Rebuilding the wall: what the major NSW curriculum review will look at
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Rebuilding the wall: what the major NSW curriculum review will look at

The review of the NSW curriculum currently under way will involve a major re-evaluation of many fundamental parts of the schooling system, including whether students should continue to be grouped by age.

It will also look at how the radically different approaches to early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling and tertiary study can be brought together to create a "much more seamless, continuous process", Geoff Masters, who is leading the review, has revealed.

'What we currently have is just a product of history ... the brick wall's built of all different bricks,' said Geoff Masters, who is leading the NSW curriculum review.

'What we currently have is just a product of history ... the brick wall's built of all different bricks,' said Geoff Masters, who is leading the NSW curriculum review.Credit:James Davies

"We group students by age essentially and we develop a curriculum for age groups, and yet we know very well that within any age group ... the most advanced 10 per cent of students are about five to six years ahead of the least advanced 10 per cent of students," Professor Masters, who is chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, said.

"So we run with this fiction that students of the same age and in the same year of school are more or less equally ready for the same learning experiences and this has all sorts of consequences."

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The review, which is the first comprehensive shake-up of the kindergarten to year 12 curriculum since 1989, has been hailed as "a once-in-a-generation chance to examine, declutter, and improve the NSW curriculum" by Education Minister Rob Stokes.

It is also aimed at implementing the recommendations of the Gonski report on education, including an increased focus on skills such as collaboration, creativity and innovation.

The curriculum review will not just be "a matter of tweaking what we currently have" but a major redesign of the NSW education system, Professor Masters said.

"We need to be thinking about what the curriculum should look like for the future, we need to be ambitious and visionary," he said.

"[We're] trying to design a system for our grandchildren, maybe even our great-grandchildren, that's where I'm focused, in the 2040s."

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said the review was 'a once-in-a-generation chance to examine, declutter, and improve the NSW curriculum'.

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said the review was 'a once-in-a-generation chance to examine, declutter, and improve the NSW curriculum'.Credit:Brook Mitchell

Professor Masters said the division of schooling into early childhood education, primary school, high school and tertiary education has led to disparate teaching and policy strategies throughout a student's life.

"What we currently have is just a product of history ... the brick wall's built of all different bricks and we've adopted different approaches because we built it over time and added [things]," he said.

"By the 1920s in this state, we had 46,000 students completing primary school but only 4000 going on to secondary school, and it's interesting to think that [was] only 100 years ago.

"Of course, the big conversations then were about the primary and secondary interface, that transition ... currently, the big interface is the secondary-tertiary interface but 25 years from now, will that still be the case?

"We need to think about this question. For the future, how do we develop a more seamless and more continuous approach for student learning?"

Professor Masters said educators and business leaders also offered a "set of consistent messages" in their strong criticism of the existing HSC curriculum and the ATAR system as unfit to prepare students for life after school.

"[The review] will be looking at things like what is the role of the disciplines into the future?" Professor Masters said.

"Have we been, and are we currently focused on, broad coverage of large amounts of factual and procedural knowledge at the expense of developing deeper understanding of disciplinary concepts, principles, big ideas and ways of thinking and working?

"There does appear to be an understanding, a recognition of the need for change."

A progress report will be handed to Mr Stokes by the end of the year and the review is due in the second half of next year.