New senior secondary system delayed

On 18 October, the Queensland Minister for Education announced that the commencement of the new senior secondary system would be delayed by 12 months.

This means that the first year 11 students to enter the new system will do so in 2019 and will receive the first Queensland ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) as they graduate in 2020.

While committed to working with the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) and other stakeholders to develop and implement the new system, the QTU has for some time been raising concerns about the ambitious timelines for implementation of the new system. Concerns raised on behalf of QTU members included the capacity for all of the new or redeveloped syllabuses to be ready for familiarisation and planning in 2017, doubts as to whether quality professional development for all teachers of senior subjects across the state could be provided within the planned timelines, and the need for continued trialling of external assessment processes. Adding to the concerns was the fact that detailed advice regarding the calculation of the ATAR was not available to schools and it was going to become difficult for schools to support students in subject selection and future planning.

Of major concern to QTU members is the capacity for schools to offer subjects to small cohorts of students via composite or combined classes or through other flexible approaches. As syllabus development has progressed, it has become clear that in many subjects the new syllabus structure and the introduction of external assessment may make it difficult to timetable or staff subjects for small cohorts. This will affect not only small schools but schools offering subjects to small cohorts or offering subjects on a number of lines to enable students a broader choice of subject combinations. While some models for “flexible delivery” are being explored, the QTU retains concerns about the capacity for these solutions to be applied across the state at a system level and the impacts on equity of access for state school students across the state, workload for teachers and school leaders and, in some cases, impacts on enrolments as parents and students may look to move schools in order to access a broader range of subjects.

While the QTU welcomes the 12-month delay, it is essential that the time is used to ensure the issues outlined above are satisfactorily addressed. It would be unacceptable if, despite the delay, students under the new system experienced disadvantage in relation to breadth of curriculum on offer or any other aspect of the system.

Half cohort in senior secondary

Throughout 2016, the QTU has been raising concerns about the capacity of schools to maintain a breadth of subject offerings to students commencing senior secondary in 2018 (the ‘half cohort’) and calling upon the Department of Education and Training to provide additional resources to schools to support them as they strive to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as a result of being a part of this cohort.

The prep cohort was introduced to Queensland schools in 2007. The year one starting age increased in 2008, creating a smaller cohort of students. This group is approximately two-thirds of a usual cohort, but is known as the half-cohort. The half cohort is currently in year nine and enters senior secondary in 2018, exiting the system at the end of the 2019 school year. There will be six full cohorts in secondary schools for the first time in 2020.

Given that staffing is allocated on the basis of student enrolments, if the allocative model was strictly enforced, some schools stand to lose staff in senior secondary in 2018 while for other schools the impact would be minimal. The department is currently considering a range of solutions that may support schools through this two-year period. To ensure that schools, students and QTU members do not suffer as a consequence of this short-term enrolment variance, which was a consequence of the system-wide introduction of prep, the QTU is calling upon the department to provide schools with additional staffing over and above the allocative model for 2018 and 2019. The QTU continues to advocate that schools must receive firm information regarding staffing allocations in senior secondary for 2018 and 2019 as a matter of urgency.

Sam Pidgeon

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 121 No 8, 11 November 2016, p11