Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Researching the Creation of a National Curriculum from Systems to Classrooms

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Researching the Creation of a National Curriculum from Systems to Classrooms

Article excerpt

Abstract

Under the auspices of its 'Education Revolution', the Federal Labor Government is currently implementing a national curriculum for schools. Representing an important intervention into educational practice and governance, the Australian Curriculum offers a unique research opportunity, providing substantial scope for the examination of the changing systems and school-level practices entailed in large-scale curriculum reform. Research into the Australian Curriculum also presents a valuable opportunity to develop educational research methodologies that attend to the complex and multifaceted processes of curriculum reform, from systems to classrooms. Taking two of the disciplinary towers of modern curricula (English and mathematics) and Australia's two largest jurisdictions (New South Wales and Victoria) as the focus, this article draws on a three-year Australian Research Council Linkage Project to outline an approach to researching major curriculum reform.

Keywords

Curriculum policy, curriculum development, national curriculum, research methodology, English curriculum, Mathematics curriculum

Introduction: Australian curriculum pasts, present and possible futures

Keeping to their election promise, in 2008, shortly after being elected, the Australian Labor government announced the policy arrival of the Australian Curriculum (AC) (Rudd & Gillard, 2008). This was, of course, not the first attempt at creating a national curriculum in Australia: a number of Australian governments, including the directly preceding conservative government, have made various overtures toward centralised curricula (Collins & Yates, 2009; Reid, 2005). In recent decades, alongside the long-standing and vigorously defended tradition of State/Territory legislative independence around education, an apparent bipartisan agreement for a national approach to schooling had already brought some, albeit limited, collaboration. This has included various federal statements such as The Hobart Declaration (1989), The Adelaide Declaration (1999), and most recently the Melbourne Declaration (2008), as well as the identification of national essential skills and knowledge--'Statements of Learning'--in English, mathematics, science and civics and citizenship in 2003. The AC, therefore, is part of a political and educational history that extends further than the election campaign banner of the 'Education Revolution' within which the AC was initiated.

It is important, however, to recognise the significance of the AC as the most recent episode in this history. Unquestioningly it is the most advanced attempt to develop and implement an Australian national curriculum. Across Australia's eight States and Territories, AC curriculum documents are already guiding systems-level policy planning. As this federal level intervention intersects with the legislative requirement for State and Territories to produce their own curriculum documentation, the contents of AC documentation are reiterated across the different jurisdictions and sectors, and to varying degrees are becoming enacted by teachers and schools as they trial, prepare for, and enact it. Having ministerial agreement across the States and Territories, the AC marks a critical political and educational event that speaks to a long-held governmental agenda of federalising public service provision (Harris-Hart, 2010). Previously, the individual traditions of, and legislative requirements for, curriculum development in the States and Territories had contributed to limited national collaboration (see Seddon, 2001; Yates, Collins, & O'Connor, 20ll). Undoubtedly, it is a noteworthy historical 'moment'. In many ways, this is a not-to-be-repeated opportunity for educational researchers with interests in pedagogical, organisational, and policy aspects of large-scale curriculum reform. Coming as part of a broad federalisation agenda that includes a range of corresponding reforms, such as national testing (see Lingard, 2010), the AC has implications for classroom teachers and for educators and policy bureaucrats working at all levels in State and Territory systems, in government and non-government sectors. …

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