HTAA July 2012


HTAA Feedback on Senior Ancient History and Modern History

General

Developing a national response to ACARA’s senior national curriculum draft is not easy. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • In all states and territories the senior courses are the focus of a great deal of passion and commitment. There is also considerable diversity in approaches to programming, teaching and assessing senior courses. ACARA’s processes have not adequately addressed the obvious challenge inherent in creating national courses that will inspire colleagues throughout the country to overcome their understandable commitment to existing courses and practices that, for the most part, are seen to be working well. It is very difficult to represent, at a national level, the range of responses that this situation gives rise to.
  • We are not sure what is being proposed in terms of implementation. Recent ACARA statements suggest that state and territory curriculum bodies will have a great deal more flexibility with the senior courses than they have been given with the primary and junior courses. However, without any detail here it is difficult to judge the extent to which local authorities will be able adjust the courses that ACARA eventually produces.
  • Assessment is an area of critical importance for senior courses in all jurisdictions. And yet we are being asked to judge curriculum drafts that have been written without a particular assessment approach and without knowing what plans states and territories have for assessment. Uncertainty around implementation and assessment means that we are being asked to evaluate the current drafts without a clear understanding of the full picture.
  • It is most unlikely that the current consultation will result in major change. The inexorable nature of the process and the rule of deadlines would suggest that we are actually at a validation stage, when only minor changes will be considered. This creates a dilemma for those who see major problems with the draft documents.
  • HTAA has often expressed disappointment about ACARA’s processes. Particularly in relation to senior course development, there has been a major concern about the lack of a clear rationale.  There has also been a lack of transparency and a seemingly ad hoc approach to topic selection. Especially disappointing was the abandonment last year, with no consultation, of a 6 unit approach to the senior courses. While ACARA was never able to realise or communicate the potential of this approach, its abandonment meant that the 4 units that were then developed would all have to satisfy every state and territory. The only way this challenge was going to be met was if the 4 units developed were capable of inspiring teachers throughout the country to think beyond what they are most familiar with.
  • Despite HTAA’s long-held misgivings about the process and the wide range of concerns being expressed by history teachers around the country, it does need to be noted that there have been improvements in both the Ancient and Modern History drafts over the past twelve months. There has been a very significant improvement in the quality of the drafting, the writing is much tighter and most topics have an internal consistency and logic. Colleagues who are involved as writers or advisers are to be congratulated on this. At the same time, there are teachers in all states and territories who are making the judgement that the courses, more so Ancient than Modern, have reached the stage where they are at least adequate. Indeed, the range of legitimate concerns does need to be balanced against a realistic possibility that the draft courses we are seeing are very close to the ones that colleagues will be seeking encouragement and support for when they take them into classrooms in a few years time.
  • HTAA recognises the limitations placed upon the writers and the role of expediency in the entire process.  Consideration must also be given to teachers who are required to deliver the curriculum and meet the demands of students, parents and the education system within their state or territory. Most definitely, each jurisdiction requires funding for the delivery of teacher professional learning as well as development of high quality resources.

Modern History

Positives

  • Many of the topic outlines are well written (but see below).
  • The Asia focus is welcome and a viable Asia pathway has been created.
  • Despite the apparent content overload at the moment, within the range of topics presented for Year 12 a number are attractive and relevant.
  • There are some teachers who are saying that it is ‘doable’.

Concerns

  • Units 1 and 2 together create a worrying start to senior Modern History. While some teachers will happily create a successful program from what is on offer, others will struggle. There is a particular concern regarding the ability of these topics to engage ‘non-academic’ students who, in some states and territories, have traditionally been attracted to Modern History in large numbers. Even if major changes cannot be contemplated at this stage, some minor changes may assist.
  • The lack of comparability between electives within units is particularly evident in Unit 2 and 3.  This is problematic within itself for teachers making decisions about which electives to teach, but also creates issues for states and territories with external exams.
  • There are a number of electives in Unit 3 that are attractive to both students and teacher, however, there is simply too much to do here. The topics are not comparable. The USSR and Germany, for example, are massive while Indonesia is slight. There is also the problem of World War II, a significant study, sitting within a number of the topics but with its intended treatment unclear. As this unit is likely to be subject to an external exam in some states and territories, this is a major concern.
  • While there are a number of attractive topics in Unit 4 they are not comparable.  There continue to be issues with the length of the time periods and/or the geographic scope of some of the electives. It is also clear that there is confusion about what approach is intended here. The topics seem to suggest broad surveys but the implications of this are not explored.
  • Even though they are generally well written, the topic outlines in Units 3 and 4 may create some problems for external examiners because of what they include, omit or imply.

Modern History – Recommendations

  1. In Unit 1, add World War I (and possibly the Civil War and British Imperialism) to the main list of topics and develop a content outline. Retain, perhaps with enhanced guidelines, the option for teachers to create their own second topic. This would significantly enhance choice.
  2. In Unit 2, reinstate Terrorism and/or create a topic around Apartheid. This would improve choice.
  3. In Unit 3, it is essential that the comparability problem be addressed. Dates, particularly for Germany and the USSR, need to be adjusted. Indonesia may need to be extended. There needs to be more direction regarding the intended depth of treatment.  This unit should require students to study at least one nation to accommodate the differing assessmentrequirements and pedagogical approaches within states and territories
  4. In Unit 4, there needs to be clear direction about the intended depth of treatment.
  5. In Unit 4, the Globalisation topic should be made a lot more attractive with the inclusion of more social and cultural history to balance the economic focus.
  6. In Unit 4, the Movement of People topic could be made more attractive and coherent.
  7. In both Units 3 and 4, it is essential that the topic outlines be audited to ensure that they pose no problems for external examiners.

Ancient History

HTAA acknowledges that each state and territory affiliate has specific concerns that are linked to their assessment and timetabling constraints of each.  There are, however, a number of concerns shared by the HTAA affiliates and that HTAA believes need to be addressed if the Senior Ancient History curriculum is to be teachable and assessable.

  • The amount of content in Unit 2 is considered to be unteachable.  The requirement to study two societies is deemed to be unnecessary given the rationale behind the unit.  The opportunity to study one society in depth would enable students more opportunity to develop the higher level skills identified in the Achievement Standards.
  • Unit 1 raises issues of comparability between the two ‘topics’ and within the electives for the two topics.  States differ significantly over the possible resolution to the tension between the two topics and request flexibility in delivery to allow states and territories the choice in how much time to spend on each component.
  • In Unit 4 the use of the term ‘Developments’ is considered flawed and misleading.  This should be replaced with the term ‘Source’ to reflect the nature of the evidence and make it comparable to the ‘Site’ electives.  States and territories are divided also over the comparability between the ‘Site’ and the ‘Source’, an issue that may be exacerbated by this unit being subject to external exams.

Ancient History – Recommendations

  1. In Unit 1, reinstate the option of studying the Trojan War and allow jurisdictions flexibility in the number of topics studied within this unit.
  2. Unit 2, students study at least one society to allow for the opportunity to develop the higher skills within the Achievement Standards.
  3. Unit 4, change the term ‘Development’ back to ‘Sources’.