There is little as controversial in education as determining what it is that young people should be able to know, understand and be able to do following their time at school. As Chapter Three explains, Australia has wrestled for over 30 years with the issue of what every student should study at school as defined by a more nationally consistent curriculum framework.
Only in recent years has there been substantial progress towards developing a national curriculum for Australia. Prior to that, while there have been attempts at cross-jurisdictional cooperation to achieve greater consensus on school curriculums across the country, most curriculum development was still happening unilaterally at the state and territory level.
In 2008, with the establishment of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), it appeared that critical momentum had finally been achieved to develop a truly national curriculum. Commencing with English, mathematics, science and history, ACARA began the task of creating the Australian Curriculum. Other learning areas were soon added to that list: geography, languages and the arts followed in a second phase of development, with the Australian Curriculum to be completed by technologies, economics and business, civics and citizenship and health and physical education in a third phase.
It is clear that desire for a national curriculum has waxed and waned across the country. While the Ministerial Council of Education Ministers determined that the first four subjects were required to be ‘substantially implemented’ in Foundation to Year 10 by 2013, no timelines were applied to geography or the arts – the only other curriculum subjects that have been endorsed by ministers to date. The senior secondary curriculum appears to be mired in uncertainty as to whether it needs to (or should) be implemented.
At all stages there have been concerns expressed at the development of the curriculum. It was too rushed. It lacked a conceptual framework. Were the cross-curriculum priorities mandatory? By far, the greatest concern was the content load expected to be delivered at primary school. Many of these concerns remain and have been raised during this Review. Other concerns have been brought to the Reviewers’ attention, including those about the pedagogical and epistemological assumptions and beliefs underlying the Australian Curriculum. This Report brings these concerns to the attention of ministers, policy makers and educators with recommendations for actions to address them.