National curriculum wars important to ensure the best outcome for kids: ACARA boss – Sydney Morning Herald

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The culture wars and political tension that have engulfed the drafting of the new national school curriculum are a critical part of the process, the independent authority says, as education ministers prepare to meet next month to try to resolve their outstanding differences.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority chief executive David de Carvalho said federal and state education ministers had reached 98 per cent agreement over the revised document following an almost year-long debate dominated by the Commonwealth’s concerns about the history content.
David de Carvalho, chief executive of the national curriculum authority, says rigorous debate over what children are taught in schools is an important part of developing the new curriculum.Credit:Rhett Wyma
Mr de Carvalho said the tendency for curriculum debates to be consumed by politics was preferable to what once occurred when there was broad agreement about grand narratives in teaching and “everybody would sign up to the same view of the world”.
“The issue of what we teach to our children is always going to be value-laden. It’s an expression of a community’s aspirations for its children,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald Schools Summit on Tuesday.
“Allowing strong and vigorous debate to shape the national curriculum around the kinds of values that we as a country want to promote is important. Inevitably, at the surface level, people will see contributions to that discussion as tainted politically.”
He said if the curriculum stopped becoming an aspect of contemporary political debate it would signal society was “sliding into decadence because we no longer care about, and we’re no longer prepared to have thoughts about, what we teach our kids”. But the challenge, he said, was ensuring “the centre holds” as it was pulled in different directions by competing values about what children should be taught.
The debate over the draft curriculum saw many history experts and Labor state education ministers push back against the views of former federal education minister Alan Tudge, who complained it did not sufficiently emphasise Australia’s Western and Christian heritage and presented a miserable view of the nation’s past.
Ministers appeared to reach a consensus on this issue at a meeting last month, with more focus to be given to Australian history, but the Commonwealth and Western Australia remain at odds over the content of the maths curriculum.
“We are 98 per cent of the way there but we do have the last 2 per cent to go to address some concerns that the West Australian minister and the Commonwealth minister have,” Mr de Carvalho said.
Acting federal Education Minister Stuart Robert also wants the humanities curriculum further decluttered “so that teachers know what content is essential to teach”. He will meet with his state counterparts next month to discuss the final revisions in what could prove to be the last opportunity before the federal election to sign off on the new curriculum.
NSW and Victoria have their own curriculums but take an “adopt and adapt approach” to the Australian curriculum, while other states such as WA use only the national syllabus.
NSW Education Standards Authority chief executive Paul Martin told the summit that having a national curriculum, despite the duplication, was important for generating “creative tension” among states while having a standardised national base.
“We need to make sure that a student in a primary school in rural Tasmania is guaranteed access to mathematics in the same way that a student is on the north shore of Sydney. So we need an Australian national curriculum,” Mr Martin said.
“We are also able to, quite creatively and productively, produce a state-based syllabus … where we might push the Commonwealth towards an emphasis on, as we did, phonics, or it might be an argument about timetables.”
The proposed national curriculum emphasises the primacy of phonics in teaching young primary school students to read – mirroring the approach adopted by NSW – which could place pressure on Victoria to move away from its dominant method of balanced literacy.
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