The Top 10 High Schools in NSW (by 2021 HSC marks)

by admin | 28th January 2022 | , ,

2021 was another difficult year for HSC students.

Sitting the most important exams of their schooling life two years into a global pandemic was no easy feat. Students experienced disruptions to their learning, with remote classes for at least a quarter of the school year in Sydney and HSC exams pushed back by four weeks.

And yet, HSC students across the state rose to the challenge and delivered strong results.

Why is looking at the HSC results across schools important? HSC rankings are a great indicator for which high school is a good fit for your child, including considering your child’s interests, personal and academic goals.

To help you choose the right high school for your child, this blog summarises the top 10 high schools in NSW, gives you some insight on the difference between HSC marks and ATAR, and provides information on entry requirements for private high schools.


The difference between HSC marks and ATAR

HSC marks and ATAR scores often get confused and used interchangeably by parents. However, the two have different purposes:

  • HSC marks – assigned to each subject and indicate a student’s performance in that subject based on their exams and assessments.
  • ATAR score – assigned to each student to indicate their position or ranking compared to other students in NSW based on their achievement in all their HSC subjects. The ATAR is used for university admission.

The University Admissions Centre suggests thinking of it as running a race – HSC is the race finish time and the ATAR is your place in the race (first, second, third, etc).

The high school rankings outlined in this blog are based on HSC marks (not ATAR).


Top 10 Schools in NSW

The top 10 high schools in NSW, ranked by their HSC marks for 2021, were as follows:

2021 HSC ranking


Number of HSC students

Success rate*

School category


James Ruse Agricultural High



Government selective


North Sydney Boys High



Government selective


Baulkham Hills High



Government selective


Sydney Grammar





Sydney Girls High



Government selective


Reddam House





Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus



Government selective


Hornsby Girls High



Government selective


North Sydney Girls High



Government selective


Normanhurst Boys High



Government selective

Note: the above rankings were sourced from the Sydney Morning Herald, which uses Band 6 data from the NSW Education Standards Authority, reflecting HSC marks between 90 and 100.

*Percentage of exams sat that achieved a distinguished achievement (i.e. results in the highest band; Band 6 or Band E4).


Again, 8 of the 10 top high schools were selective schools, with Sydney Grammar and Reddam House the only independent schools to make it on the list. It’s also worth noting that this year, there are no government non-selective schools featured in the top 10.

The below graph shows the performance of the top ranked high schools relative to the marks achieved by all other high schools in NSW. Trends over time show consistent top performance by James Ruse and a significant comeback in 2021 by Moriah College (ranked 18th) and Ravenswood School for Girls (ranked 20th).

Source: Sydney Morning Herald via Department of Education


The top 150 list of high schools consists of:

  • 29 government selective schools
  • 16 comprehensive state school
  • 27 Catholic system schools
  • 78 independent (private) schools

James Ruse has ranked number one in the HSC for its 26th consecutive year since 1996 and usually has the highest cut-off marks in the selective school entry test.


Non-government school performance

Two non-government (also known as private) schools made it to the top 10 performing NSW high schools for 2021. This is an improvement from 2020, where Sydney Grammar was the only private school in the top 10.

Within the private high school category, there are independent and systemic schools. Both private schools in the top 10 HSC list – Sydney Grammar and Reddam House – are independent schools, which means they are independently owned and operated.

Sydney Grammar is a boys school that requires prospective students to take an entrance assessment and if successful, an interview, for entry. Annual tuition fees for years 7 to 12 are $40,218 (as at January 2022) and payable in three instalments.

Reddam House is a co-ed school that does not require students to sit an entrance exam. Applications are assessed based on academic ability, and non-academic interests and achievements. Annual tuition fees for years 7 to 12 vary from $31,451 to $36,004 (for 2021) and can be paid monthly, quarterly or annually.


Selective school performance

As usual, top performing schools in NSW are the selective high schools. These are the schools with the highest ATARs, giving their students a better chance of finishing their secondary education well and achieving a top ATAR for entry into their desired university course.

A selective high school is a great way to increase your child’s chances of excelling in their HSC to set them up for a bright future. If you’re considering this for your child, contact us on 1300 001 432 or enrol in our award-winning selective preparation program today!


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Many capable students miss out on selective due to a lack of preparation. Prepare your child for the NEW selective placement test with personalised, research-based coaching without overwhelming them with tons of homework.

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