Just about everyone in the Australian community has an opinion about schools and what is taught. This is not only because we have all been to a school (and therefore know what we are talking about!), but also there is a widely held view that school education is a key to the future for our country. I share this latter view very strongly. What we do in schools really matters for the long haul.
This week, the NSW Government released the most recent review into the school curriculum. It is the first such review to take place since 1989 and is probably overdue. The Review was conducted by Prof Geoff Masters, CEO of the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER). His previous work in NSW was to review the Higher School Certificate in 2000. He is a careful thinker and a respected leader in Australian education. I was a member of a committee that made numerous submissions to the Review process, so I read the review with interest.
There is a welter of detail in the Review. If you are interested in reading more, here is the link to the Review, and to the Recommendations:
The key findings of the Masters’ Review are to prioritise core knowledge, understanding and skills in a new set of syllabuses, and give teachers time to focus on depth of learning. This is proposed to be done by:
1. Learn with understanding: develop students’ understandings of core concepts, principles and methods in each subject, focusing on depth of learning rather than breadth.
This means to reduce content and strengthen the core ideas of each subject. Teachers feel that there isn’t enough time to do justice to the heavy amounts of material that is expected. The curriculum is cluttered and rushed at times. This point addresses this concern. There is likely to be a reduction in course content and perhaps removal of some smaller courses that do not contribute to core knowledge as defined by the community.
2. Build skills in applying knowledge: develop skills in applying knowledge (for example, critical and creative thinking) and provide opportunities for students to demonstrate these skills.
This means to ensure that the key skills in literacy and numeracy and thinking are emphasised and not lost in the burden of completing the course. There will be minimum standards and students will progress as they meet these standards.
3. Make excellent and ongoing progress: ensure that students progress to the next syllabus once they have mastered the prior syllabus, that students who need more time have it and students who are ready to advance can do so.
This means that student progression can be achievement levels rather than by age. Assessment design will be an important aspect of this part of the Curriculum Review.
The media (and Twitter) commentary about the Masters’ Review generally has been positive. These are pretty good reforms and should enable schools to focus their teaching in ways that support student learning rather than hurriedly completing content or only preparing for tests. On the other hand, the timing of the Review is drawing criticism from some teachers. Teachers have been working very hard in all schools and systems to support students and families during the COVID-19 shutdown when learning transferred to online. There is understandable weariness in the community.
When all is said and done, the reforms are necessary. Our education system needs to keep pace with change and be more agile. It is very clear that students in K to 10 need a core body of knowledge, strong skills and flexibility in progression that allows them to move from one level to another when they are ready. For example, a music student will attempt their next grade when they are ready, not when they reach a certain age. This makes sense, provided we can protect the wellbeing of every child and enrich their social and emotional growth as they progress academically with their peers.
What worries me is whether the new syllabuses will be prepared in consultation with teachers and parents. We also need to provide enough time for busy teachers to be able to create new course content and enable exciting lessons that engage their students. We need to have a simpler and broader assessment method, one that does not solely rely on NAPLAN and certainly not one that is focussed narrowly on preparation for the HSC alone. The years from K to 10 are a magical time of learning, as the recent PIP at Barker demonstrated. We should give our students skills and set them free to shine.
My Learning Strengths
A few days ago, I had an email exchange with Educational Psychologist, Andrew Fuller, who some may recall gave an excellent webinar presentation for the Barker Institute in May. He mentioned to me the importance of building school experience on the idea of Learning Strengths. The core idea is to give every student an awareness of the many things they do well and help them to access their school experience from a position of strength and not deficit.
if you have 10 minutes you may want to go on www.mylearningstrengths.com and do the basic analysis. I encourage parents to have a go as well. It will be 10 minutes well spent.
Statues and History
In the light of current protests that involve the removal of statues and memorials, I asked the Head of History, Mr Philip Mundy (who is from Connecticut, USA) to offer his thoughts. You can read his article HERE. Perhaps a discussion at home would be a good way to increase general knowledge and help students form their views safely within the family rather than through the usual channels.
I hope that you and your family are well and in good heart.