QTU President's comment 26 July 2016

P-10 curriculum reformed but in a good way…Letting teachers teach!

teaching.pngToday, as a consequence of a long-running campaign by the QTU, the Minister for Education, Kate Jones, has announced a major revision of the Queensland effort in respect of the Australian Curriculum. This is a victory for teachers and their Union and a victory for common sense.

Since 2012, Queensland has led the way in the implementation of the Australian Curriculum, an achievement that has come at a personal cost to teachers and school leaders in classrooms across the state. In that first year, the complex and demanding daily task of teaching students was complicated by a dramatic increase in expectations arising from the simultaneous introduction of new curriculum in three key learning areas: English, mathematics and science. Further learning areas were rolled out in an ongoing annual cycle of new content to be taught and assessed. Additionally, Queensland state school teachers struggled with persistent changes to the curriculum and the complex support materials produced within the Department of Education. The overall impact of the transformation of the entire curriculum on teachers and students cannot be overstated.

For teachers, the impact has been pressure to deliver more than is possible in the school week. Five week cycles of teaching and assessment created by Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C) have removed the flexibility to address the needs of students and cope with the regular interruptions to the school week from regular co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that in turn enrich their lives. For many students these factors created pressure to continually move on to the next topic without opportunities to explore, revise and consolidate. Excessive cycles of assessment created additional pressures on students.

This internal fragility of the Australian Curriculum was further highlighted by a review instituted by the new federal government in 2014. Known as the Wiltshire/Donnelly Review, the findings released in 2015 emphasised the intense concerns of educators and parents about the overcrowded curriculum, particularly in primary schools. The result in this case was ill-conceived moves to complicate the settled Australian Curriculum with amalgamated learning areas and revised content driven by ideology not educational purpose. The review outcomes were also tainted by infighting among the reviewers and significant public relations issues with experts retained to critique the new curriculum. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was charged by the federal government with responsibility for realising the review’s recommendations, but that work is still ongoing.

In light of these developments, and varied implementation of the new curriculum in the other states, it became clear to QTU members that a hiatus was needed to provide for both a period of consolidation of the existing changes and sufficient time to conclude the proposed amendments to prevent teachers once again being subjected to demands to change the changes.

In late 2014, QTU members voted overwhelmingly to put an indefinite stop to the headlong rush of implementation of the new curriculum by voting to ban the introduction of any new learning areas. The ban was imposed in the early days of the new school year in 2015 in the shadow of the state election, and it represented a critical stand by teachers to reclaim our profession and to reassert our right to make professional judgements about what is right for the education of students in state schools.

The QTU ban remained in effect until it was replaced by a halt to curriculum implementation imposed by the Minister for Education in August 2015 in recognition of the ongoing concerns of teachers and lack of clarity from federal authorities. Teachers have been working with a relatively stable curriculum since that time and have dedicated themselves to embedding the new curriculum in their schools. However, what quickly became clear was that the curriculum was unlikely to be recreated in a deliverable form and the Union’s campaign shifted to a call for the reduction of the curriculum to a core that must be taught and options for support or extension of students where the potential existed.

In December 2015 the Minister for Education tasked the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority with responsibility for working with the three school sectors and stakeholders to identify the core of the P-10 Australian Curriculum for Queensland schools. The outcomes of their work have now been released by the Queensland Government and the recommendations adopted. A core curriculum will be outlined for all schools. The complex C2C units will be revised to attend to issues of workload for teachers and students. Critically, all of this will be achieved without any diminution of the student achievement standards provided by the Australian Curriculum. What has been announced today provides the potential for much needed clarity within and across the curriculum, it respects teacher judgements and it will let teachers teach.

A copy the QTU Member Newsflash providing details of the Minister’s proposed enhancements can be accessed here.

These latest outcomes achieved by QTU members in the curriculum space are an important demonstration of the power of collective action in combination with strength of purpose and tenacity. Queensland students and their teachers both stand to be better off as a result.

Kevin Bates

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