture Graduation Portfolio was featured on Lateline in March 2017. Watch it here.

Pictured top: David (top left) with Big Picture Managing Director Viv White and other portfolio students Hamish and Sophie.