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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The post-compulsory curriculum, WA

Dominic Burgio
Dominic Burgio is Principal of Northam Senior High School, Western Australia. Email: Dominic.burgio@det.wa.edu.au

The proposed new curriculum for Years 11 and 12 in Western Australia has come under heavy challenge in the media, and is now going through a process of revision. However, as a school principal I would like to support the thrust of the reforms put forward by the Curriculum Council and the West Australian Government.

In the media there has been considerable confusion about the terminology of the new post-compulsory curriculum, which is usually referred to as the Outcomes Based Education (OBE) curriculum. This is technically incorrect. The OBE is the name of the compulsory years curriculum that has been phased into the State’s primary and secondary schools over the past decade. The changes to post-compulsory schooling are actually called ‘courses of study’ within the proposed new Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE).

The State Government has proposed that between 2007 and 2009, up to 50 new courses of study would replace all of the current subjects in Years 11 and 12. Each course would have six semester-long units of different degrees of difficulty. Generally, students would do four units for each course, and typically students would study five courses.

All courses in the new curriculum have been designed with the flexibility to lead into tertiary study. Under the current post-compulsory curriculum, only 22 subjects, plus another 11 LOTE subjects, lead directly into higher education, in the sense of being tested through the Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE). This situation compares unfavourably to New South Wales, which offers 51 examinable subjects plus LOTE, or to Victoria, which offers 48 subjects plus LOTE.

Currently, by the end of Year 10, Western Australian students must choose between TEE and non-TEE subjects, effectively deciding the direction of their future careers. Year 10 is far too early to lock them into such choices. In contrast, the new courses of study are a welcome development that enhances the flexibility of learning options for senior students, and in particular offers students more freedom and options in the pursuit of post-schooling career pathways. The new courses can be used to aim for university, TAFEWA, employment, apprenticeships, traineeships and vocational education and training.

For example, the new WACE would allow Year 8–10 students in special programs, such as media, maritime studies, aviation, and specific areas of physical education, to progress smoothly to courses in Years 11 and 12 and use them for their Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER). Meanwhile, VET courses would continue, such as the School Apprenticeship Link Program and School Based Traineeships. Students would also be able to do VET versions of the courses of study.

The new curriculum was also designed to allow teaching and learning to be adapted to the needs of individual students in a way that is made difficult under the present syllabus-driven arrangements. Under the new courses students would be able to choose to study from three levels of difficulty and complexity, according to their aspirations. A student who wants to be an electrician would study physics at an entry level, while a student with aspirations to study nuclear physics at university would access physics at its highest level. An academically gifted Year 11 student may access the most difficult level of a course and sit an external university entrance examination, whereas at the moment they must wait until they can undertake a TEE subject.

It has been suggested in the media that schools, principals and teachers have been rail-roaded into the new arrangements. In fact, the courses of study have not been arbitrarily imposed. They emerged in part from the recommendations of the Robson Report. Chaired by Professor Alan Robson, the report found widespread dissatisfaction among educators over the TEE system. The call for a new curriculum to replace the TEE system had bipartisan political support and was backed by all five universities, the Catholic Education Board, and the Association of Independent Schools. For example, in May 2005 Professor Robson spoke on behalf of the five Western Australian universities to endorse the new curriculum:

We are very supportive of these changes. It has been a long process to bring the reform program to this point and the five universities have been consulted each step of the way ... The new, expanded set of Year 11 and Year 12 courses of study will be based on the same wide range of fields of study offered at the five WA universities. We are confident that the curriculum and assessment approaches in the new courses of study will lend themselves to demonstration of high achievement by students seeking university entry. (Quoted in Curriculum Council media release, 1 May 2005.)

The courses of study focus on what students know, and on what they need to know to progress. At the moment, students come out with a percentage grade. That doesn't tell students, parents or employers what the students do or don't know, or can or can't do. The courses of study assessment would show students what they can do, and shows them what they need to do in terms of learning. The current system is more than 50 years old and does not reflect current thinking on teaching and student learning.

 

KLA

Subject Headings

Western Australia (WA)
Transitions in schooling
Senior secondary education
Assessment
Educational evaluation
Education policy
Curriculum planning