HTAA January 2011 Update

Australian Curriculum Endorsed
On 8 December 2010 Australian Ministers of Education endorsed the Australian Curriculum courses for English, maths, science and history in the primary and junior secondary years. The resolution agreed to by state and territory Ministers has been posted on HTAA’s website. The curriculum documents for the four subjects have been published on ACARA’s website.

Implications for 2011 and Beyond
Two things now seem clear. Firstly, we will be having an Australian curriculum. Secondly, the publication of the curriculum document will allow teachers and schools to begin broad planning for the implementation of courses. 

Far less clear is the timetable for implementation and the extent to which the published document will be refined or adapted. While the state and territory ministers endorsed publication of the curriculum documents, there was significant qualification concerning how ‘substantial implementation of the Australian curriculum by 2013’ would be achieved in ways that recognised ‘that different states and territories have their own preferred or prescribed curriculum development, approval and implementation requirements’. The ministers have ‘asked ACARA to finalise, for Ministers’ approval, the achievement standards and adjustments and refinements that may need to be made to the curriculum content, and to provide Ministers in February with a workplan that includes key actions and milestones to allow this work to be completed by October 2011’. Hence, it may not be until late 2011 that the details become clear. In the meantime, it is possible that states and territories will have different implementation timetables, ranging across 2011-2013.

Senior Course Development
It is expected that ACARA will now resume development of senior courses, with the earliest implementation date likely to be 2014. This would allow plenty of time for the development of senior courses capable of meeting the high expectations associated with this area.  As HTAA’s submission on previously published senior drafts noted: ‘The work of refining the current draft will need to be based on some careful discussion of concerns and the re-drafting will be challenging. Regardless of any timeline that has been imposed, HTAA feels that there needs to be time given to developing a clearer course rationale that addresses and explains the approaches that have been adopted.’

The full submission is available at:

 A Commercial-Bureaucratic Complex?
While the development and implementation processes will continue to face enormous challenges, it now seems certain that Australia will have a national curriculum within the next few years. What will be the consequences? Much of the focus has been on the benefits for those – teachers as well as students – who travel around the country. Less clearly stated, but surely the goal that justifies the effort, will be the opportunity that a national curriculum provides to lift standards. This is the outcome we are all supporting.

 What about unintended consequences?

In his Farewell Address in 1961 US President Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the development of a military-industrial complex being an inevitable outcome of America’s Cold War arms build-up. With the development of a national curriculum, whatever the prospects for standards, it is possible to suggest at least two incidental outcomes:

  • The commercialisation of education will accelerate. Commercial and quasi-commercial groups have an intense interest in the opportunities presented by a national market. Moreover, tendering practices favoured by government have the potential to exacerbate a significant inflation in the education sector.
  • Increasingly, educational leadership and decision-making will come under the influence of a relatively small but highly networked group of educational bureaucrats and academics. Responsive to top-down policy, they will be remote from classrooms.

To predict the emergence of an all-powerful ‘commercial-bureaucratic complex’ may seem just a little apocalyptic at this stage. Nevertheless, there are already worrying signs. Especially for those of us concerned with the survival of a collegial ethos and all that it contributes to the quality of education at the classroom level.

Paul Kiem
President, HTAA