Governing Nursing: Curriculum as a Rhetorical Vehicle Using South Australian Nursing Schools from the 1950s Onwards as an Illustrative Case

Article excerpt


This paper explores how governance processes for nursing curriculum in South Australia changed since the 1950s. The strategy used to undertake this analysis is through discourse analysis of nursing curriculum from the 1950s to recent times. An archive of curriculum data were collected from educational curriculum documents, historical records and government reports. Analysis of this textual data found changes in how curriculum governance occurred as this was increasingly transferred to the discipline of nursing throughout the period explored in this research. Curricula were found to be a rhetorical vehicle, carrying the beliefs and hopes of the nurse educators in their contents. Changes in the focus of the curricula also replicated changes in the locations and maturing of nursing in the higher education sector. Schools of nursing in universities in responding to both internal and external forces were made increasingly responsible as to curriculum content and structures. Historical analysis of South Australian nursing curricula shows changes common in Australia as it moved nurse education from hospital to the tertiary sector in the latter part of the twentieth century, to its contemporary shape as collaboration between profession, industry and discipline to produce nurses for the Australian workforce.


nursing; history;




discourse analysis

Received 12 May 2008 Accepted 26 August 2008


The term 'curriculum' appeared in the 1950s Australian nursing, as it was that during this period that nursing started to describe itself as a profession (Peterson 1955). The appearance of 'curriculum' in texts increased just when nursing was asserting its professional status supported by a context of rapid professionalization in many health care and other social care groups. All of this occurred even though, in Australia, the nursing training system remained an apprenticeship system in hospitals. In this system, novice nurses learned nursing skills from seniors in practice, with little reasoning, and learning was predominantly based on a medical model of health care (Peterson 1955). The shift to tertiary education occurred as a part of the transformation that has brought the recognition of nursing as a discipline and a profession. This paper presents material from a larger study of changes in nurse education through an exploration of the genealogy of teaching nurses clinical judgement. The focus for discussion is how the location of, and responsibilities for, nurse educational curricula changed, that is where and who undertook its governance changed even as nursing itself was transformed by social changes.

Through this process, nursing education is now recognised as a professional education and nursing students are regarded as students expected to be 'reflective practitioners' as evidenced in Australian Nursing and Midwifery Council's competency standards (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Council 2006). We trace how who defined the role of nurses has changed; from a Nurses Board with the majority of its members were medical practitioners and education hospital-based to regulation of nursing education from a Nurses Board 'at a distance', with professional structure and function that is the responsibility of nurses through a Nurses Act representing and governing nurses. It is our intention in this article to show how this happened in one location - highly influenced by other locations and situations - so as to investigate how nurses as educators have taken control of their curriculum and its purposes.


In this section we outline data sources, how we approached the data and the form of discourse analysis and governmental analysis we use to accomplish our understandings of what is operating in the discourses around curricula and its governance of nurse education. …