HTAA September 2010 Update

National Curriculum Update

September 2010
According to a recent media report, signing off on the national history K-10 course, due to happen in October, has now been delayed until December (see ‘More time to work on new curriculum’ in the Sydney Morning Herald, 24 September 2010). ACARA Chairman Professor Barry McGaw was quoted as saying: ‘Our view is it’s taken us 20 years to get here: what’s a few more weeks?’ This is puzzling given that when HTAA anticipated concerns about the inadequacy of the timeline being imposed on the process earlier this year we were ignored (see below).

In the same media article a spokesman for the Victorian Department of Education was reported as saying that an appropriate process of consultation and revision was under way to deal with concerns held about history and science. Exactly what this means is not clear. At the moment we are simply looking at adding two months to a process that has already run two years. Are the concerns of a minor or major nature and are they capable of being addressed by the process that has brought us this far? Will the rearrangement, addition or deletion of content at this stage be enough to deliver the great courses we expect? Or, as was recommended in HTAA’s May submission, does there need to be a more fundamental evaluation of the process and its guidelines to avoid what can amount to the ad-hoc churning of content outlines? This would need more than two months.

Most teachers will not have seen the current draft, which has been extensively revised and is significantly different from the version that was published earlier this year. What can be said is that considerable effort has been made to address many of the concerns that were raised in response to the earlier draft. The result, evident during the most recent phase of consultation, is that primary teachers are generally happy with what has been proposed for Years K-6 and many teachers have responded with enthusiasm to what is proposed for Years 7-8, even if it seems ambitious in terms of coverage. The response to the most recent Years 9-10 draft has been less straightforward and many have expressed concern about its feasibility and potential to engage.

Beyond the knowledge outlines, where consultation has tended to focus, the skills, understandings and achievement standards have received only limited scrutiny. In a process that has tended to overestimate what can be achieved in the average classroom, there must be some concern about how appropriately these areas have been calibrated. Similarly, it is not clear how much expectation will be imposed on history by the general capabilities, which appear to be evolving, and the cross-curriculum perspectives.

Unfortunately, after two years we are no closer to having any certainty around implementation. While the current course assumes a teaching time of 70-80 hours per year in Years 9-10, for example, it now seems unlikely that any state or territory government will guarantee anything like this amount of teaching time.

The situation has now been made even more uncertain by recent media reports indicating that NSW will not accept the ‘inferior’ Australian curriculum courses for implementation in 2011. Given that the courses were not due for ‘in-school’ implementation until 2012 it is not at all clear what this means for the process as a whole.

While we are assuming that revision of the K-10 document is nearing completion, work has not yet started on revision of the senior course draft documents.

In the meantime, HTAA has written to the new federal minister and a number of his colleagues about some urgent concerns. Three points were raised:

  • First, the national curriculum development process is currently operating under considerable duress. We draw your attention to our last letter addressed to Ms Gillard on 13 May 2010 where we highlighted the ‘inadequate timeline that appears to have been imposed on the process’. We pointed to the need to ‘get it right’ rather than simply ‘get it out’. Despite Ms Gillard’s assurances to the contrary, we again express concern about the inadequacy of the timeline and the stress that this is imposing on the process. This raises quite serious concerns not only about the quality of the outcome but for the welfare of those involved in the work.
  • Second, having been very closely involved with the process since its beginning, we are now at the point where we are being asked to endorse the final K-10 document. This is made very difficult by the fact that despite our many requests for clarity around issues affecting implementation, there is still only uncertainty with regard to actual teaching hours, pre-service teacher training and professional development. There is also no clear understanding of the differing roles envisaged for ACARA and the various state and territory curriculum authorities. While a national curriculum is an exciting idea, our interest goes well beyond the drafting of a document – we are anxious to ensure that teachers will be able to deliver engaging and worthwhile courses in classrooms throughout the country. Any judgement about whether or not this will be achievable must be qualified by what can only be described as a neglect of planning for implementation.
  • Third, the process of revising senior year draft documents has yet to begin. HTAA is unhappy with how the first drafts of these courses were produced. There was an absence of an overall rationale, a very limited evaluation of current senior courses operating around the country and a degree of ad-hoc decision making. We would now like to see a pause and time for genuine evaluation of options before any further work is done with the senior courses. Regardless of any existing timeline, there is clearly a need for early broad-ranging discussion to establish a rationale and transparent guidelines for refinement. Advisers and writers need to be given a clear understanding of any constraints that will apply to the process.

At the moment we are awaiting a response from the federal government. It is assumed that ACARA’s recently announced short extension of the timeline until December was in response to concerns raised by a number of state and territory governments. 

Paul Kiem
President HTAA