Change to the Australian Curriculum

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 12 August 2015

The following letter was submitted for possible inclusion in The Australian of Monday 10 August 2015 but it was not selected for publication. It was in response to a front page story in the weekend edition (8-9 August) which had the (not very accurate) headline "Curriculum shifts focus to core skills".

Change to national curriculum

When I attended primary school in Queensland in the 1950s, one of the subjects I studied was a combination of history, geography and civics that was called social studies.

At high school in the 1960s, I did history and geography as separate subjects and this was still the case at high school level when I started teaching in 1969. Later, history and geography were merged into a subject called SOSE (Study of Society and the Environment). By then, I was teaching only English but this seemed to me to be a sensible response to concerns about a crowded curriculum.

When John Howard was Prime Minister, there was a call for all Australian students to study history as a separate subject. As I recall, that push was supported by this newspaper.

Because of this background, I enjoyed some wry amusement while reading your front page report that there is to be a new amalgamated subject in the Australian Curriculum called Humanities and Social Science.

I thought of that useful French expression "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose". It also occurred to me that it is often not really helpful for politicians to meddle with the details of school curriculum.

Posted in: Branch News Townsville   0 Comments

Interpreting NAPLAN results

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 8 August 2015

The following letter was published in The Courier-Mail on Friday 7 August 2015. The paper's heading was "Testing parents".

NAPLAN results

As usual, the results of this year's NAPLAN tests can be interpreted in a variety of ways. What they probably show most clearly is that students should choose their parents wisely.

  • A version of the same letter was also published in The Australian on the same day. In this case the letter was edited and the underlined words were deleted and the bracketd ones inserted.

As usual, the results of this year's NAPLAN tests can be interpreted in a variety of ways. What they probably (do) show most clearly is that students should choose their parents wisely.

  • This letter was printed in the Last Post side bar and there was no separate heading.
Posted in: Assessment   10 Comments

Western civilisation

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 8 August 2015

The following letter was submitted for possible publication in The Australian of Monday 13 July but, alas, it did not make it into print.

Western civilisation and peace

Kevin Donnelly writes, in part, that western civilisation offers a foundation that ensures peace ("Academic centres turn on the West", July 11-12).

Given that we are part way through a four-year, centenary commemoration of the First World War, I can only assume that Donnelly's choice of the verb "ensures" was sloppy or his understanding of European history is selective in the extreme.

The main part of that conflict was between countries at the heart of western civilisation that all maintained that the same Christian god was on their side.

Western civilisation has given the world much that is good. But rather than extravagantly claiming that it ensures peace, it would be more accurate to say that, across the span of history, war has been a continuing and prominent feature of that civilisation.

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

NAPLAN's limitations

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 2 July 2015

An edited version of the following letter was published in The Australian on Wednesday 24 June 2015. Underlined words were delted and bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading was "Could do better".

NAPLAN's limitations

Kevin Donnelly is right to draw attention to NAPLAN's limitations ("NAPLAN's flaws and limitations mean it fails exam", June 23).

If the program were genuinely beneficial for school education, we could surely expect to see the results trending up and our international performance as measured by PISA (the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment) doing likewise. This is not the case. Instead, NAPLAN results are stable and PISA results are trending down.

Part of the problem is probably that NAPLAN results are invested with more meaning than they deserve. In  addition, the associated national obsession with school choice fuelled by the My School website, does not adequately focus on the quality of education received by all Australian students, as opposed to a privileged minority in a small number of so-called "top" schools.

In an ACARA newsletter earlier (The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority chief executive officer early) this year, its CEO opined that we should move on from the debate about NAPLAN. Better yet would be to move on from NAPLAN itself.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

New ACARA Chair

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 2 July 2015

The following letter was submitted for possible inclusion in The Australian of Saturday 27 June 3015 but it was not selected for publication.

Relevant experience for curriculum body?

Wednesday's edition reported that Professor Steven Schwartz, a former university vice-chancellor, has been appointed as the new chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) ("PM's new adviser fears 'constipated curriculum'", Jun 24).

Education Minister Christopher Pyne was quoted as saying that Professor Schwartz is an "experienced pair of hands". There is no doubting Schwartz's extensive experience but it is a little strange that virtually none of his various professional roles as a psychologist, academic and university senior administrator had anything to do with primary or secondary schools and the curriculum to be taught in them. This might be the notion of content-free management at work but more likely is that, in Minister Pyne's view, Schwartz's best qualification is that, according to the professor himself, no one has ever accused him of being a "leftie".

Schwartz was reported as saying that teacher quality is a big issue for Australia. This might be true but it does seem to be the formal business of another federal government agency, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), rather than ACARA. Could it be that, at that stage, Schwartz was not entirely clear about which body he was to chair?

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

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