On Friday, Education Ministers from all states and territories endorsed the new Australian Curriculum, paving the way for the Federal Government’s vision for schools to start materialising in classrooms from 2023.
Ministers agreed the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) had met key objectives to refine, realign and declutter the curriculum, with a focus on reducing content in primary years and lifting quality.
Among the key features of the new “decluttered” Curriculum will be a 21% reduction in the number of content descriptions, a stronger focus on Phonics, the mastering of essential mathematics skills and concepts, and the prioritising Australian history in Year 9 and 10 within a global context. Phonics, times tables and Australian history will all be mandatory under the new Curriculum.
The new curriculum will also include significant changes to the cross-curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures to more accurately reflect the historical record and contemporary context.
The Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA) said the stronger focus on Indigenous perspectives through the curriculum is a very positive move and should be celebrated.
“Of particular note, ASPA is highly supportive of the process undertaken by the review – involving the professional Associations recognising their expertise and commitment to the students of our nation,” ASPA president, Andrew Pierpoint told The Educator.
“Subsequent reviews of education matters going forward, should follow this initiative and involve professional Associations, such as ASPA, at every opportunity.”
Beth Blackwood, CEO of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) said that while some elements of the Curriculum are likely to remain contentious, it will help push things forward at a state and territory level.
“Educators have been calling for a less crowded curriculum for some time, so that change is very welcome,” Blackwood told The Educator.
“Agreement from all education ministers to the latest iteration of the Australian Curriculum is unlikely to settle the history wars, the reading wars or recent contention over how maths is best taught, but it does mean state and territory governments can get on with localised adaptations.”
Blackwood said AHISA is confident the changes “will be backed up by the kind of resources for teachers that have earned ACARA the trust and respect of the sector.”
“We’ll be interested in any impact the changes might have on other areas of ACARA’s work, including NAPLAN, learning progressions and online formative assessment.”
The National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC), which has been working with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) throughout the consultation process, welcomed the endorsement of the new Curriculum.
NCEC executive director, Jacinta Collins, said the changes being made will allow schools to focus on the essential knowledge and skills students should learn and will provide teachers greater clarity on what they are required to teach.
“It will also sharpen the focus on the development of foundational skills required for deeper learning and on educational outcomes for all students including students with disability and additional needs,” Collins said.
“The accompanying website will allow teachers to access the curriculum and make it more usable for programming and planning.”
However, other leaders are bracing for bigger workloads as a result of the changes.
Matthew Johnson, president of the Australian Special Education Principals Association (ASEPA), is concerned that the new Curriculum will further add to the complexities that teachers working in special schools are facing.
“Teachers in special education will need to make all the necessary accommodations and adjustments for each individual student to ensure the child can access content, make their learning have meaning and know the next steps for growth,” Johnson told The Educator.
“This process is a significant additional workload for special educators that many other teachers do not have to grapple with.”
Johnson said the support materials and resources that are available to special educators to enable curriculum access for students with disability are markedly limited by comparison to their mainstream teacher peers.
“Another challenge is the ever-present battle between the Commonwealth and the states, with some arguing their right to support their state curriculum and to use the adopt and adapt option regarding the Australian Curriculum,” he said.
“It is difficult to see how equity is achieved whilst there continues to be such variation across states and territories.”