Joy Burch slams Christopher Pyne's curriculum review

Joy Burch slams Christopher Pyne's curriculum review

The ACT government has attacked a federal government review of the national school curriculum as an attempt to wield political influence in Australian classrooms.

The territory Labor government joined a chorus of criticism from the federal opposition and education union officials on Friday, following the appointment to the review of two staunch critics of the national curriculum.

ACT Education Minister Joy Burch.

ACT Education Minister Joy Burch.Credit:Jay Cronan

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the federal government did not want ''any political bickering'' on the issue after announcing Kevin Donnelly, a former teacher and Coalition adviser, and Ken Wiltshire, a University of Queensland academic, would head the review.

Dr Donnelly, a former chief of staff to Liberal frontbencher Kevin Andrews, has criticised the ''cultural-left nature'' of the education establishment, while Professor Wiltshire has called the curriculum a ''failure''.


ACT Education Minister Joy Burch said if the review was done ''without the independence and rigour that is required then you could see political bias [becoming] an influence in the Australian curriculum''.

''They are both on record of having limited regard for the Australian curriculum,'' Ms Burch said.

''One has a background that also includes being a chief of staff for a Liberal federal politician.

''It is hard not to question their capacity for absolute independence.'' Ms Burch described the federal government's 2015 deadline to implement any changes from the review as ''very ambitious'' and said there was no guarantee it would be agreed to by the states and territories. ''If there is any change - where are the teaching resources, what are the standards?''

Ms Burch said state and territory education ministers had signed up to a national curriculum that promised consistency for all children regardless of where they went to school.

She said the federal government was not allowing time to see if that translated into improved international results for Australian students and described Mr Pyne's description of ''partisan bias'' in the Australian curriculum as unjustified.

''Every state education agency and every state minister has signed it off,'' she said.

''We would not be signing off anything but the best that we could offer our students.

''It's been developed by an independent board of experts, the best that this country can pull together.''

Mr Pyne dismissed questions about the impartiality of Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly, saying:

''I'm very confident that Ken and Kevin will bring a balanced approach.''

Mr Pyne said Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire would look at how the curriculum was developed as well as its content.

''I have asked them to gather the views of parents, state and territory governments and educators to inform their analysis,'' he said.

He said the government wanted a curriculum ''balanced in its content, free from partisan bias and deals with real world issues''.

The curriculum review was part of the Coalition's 2013 election platform and Mr Pyne has previously criticised what he describes as too little emphasis on ''the non-Labor side of our history''.

The education union said the minister was not considering teachers' roles in fostering critical thinking, and the review was ''not going to fix anything'' as it distracted from the real issue of school funding.

''If there's any attempt to dramatically alter the various phases of implementation [of the national curriculum] that have been occurring and continue to occur, that's going to be seen by teachers as a completely unnecessary distraction,'' said Glenn Fowler, the Australian Education Union's ACT branch secretary.

''Teachers just want to be left alone to do their job and they want to be resourced in a way that can allow that to happen properly.

''[The curriculum review] is not a good use of anyone's time; if they want to catch children falling through the gaps - and there has been mention about slipping international results - then it's not curriculum reform that's going to catch those kids, it's funding reform.''

Labor's federal education spokeswoman, Kate Ellis, said Mr Pyne's education review threatened to take the national curriculum backwards.

''The curriculum should not be treated as a political football - politicians should not be determining the details of what is taught in the classroom,'' Ms Ellis said.

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