In early September practitioner representatives from around the country were invited to offer feedback on a first draft of the national curriculum history document, K-10. This feedback will be used to fine tune the document prior to its release for public consultation at the start of 2010. According to ACARA’s timeline, the new courses are due for national implementation in 2011. Further details are available on ACARA’s website: www.acara.edu.au (ACARA – the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority – is the new title for the national curriculum body formerly known as NCB – the National Curriculum Board.)
It is not possible to comment on the draft material until it is released for public consultation. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that nothing has been said over the past three months to address concerns about implementation. While ACARA’s position has been that implementation is ‘beyond its remit’, we have now well and truly reached a point where teachers are seeking answers to a range of questions concerning how the new courses will be implemented in the various states and territories. Even when it is possible to find someone willing to deal with these questions, the responses are stalled at the stage of vague reassurance and platitudes about the important role of classroom teachers.
A particular concern is the fact that there has been no commitment to the allocation of teaching time for the new courses. This is already a significant issue for anyone attempting to evaluate the draft material. In summary, what they will be attempting to judge is whether what is proposed is too ambitious or not ambitious enough. No matter what insight or perspective is brought to the task, it is hard to see how such judgments can be made when there is no common understanding of the time that can be reasonably expected to be given to the courses.
At the end of August ACARA released a draft Position Paper on National Curriculum in the Senior Years. This paper has been posted on ACARA’s website (www.acara.edu.au) and feedback has been invited until the end of September.
HTAA feels that the Senior Years Position Paper proposes a number of sound guidelines for the development of senior courses. These include (numbers refer to clauses in the document):
- States and territories will continue to offer senior courses that complement national courses (22 & 25).
- Senior courses will be developed as four sequential semester units (30). Presumably, this will allow schools or local authorities to specify the study of the courses as semester, one year or two year courses.
- Each semester unit will be developed to be taught in 50-60 hours (31). This is realistic and, assuming that it has been agreed to by states and territories, provides a degree of certainty about teaching time that is lacking in the junior years.
On balance, however, there are many significant concerns:
- This paper was developed in consultation with state and territory curriculum bodies but has no practitioner input (4). This is very disappointing. Not only does it tend to undermine commitments to consultation and transparency and ignore the passionate interest teachers have in senior courses, it clearly affects the quality of what has been produced.
- In outlining a range of factors that will need to be taken into account in the development of senior courses, no mention is made of teacher training, professional development etc (6).
- There is acknowledgement of the range of students that will undertake senior year courses (9-13 & 14c.) However, there is no clear commitment that history will be given the opportunity to cater for the full range of students and there is considerable qualification about the ‘capacity of providers to deliver a range of courses’ (14c & f). It seems that while English and Maths will be able to offer differentiated courses, History will only be able to offer two specialised courses – Ancient and Modern History (23, 24). The assumption that either History course is able to cater for ‘students with a wide range of achievement in previous years of schooling, interests and future intention for study and work’ even though Maths and English need four differentiated courses to do this, is obviously open to challenge. While HTAA is not proposing a proliferation of differentiated senior history courses, we would like to see wider discussion and some imagination addressed to the task of ensuring that senior courses are accessible to the full range of students.
- The attitude towards elective topics is not clear. While ‘a range of optional contexts’ is proposed, it is also suggested that ‘electives are to be kept to a minimum’ (24, 37). While HTAA expects that senior courses would specify ‘core content’, we would also expect there to be substantial opportunity to offer options. This is not only consistent with the way History is best taught by passionate experts but it would offer a way of building on the best of what is currently offered in the different states and territories.
- There are very brief proposals for Ancient and Modern History (24). In the absence of any elaboration in the previous Shaping and Framing Papers, this offers very little guidance to teachers attempting to understand what is being considered. Terms such as ‘themes or topics’, ‘contexts for learning’ and ‘optional contexts’ are imprecise and require discussion.
- Most disappointingly, the discussion of implementation matters completely overlooks the role of teacher professional associations in supporting implementation. This oversight might be addressed by inserting a statement such as the following as a necessary complement to clauses 53 and 54:
- When new courses are introduced, professional associations generally play a major role in providing information, producing resources and organising professional development to support teachers with implementation. Important features of such support include the classroom expertise involved, cost-effectiveness, timeliness and responsiveness to classroom practitioner concerns. It will be critical to the success of implementation for all curriculum authorities and funding bodies to recognise the significant role played by professional associations.
- Other statements about implementation and governance, for example clauses 56, 58 and 60, provide very little in terms of concrete detail. While it is encouraging to learn that states and territories will develop an implementation plan, it must be suggested that this process should be more advanced. There is certainly a growing concern amongst teachers and those responsible for planning at a school level about how little information is being passed on by state and territory authorities. This does little to address uncertainty about the extent of commitment to national curriculum and its implementation around the country. Nor does reference to the requirement for a ‘governance partnership’ adequately deal with anxiety about the potential for national curriculum to become politicised or fall victim to buck-passing between various agencies.