The final years of school are too often a ''game to secure the highest scores'', which narrows the curriculum and can discourage students from studying the subjects they love, a submission to the national curriculum review says.
The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, which represents 421 principals, says the review is a perfect opportunity to consider overhauling the way entry to university is determined. It says there is a need for "an internationally recognised national credential for university entry'', potentially no longer tied to the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).
Association chairman Phillip Heath, principal of Barker College in Hornsby, said the review should consider reforms to broaden the measure for assessing university entry.
US and British universities were ''enlightened enough'' to include portfolios, interviews and students' contributions to their community as evidence of all-around achievement, he said.
''The ATAR becomes a simple measure that seeks to place students on a common scale in a four-digit score, and then that seems to be the sum total of the quality of their schooling and their schooling experience,'' he said. ''It narrows the curriculum and places excessive pressure on students.''
Mr Heath said students often chose some courses, and excluded others, in the hope of scoring a high admission mark.
''I would be very concerned if students were turning their back on orchestras, or drama, or sport, or dance, simply because it doesn't contribute to their university admission,'' he said.
The association's submission urges governments to avoid using the curriculum as a catch-all answer to social problems, warning that it is already overcrowded and teachers were finding it increasingly difficult to teach the fundamentals.
"Governments, when faced with issues such as youth suicide, increased road deaths, increased drug deaths, increased sexual activity amongst the young, or bullying and anxiety, appear to overwhelmingly turn to schools, and school curriculums, as part of the answer," the submission says.
"The downside outcome, not often addressed, is curriculum overcrowding. More keeps getting put into the curriculum with nothing taken out."
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has said the review was to ensure the curriculum was ''balanced in its content, free of partisan bias and deals with real-world issues''.