Phase one of the Australian Curriculum (English, Mathematics, Science and History) will start to be implemented in years K to 10 in NSW schools in 2014. 2013 is a year for familiarisation, planning and training for NSW teachers in preparation for its introduction next year. This represents the culmination of attempts to introduce a common curriculum in Australia that began in earnest in the 1980s. A national curriculum has met with much resistance over the years, for many reasons, but over the last decade it has received bipartisan support at the Federal level. With the cooperation of the States and Territories, the National Education Agreement of January 2009 saw the various governments in Australia commit to the development and maintenance of a national curriculum. Section two of this paper provides a brief history of the development of a common curriculum in Australia.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has a central role in the development of the Australian Curriculum which is occurring in three phases. The Board of Studies NSW is then responsible for transferring that curriculum into the NSW syllabus. The Australian Curriculum is based around seven capabilities that are to be developed and applied across the curriculum: literacy; numeracy; information and communication technology competence; critical and creative thinking; ethical behaviour; and intercultural understanding. Three cross-curriculum priorities will also have an important role: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures; Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia; and sustainability. Section three of this paper outlines the role of ACARA and the Board of Studies NSW as it relates to the Australian Curriculum. It also provides a summary of the structure of the Australian Curriculum and the timetable for its implementation in NSW.
There has been much debate over the value of a national curriculum, with many arguments advanced for and against. Section four outlines some of the major reasons given for introducing a common curriculum, as well as the objections voiced by opponents.
Section five briefly looks at the performance of Australian students in recent international tests, especially in light of the Federal Government’s announcement that Australia be one of the top five performing nations by 2025. Finland is often mentioned as an example of a nation whose education system is successfully doing things a little differently, and for this reason it is in included as a case study in section five. Some attention is also given to the United Kingdom, which introduced a national curriculum in the late 1980s, but is currently conducting a review of that curriculum and looks set to alter its structure so that the teaching of the national curriculum no longer requires the majority of teaching time.