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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The Priority Education initiative in the Northern Territory

In 2003 the Northern Territory Government commissioned a comprehensive review on the quality of secondary education. The Report on Future Directions for Secondary Education in the Northern Territory was prepared by a consultancy team from Charles Darwin University, led by Dr Gregor Ramsey. The Government released the report for public comment in April 2004, and an extensive consultation process is currently under way to gather feedback on the recommendations from all key stakeholders.

The report identified major challenges to the task of offering a quality secondary education to young people in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory is the most geographically dispersed and isolated part of Australia. The Territory's Indigenous students face a range of obstacles to educational achievement. The Northern Territory also has a greater cultural mix than anywhere else in the country.

Secondary education in some form is provided to approximately 12,000 students, in urban, rural and remote settings, in more than 60 Government and non-Government schools. In order to provide contemporary, well-informed curriculum and pedagogy to these students, the report has produced 52 recommendations, a number of which propose significant innovations to the nature and structure of secondary education.

Improving access and outcomes

The report proposes that Indigenous young people have greater access to face-to-face teaching. It also recommends consultation with current stakeholders in distance education, to explore the feasibility of a joint venture between the Northern Territory and South Australia for the design, development and delivery of distance learning materials, including the latest online and interactive technologies.

Improving student outcomes is a key principle underpinning the report's recommendations, as student retention rates in the Northern Territory are the lowest nationally, and overall student performance at Year 12 in the Northern Territory is below that of their South Australian counterparts.

The report argues that it is the quality of teaching and learning that will make the difference to improving student outcomes. In this context it has made a number of key recommendations.

Teaching and Learning Framework

The report recommends the development of a Teaching and Learning Framework. The Framework is intended to define the essential features of good pedagogy, from which teachers can build a repertoire of dynamic and productive teaching and learning strategies to suit a range of students and contexts. This recommendation is based on the report's findings that young people want student-centred pedagogies, where teachers offer intellectually challenging work that is relevant to students' experiences, in an environment based on mutual respect. The report points out that these findings are similar to the four main categories of essential pedagogies outlined in the Queensland Productive Pedagogies Framework (Education Queensland, 2002).

To assist teachers in developing these teaching and learning strategies, the report has recommended the establishment of professional learning communities where teaching staff - supported by office-based staff in Curriculum and Student Services Branches - can reflect on, develop and share their teaching practice. It also recommends that these branches, and other relevant areas within the Northern Territory Department of Employment, Education and Training, should be brought together to establish a Teaching and Learning Support Division, which will provide integrated support to develop the pedagogical framework and to assist schools with its implementation.

New Approaches to Teaching and Learning

The report acknowledges that new approaches to teaching and learning are needed if students are to be prepared for living and working in an increasingly complex, global society. Young people require generic skills about learning rather than bodies of knowledge, and need opportunities to work collaboratively, creatively and productively in learning environments that strengthen their sense of resilience and identity.

There is also a proposal to establish Research and Innovation Circles that will offer educators the opportunity to work with researchers and representatives from business and the wider community, to explore new learning models that go beyond the boundaries of accepted teaching practice. These circles are based on the National Schools Network model of Talking Circles and the Research and Innovation Circles currently operating in Victoria.

Teacher Support

The report recommends increased levels of support for secondary teachers in implementing the framework. It recommends that the focus of teacher support shift from producing curriculum materials to developing a range of pedagogies suited to outcomes-based learning, and to assisting teachers to integrate those pedagogies with their practice. It also recommends greater emphasis on 'hands-on' learning, as well as expanded opportunities for students to participate in vocational learning, VET courses and enterprise education.

Measuring success

A central theme in the report is that there are many pathways to success, and that success in education must be more broadly defined. Attaining a good Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) score and a Northern Territory Certificate of Education (NTCE) should not be the only measures of success acknowledged, valued and celebrated by schools and the wider community. More flexible and relevant curriculum statements are recommended for the senior years, as are a range of assessment tools and measures which recognise multiple career and livelihood pathways.

The report acknowledges that many students are extensively involved in extra-curricular or out-of-school activities, where they meet a range of learning outcomes that are not always recognised by schools. It has recommended that a policy and set of procedures be developed to recognise, value and account for such learning when assessing students' performance.

Enabling Change

The report recommends organising schools into Learning Precincts so that resources, facilities and teacher expertise can be shared, and decisions about young people's education can be made at the local level.

Learning Precincts would also establish partnerships with Government and non-Government organisations as well as with local business and industry. It argues that if schools worked more cooperatively they could offer more students a wider range of subject choices, access to quality student welfare networks and better access to quality teaching expertise.

One of the more controversial recommendations in the report is the establishment of two new stages of schooling: Years 7-9 (later middle years) and Years 10-12 (senior years), to cater for the pedagogical, curricular and social needs of students at the various stages of their development. The proposal is that Years 7 and 10 would each become the beginning of a new phase, so that students can be given a stronger preparation for their future learning. The report argues for the adoption of middle years approaches for students in Years 7-9, with interdisciplinary teaching teams, an integrated curriculum for core subjects, increased opportunities for self-directed, problem-based learning and a strong focus on intellectual rigour. It proposes that students in the senior years should have increased opportunities to critically analyse and reflect on patterns and connections in their learning, and to select their learning pathways from a range of specialist and cross-disciplinary subjects.

Early indications are that while many stakeholders support the recommendations on teaching, learning and the curriculum, not all are convinced that the proposed structural changes to the stages of schooling and the re-organisation of schools into Learning Precincts will deliver improved learning outcomes for students. Education Discussion Forums will be held in early August 2004, at which stakeholders can present their views, hear other stakeholder responses and determine priorities for change. A report for Government will then be prepared on the community's response to the report.


Subject Headings

Aboriginal students
Computer-based training
Curriculum planning
Distance education
Education aims and objectives
Education and state
Education policy
Educational evaluation
Educational planning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Middle schooling
Northern Territory
Resilience (Psychology)
Retention rates in schools
Rural education
Secondary education
South Australia
Teaching and learning
VET (Vocational Education and Training)