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Critics of school curriculum review too quick to perceive a threat instead of potential way forward

Date

Kenneth Wiltshire

The appointed reviewers have come under heavy criticism even before getting down to their task, writes Kenneth Wiltshire.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

All too often, a review of government policy is seen as a threat - perhaps nowhere more so than in the field of education, where entrenched interests seem to be rife.

The federal government has announced a review of the national school curriculum. And the criticism has been immediate, and misplaced - criticising the temerity to conduct a review at all, while at the same time challenging the bona fides of the reviewers. Already one large group of educationists has gone public with criticism of both the need for a review and the reviewers.

Since the federal government announced the planned review, the national curriculum authority itself, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, has seen it as timely, as has the Australian Council for Educational Research, the nation's leading international education research body.

So too have the business community, numerous community groups, teachers and academic researchers, and also education experts; not to mention the accumulation of criticism of the present curriculum that has been gathering over the past two years.

The personal attacks on the reviewers appear to be based on superficial research that has missed the combined expertise - domestic and international - of the reviewers, in curriculum policy, design, analysis, evaluation, benchmarking and implementation. For example, the review of the Queensland curriculum that I chaired for the Goss Labor government was in many ways identical to the recently announced project for the federal government.

There have been no instructions given to the reviewers for the way this latest exercise is to be conducted, just terms of reference that stress the need for an independent, balanced and robust curriculum.

These key words will guide the review process itself.

Critics of the planned review fail to realise that this is a review, not a rewrite of the curriculum. As a result, recommendations will go to the minister, who will then consult with key stakeholders, including particularly the states and territories.

It is crucial to understand that this review is not about education funding or the myriad other education matters that seem to dominate the media these days.

It may give some comfort to the critics to know that the methodology being developed will be comprehensive and objective. This will include a call for submissions from all citizens, consultations with all key stakeholders including state and territory curriculum authorities, independent and Catholic sectors, principals, teachers and parents. Results of key curriculum research will be garnered. Experts will be appointed for each subject area to evaluate those components of the curriculum.

International comparisons will figure largely in the work, especially with member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation who have achieved high levels of education outcomes for their students. A similar curriculum review carried out in Britain recently will be examined for key lessons.

Through mapping exercises, the review will focus on the extent to which state and territory jurisdictions have implemented the national curriculums and where they have not, why not.

An inventory of all the feedback to date on the curriculum, both positive and negative, will figure prominently. But the two matters that will be key starting points will be the very concept of a national curriculum and how it differs from an assortment of regional curriculums, and the foundations on which the national curriculum has been built, including the values, principles and criteria that have steered its design and content.

Many commentators have observed that these elements are not particularly transparent in the current documentation.

Considerable criticism has also been made of the complex language that has been used, making it extremely difficult for parents and families to understand what is expected of students and teachers.

In other words, this review will be a professional one that should be of benefit to students, teachers, principals and curriculum authorities themselves.

Too often, a review of government policy is seen as a threat rather than as a welcome source of independent feedback and encouragement. So, for example, the tone of a letter from a disgruntled group of educators that has achieved some publicity in recent days could be interpreted in one of two ways.

It could be that the review will receive more than 150 individual submissions from this group of critics relating to the review's terms of reference, which would be very welcome. Or it could be that we can assume that they are all satisfied with the existing national curriculum.

But the evidence to date would indicate that they would be very much in the minority on this score.

Dr Kenneth Wiltshire is J.D. Story Professor of Public Administration at the University of Queensland Business School and one of two people appointed by the federal government to conduct the review of the national curriculum.

39 comments

  • Is it not incomprehensible that we would be conducting a review of the Australian Curriculum before it is actually fully implemented across all states and territories?
    How can teachers in NSW offer feedback and comment when we will be starting to teach for the AC in two weeks time?
    Christopher Pyne has found the AC wanting before it has really started.
    Odd don't you think Ken?

    Commenter
    teacher
    Location
    Glebe
    Date and time
    January 16, 2014, 3:35PM
    • couldn't agree more...
      I'm tired of education being used a political tennis ball...

      Commenter
      teacher2
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 4:27PM
    • The adult thing for Pyne to do would be the appointment of independent reviewers. If you appoint blatant supporters of LNP, then you have to expect a backlash. I think I learnt that truism at school when the real Liberals were in power. Even remember receiving a personal letter from the Education Minister Malcolm Fraser.

      Commenter
      bg2
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 4:33PM
    • This Government's values are U.S. Tea Party values.

      How are we supposed to aspire to world class school education for our children when we
      don't even have a Federal Science Minister - essentially because the Government wants to keep the nation ignorant in regard to man-made climate change and its impacts?

      We want a Government with policies that are appropriate for all Australians.

      Commenter
      GR
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 8:26PM
  • After numerous ALP State Govts have failed to improve the performance of Australian students over the past two decades this review is timely and necessary. Gillard pretended to show an interest in school education but only at the expense of University funding. A classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Keep up the good work Minister Pyne, if the rabid left is complaining then you must be doing future generations of students good.

    Commenter
    enough is enough
    Date and time
    January 16, 2014, 3:45PM
    • Part 1 Suggestions for the Minister:

      For the leftie luvvies as always, it's all about the money. Spending more of it that is.

      The quality of the teacher however, is the single most important factor. Teachers once were at the pinnacle of society but now struggle socially, to keep ahead of used-car salesmen.

      Piccoli and every other state education minister simply must do something large about entry conditions if there is to be any lasting and concrete improvement.

      School-leaver candidates should be in the top 10th percentile for one thing. Not the 50th.

      They should be interviewed by an expert panel including luminary teachers to ascertain their aptitude, attitude and general suitability before getting anywhere near being accepted for a university education place.

      The disgraceful trend for older matrons who are seeking teacher positions for the good holidays as a lifestyle option for when they have kids is simply appalling. They're not interested in a career they just want something suitable to suit themselves. This must end forthwith. Mature agers entry to teacher education must be severely curtailed.

      Commenter
      PJ
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 4:26PM
    • The LNP have been in power for 13 of the last 20 years. Explain to me please why any failure in the performance of Australian schools is solely the fault of the ALP.

      Commenter
      Captain Great
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 4:35PM
    • This is a superb review. It could turn out to be the kind of expose made immortal in "The Emperor's New Clothes". On the other hand, because Christopher Pyne is not responsible for the actual education of any students, it has the potential to be very "Yes Minister"; the ideal hospitals: those without patients.

      The best of luck in ploughing through those syllabus documents, Mr Wiltshire - so much packaging and so little substance - a bit like a christmas present from a shabby suitor. Get Kevin Donnelly to do that - he writes that kind of stuff!

      Commenter
      Nellie Middleton
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 4:42PM
    • We had a national review into education. It took years, was conducted by actual education experts and consulted widely: it's called Gonski, which Pyne shredded without even reading. One look at the backgrounds of Dr Wiltshire and his fellow con-missioners exposes the current so-called audit as a hatchet job with predetermined conclusions, all neatly rounded off within a few months. Sheer, bloody-minded vandalism driven by blind ideology!

      Commenter
      Max Gross
      Location
      Sapphire Coast
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 4:56PM
    • In all honesty e-e,

      A review of policy area is nothing new nor should it be concerning though what is a worry is the people that Pyne and Abbott have stacked the deck with they are in effect to me a Trojan horse for "reform"

      I would have thought to have "street cred" then the panel should have been more wide spead and consutation must include as many as possible rather than two of Abbotts cronies put the to rubber stamp what Pyne and Abbott want

      Commenter
      Buffalo Bill
      Location
      Sydneys Northshore
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 5:21PM

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