Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Curriculum Policy in South Australia since the 1970s: The Quest for Commonality

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Curriculum Policy in South Australia since the 1970s: The Quest for Commonality

Article excerpt

The establishment of a new National Curriculum Board in 2008 (National Curriculum Board, 2008a) raises some important questions about what approaches to curriculum and assessment, what concepts of knowledge, what values, what approaches to students, have preceded it. With schooling formally a primary responsibility of the states, it is remarkably difficult to gain a comparative sense of approaches to curriculum and changes across the nation at particular points in time, and over time (Collins, 1995; Collins & Vickers, 1999; Cormack & Green, in press; Green, 2003; Harris & Marsh, 2005; Marsh, 1994, 2005). This article results from a project funded by the Australian Research Council that is attempting to initiate such an overview and to develop some sense of a map of curriculum policies and change across Australia in the period 1975 to 2005 (University of Melbourne, 2008). Our interest is not so much in the politics and manoeuvres by which policies are established or in the details of what is enacted in schools but in the conceptions and values that can be seen (comparatively) in the different Australian states at decade intervals from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s. The project analyses key policy documents for each of the states and periods, while interviews have been conducted with curriculum leaders in each state who have had a longstanding involvement either in policy-making or department management or academic work in the curriculum area. This article focuses on one state--South Australia--but it is part of a larger project that is trying to understand the values, knowledge agendas and types of implicit common sense that have been part of our curriculum history in Australia and that are likely to continue to feed work on a 'national' curriculum.

The period from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s has seen some large changes in curriculum responsibility in South Australia as in most Australian states. In particular, there has been a change from a school-based curriculum development regime in the 1970s (Jones, 1970; Karmel, 1971)--under which the South Australian Department of Education saw its task as that of providing resources and assistance to professionals at the chalk face (an input model in a devolved system)--to centrally specified lists of outcomes against which teachers must report student achievement (an output model in a centralised curriculum framing and monitoring system) (South Australia, Department of Education and Children's Services, 1995a, 1995b, 1995c, and subsequent South Australian documents). Attempts to move towards some national cooperation and uniformity began in the late 1980s, well before the new National Curriculum Board, as did moves to draw education into national productivity agendas. In this paper we focus on South Australian policy changes with reference to the 'what' of curriculum. We were interested in the values, conceptions and assumptions that the major overarching policies encapsulate, and with the approach to knowledge that is framed through these. (The paper is based on the general policy documents and arrangements made at that time, and on interviews with a number of people with long-standing involvement in South Australian curriculum policy. We have not attempted to look at particular subject areas or parts of the curriculum, or at the work that is primarily focused on assessment and university selection, and these are also an important part of the curriculum story of Australia.)

We argue that if our gaze is directed at the 'what' of curriculum, then the 'story' of overarching curriculum policy development across these years in the state of South Australia is, surprisingly, one of some dogged continuities. Most striking are three continuities: there have been a continuity of concern, a continuity of perspective and a continuity of task in the government school curriculum policy community in the face of all outside pressures. The concern has been largely for social justice and for how that might be progressed through the curriculum. …

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