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Simplify curriculum, say primary principals

The national curriculum is overcrowded, too advanced and risks undermining the teaching of basic literacy and numeracy skills, primary school principals say.

It is inappropriate for students to study specialist economic concepts such as ''opportunity cost'' and to learn mathematical algorithms as early as year 3, the Australian Primary Principals Association argues in its submission to the federal government's national curriculum review.

The call for the curriculum to be pared back puts public school principals at odds with history, maths and English teachers who say the curriculum should not change.

"The curriculum proposed for the primary years contains too much material, some of the material is presented much earlier in the sequence of schooling than is appropriate, and as a result the content is too complex for the target school audience," the association, which represents more than 7000 principals in all school sectors, says in its submission.

"The volume of material in science and history, especially in the upper primary years, will be impossible to teach in most schools. As a result of the implementation of the national curriculum, the time available for literacy and numeracy have been inevitably reduced."


The association argues this would particularly affect students in disadvantaged areas, or where English is predominantly a second language. It wants economics and business subjects scrapped altogether in primary school.

But the association rejects claims the curriculum is ideologically biased and defends the use of three "cross-curriculum priorities" - sustainability, engagement with Asia and indigenous Australia.

While also concerned about the amount of content, the Australian Secondary Principals Association argues in its submission: "Schools have largely come to terms with embedding current [curriculum] learning areas and may find outcomes arising from the review unsettling. The review is premature as the curriculum has not been fully implemented."

The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers recommends the curriculum not change, saying it is "the best that can be achieved in the current context".

The Australian Association for the Teaching of English says its "very strong preference is for no changes to be made at this time". Curriculums for English, maths, science and history are complete and being implemented across the country.

It criticised federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne for choosing Kevin Donnelly and Kenneth Wiltshire to review the curriculum. The appointment of two outspoken curriculum critics has cast doubt on the review's impartiality, the association said.

The History Teachers Association of Australia argued that the history curriculum is already balanced. Primary students learn about Anzac Day and Australia Day while secondary students study the concept of Western civilisation and both world wars.

Phillip Heath, chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, said the review was premature. "We're not looking for a correction - we are looking to be trusted to do a good job," he said.

Mr Pyne announced the review in January to ensure the curriculum is ''balanced in its content, free of partisan bias and deals with real-world issues''.

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