National Curriculum, Gonski and Education for All

by Don Hyatt

The National Curriculum 2008

Don Hyatt

Don Hyatt

The current National Curriculum was initiated by the Rudd government in 2008. The task of development and implementation was given to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), an independent, non-political body, and agreed by the Ministers of Education in all states and territories in 2009. It was framed around the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA, December 2008) and the implementation was to be consultative and phased in over a several  years in 3 phases.  The National Curriculum frames the school curriculum from Foundation (= Prep) to Year 12 (F-12).

The construction of the curriculum was in four steps:

  1. Curriculum Shaping This involved wide consultation with the stakeholders. These included “key periods of consultation – open public consultation as well as targeted consultation with key stakeholders including teachers and schools, state and territory education authorities, parents and students, professional associations, teacher unions, universities and industry and community groups.” I attended one of the Victorian Science consultations at Williamstown Secondary College on behalf of the Vic Skeptics, bringing with me expertise, knowledge and experience as a former Science Teachers’ Association President. Overall there was a sense of engagement within the wider education community.
  2. Curriculum Writing Writers supported by expert groups were assigned to construct the curriculum materials.
  3. Preparation for Implementation Involved working with the state authorities to upskill staff in preparation for the implementation.
  4. Curriculum monitoring, evaluation and review To ensure that the implementation process was proceeding appropriately and issues were identified and tweaking could take place.

The curriculum was implemented over 3 Phases:

  • Phase 1: English, Mathematics, the Sciences and History
  • Phase 2: Languages, Geography and the Arts
  • Phase 3: Health and Physical Education (HPE), Information & Communications Technology (ICT), Design & Technology, Economics, Business and Civics & Citizenship

In Victoria Phase 3 has now recently been implemented.

So we have a curriculum that has had wide discussion. Clearly, there are always areas of disagreement, and the ‘history wars’ represent one of the most contentious issues. However, ultimately there was considerable agreement and after a massive amount of time and effort the National Curriculum is all but implemented.

The Gonski Report

So what is the Gonski Report all about? Properly called “Review of Funding for Schooling, Final Report, December 2011” it outlines a mechanism of ensuring an equitable school system that gives all children the opportunity to succeed. As co-author Ken Boston puts it:

‘Gonski seeks to do two things:

  1. to ensure that education, as a public good, genuinely gives every child the support that he or she needs; and
  2. to ensure that educational achievement, as a positional good, is available on the basis of talent and hard work alone, rather than purchased by those in a position of wealth and privilege. ‘

The Gonski Report Executive Summary points out that: “Australia has a relatively high-performing schooling system” ; “over the last decade the performance of Australian students has declined’; ‘Australia has a significant gap between its highest and lowest performing students’; ‘There is also an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage’ and “’Investment and high expectation must go hand in hand.’  It also pointed out that school funding arrangements are highly complex and needed to  be clarified and simplified.

David Gonski’s stated one regret was that he put a price on the implementation of his report. That price was $5 billion over 5 years. In his view, this distracted from the underlying principles and recommendations of the actual report. The media focussed on the dollar amount rather that the message.

The review was produced by a highly diverse and representative group:

  • David Gonski AC, highly respected businessman. Former Chairman of the Future Fund, Chairman of Coca-Cola Amatil and now Chairman of ANZ Bank.
  • Ken Boston AO: former director-general of the NSW Department of Education
  • Kathryn Greiner AO: former wife of NSW Premier, active social advocate.
  • Carmen Lawrence: former WA state Premier
  • Bill Scales AO: Fitter and Turner by trade, Chancellor of Swinburne University f Technology.
  • Peter Tannock AM: WA member, representing Catholic Education.

Again, consultation was the key. The review took 11 months to produce and 7000 submissions were received. The report is close to 300 pages long and is detailed in its 41 Recommendations and 26 Findings, but it is the $5 billion price tag that got the headlines. No wonder Gonski was disappointed. The review has a great deal of important things to say in achieving its goals of achieving equity within the school system.

The Pyne Review

Against this background the Pyne Review of the National Curriculum was announced in January 2014.

Many have pointed out that you cannot properly review something until it has been properly implemented and given a change to run. This has not deterred Mr. Pyne from reviewing the National Curriculum; so he appointed two reviewers: Prof Ken Wilshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly. Both have strong education credentials, but are clearly a political choice by Christopher Pyne.

Associate Prof. Tony Taylor of Monash University has been highly critical of the appointments saying: ‘I see no sign of significant, sustained national parental interest in a review.’; and ‘the national curriculum design process was unhurried, hugely consultative and over-careful’; and ‘Pyne asserts that the curriculum design process was politicised. Wrong again. The national curriculum was developed by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, a stand-alone statutory agency led by the highly respected and apolitical Barry McGaw’; adding  ‘One is a failed Liberal preselection candidate for East Yarra in Melbourne, and the other publicly tried to persuade independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to support Tony Abbott in 2010. Criticism of these reviewers has been focused on their political tendencies, their professional suitability and conflict of interest issues. These are not petty matters’ and ‘Pyne should have appointed a suitably apolitical panel, not two Liberal Party chums.’

According to SBS on 10th January 2014 Donnelly: ‘is a critic of Labor’s education reforms, including the Gonski review and was also chief of staff to cabinet minister Kevin Andrews in 2004. In 2008 he established the Education Standards Institute in Melbourne and is also a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University.’ Research has shown that Kevin Donnelly is the only member and sole spokesman of this Institute.  Of concern to the inclusive and wider community:  ‘On the Education Standard’s Institute’s website, it says it “favours an education system based on standards, equity, diversity and choice and the values and institutions that promote liberty, democracy, an open and free society and a commitment to Christian beliefs and values“.

His views on religion, homosexuality and gender in education have divided opinion and caused widespread criticism over his appointment as co-head of the review into the national school curriculum with Ken Wiltshire.” And “In an online opinion piece written by Donnelly, he states: “In recent years several education groups have sought to introduce gay, lesbian and transgender studies in the classroom and to convince schoolchildren that such practices, along with being heterosexual, are simply lifestyle choices open to all.

In another article, written for ABC’s The Drum, he writes: “Multiculturalism is based on the mistaken belief that all cultures are of equal worth and that it is unfair to discriminate and argue that some practices are wrong.”’

According to Wikipedia, ‘Professor Ken Wiltshire AO is the J. D. Story Professor of Public Administration at the University of Queensland Business School. He is also the Australian Representative on the Executive Board of UNESCO and a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission” and “In 2010 following the Federal Election, Wiltshire wrote an opinion piece for The Australian newspaper where he quoted Edmund Burke. The piece called for the remaining independents to side with the Coalition. The piece has been criticized for its apparent intellectual dishonesty.’ He has strong Liberal Party leanings.

So, in summary one should look at the two Pyne-picked reviewers and compare them to the ACARA and Gonski panels. What is immediately evident is:

  • Few groups want the review – implementation of the current National Curriculum hasn’t been completed.
  • The two reviewers are inappropriate for reasons of the number (2) and the balance they (don’t) represent.
  • Their selection was clearly political.
  • There is a stated bias away from public education.
  • There is a stated bias towards ‘Judeo-Christian’ values that neither exists nor represents our changing demographic.
  • History will be anglicised to the exclusion of balance.

We await the findings of the Pyne Review with an air of concern.

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