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Good morning Matthew,
I share your thoughts. Many years ago when I was teaching at a high performing private school, I encountered a very similar problem, except for me, the antagonists were the parents. Some students choose their topics inappropriately, and as a result did poorly on the task. This resulted in some concerns from parents. The response was to go to just one topic, hence a basically level starting ground. The outcomes were the same, the good students rose above the pack, and the dis-organised students continued to struggle.
For me as a teacher it was boring, and it just introduced more issues with plagiarism, and copied work, it solved one problem but introduced others. My understanding is that the VCAA only audits Unit 3 and 4 work, so Unit 2 is entirely up to the school to decide.
I would strongly advocate for you to pursue students choosing their own topics, even if as a compromise (to start with) it is from a restricted field offered by you. I would provide the students with a general list of possible options, and negotiate the detail with each student. My experience is that the more autonomy the students have, the more committed they are to the task, and the better the outcome.
Having a ‘standard’ format for the presentation allows for consistency in this aspect of the report. I always encouraged my students to take lots of photos of their investigation, and to use these as the basis of the report. I always used to value the students problem solving abilities, and they needed to demonstrate this clearly.
I hope that this assists with your thinking. If you would like further clarification, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org