National consistency in curriculum outcomes
Over the last ten years or so, State and Territory curriculum structures, the place of learning areas, and the nature of learning outcomes have become defined in increasingly dissimilar ways.
In July 2003 the Australian Ministers for Education, through the Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), approved a project to address concerns about the lack of consistency in curriculum across the Australian States and Territories. At the same time Ministers also approved a project that would examine options for an agreed school starting age.
The Ministers agreed that the first phase of the curriculum consistency project would be the development of Statements of Learning in English that describe knowledge, skills, understanding and capacities that we want all young Australians to have the opportunity to learn and develop, as they progress through school. Phase 2 of the project will extend the work to Science, Mathematics and Civics and Citizenship.
The Statements are to be available for use by State and Territory curriculum authorities to inform their own curriculum development. As the Statements will not represent a set of outcomes and are not intended to cover the entire domain, curriculum authorities will be able to integrate them into their own unique frameworks and approaches to the domain. They will also be able to define other areas of the domain they consider to be important. The Statements will thus achieve greater consistency whilst keeping flexibility at the State/Territory level.
The draft Statement of Learning for English, developed between September 2003 and February 2004, builds upon what is common amongst State and Territory curriculums as well as what is seen to be essential for all Australian students to learn in English. The Statement provides these descriptions for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The draft Statement is yet to be considered by Ministers.
A range of reasons were presented to Ministers in support of a move towards greater national consistency in curriculum. It was argued that such work would:
a) give students and their familes a sense of confidence that the student could change schools without encountering an incompatible curriculum that disrupted study
b) provide a description of a small body of knowledge, skills and capacities which we agree is essential for students growing up in a national and global society and economy
c) enable the development of programs that, at least in part, would be appropriate to all Australian students
d) aid teachers moving between systems
e) stimulate the development of high-quality resources to support the implementation of national consistency, resources that would have greater applicability across Australia.
The Statements of Learning have not been designed for assessment purposes - they are Statements of what students should have the opportunities to learn, not performance standards.
Acceptance of some or all of the reasons described above will vary across jurisdictions. For example, given recent data on population movement, Queensland may have a stronger view about student mobility than say, Victoria or New South Wales. The Northern Territory may be keener to share resources than other larger jurisdictions.
Whatever reasons might be given for a project on national consistency in curriculum, it should be acknowledged that there is probably greater consistency in what students are actually learning than is apparent in curriculum documentation. This became apparent during development of the draft English Statement. For example, there is general agreement that students should be, and are being, taught to write imaginative texts as they progress through schooling. This is not to deny the differences that exist on what else should be taught as well as how and why it should be taught. But such specification or direction does not exist in all curriculum documents around the nation and in some cases one needs to go to the classroom level to identify what is being taught.
However, the extent of consistency that appears to exist for English may not exist for other areas with differences across primary and secondary schooling. For example, the amount and content of science taught in primary schools probably varies more than in secondary schools. Curriculum specification practices of States and Territories vary. Some areas and curriculum approaches focus on content more than others. For example, there may be greater consistency in mathematics than for areas such as studies of society, where some jurisdictions specify knowledge and skills to be learnt while others focus on broader concepts and skills.
So what might greater national consistency in curriculum outcomes deliver?
For students and families that are more likely than others to move interstate, consistency in curriculum would mean less disruption in their schooling, and fewer concerns about what might be repeated or more importantly what they might miss out on as they move schools. The Statements could provide a reference point that students and parents might use as they move from one school to another, within or across States and Territories. The question is how much consistency is sufficient to minimise or do away with the real or perceived disruption that occurs as students move between schools.
Such a reference point would also aid the mobility of teachers.
For those who are involved in the development of resources for students and teachers, greater consistency would enable more ready exchange of resources within and across States and Territories. A curriculum Statement that represents knowledge, skills, understanding and capacities that we agree all students should be learning will aid the efficient development of curriculum and professional development resources that could either be used across the country or adapted to meet local needs. They would also provide a reference point for individual jurisdictions to ascertain what resources might be available elsewhere, and to decide whether new resources or approaches should be developed or whether resources developed elsewhere could be purchased or exchanged. It would not do away with innovation and variation in approaches to curriculum support and professional development.
A common reference point would also aid national collaborative projects, where the combined resources of the Australian States and Territories, along with the Australian Government can be brought to bear to meet a specific need or solve a particular problem. Endorsed Statements of Learning would assist States and Territories to be more confident about what national collaborative initiatives were going to deliver, and would do away with the need to undertake the curriculum mapping that seems to be the starting point of so many collaborative projects.
Teachers, parents and jurisdictions will see different benefits that could accrue from the development of Statements of Learning.
The above are all important issues but what's central to the discussion and to such national collaborative work (and what appeared to be behind the Ministers' July 2003 decision) is the encouraging commitment to engage in discussion and undertake work that has national purposes, value and vision, and that goes beyond the sum of individual state and territory practices and priorities.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Education aims and objectives
English language teaching