Education Minister Julie Bishop was right in saying that teachers are a valued resource. But she also seems to think that they are isolated from the curricula they are “forced” to teach, and that those curricula are forced on them from above by dreadful people like principals, bureaucrats, community, parental representatives and academics. This is untrue.

In the ACT, we have a school-based curriculum which is organised by a curriculum framework, and has been devised by a very inclusive, consultative program. To develop it, we’ve learned from the other states and put together a package that has strong support from both the public and private sectors, parents, the Catholic education office, independent schools organisations, education unions, university representatives and others.

At a broader level, we’ve tested the curriculum with hundreds of teachers. So from our perspective, the development of the curriculum has not been a top down process at all. There has been a very high level of community and professional participation, despite what the federal minister says.

I am happy to acknowledge that there needs to be a greater level of national consistency on some issues. For example, much time and effort has been spent tackling problems like the varying age levels for starting school. There has been a lot of work done on agreed frameworks of national curriculum statements in various key curriculum areas. Again, broad consensus characterises that work and involves the federal government alongside those of the states and territories.

But what do we have today? Julie Bishop junking all of it. Now she’s proposing a national board that will have absolute control over the curriculum in our states and territories, thereby destroying the consensus we’ve achieved at the grassroots level, and insulting all of those who have worked towards it. And let’s remember the sort of people who have done that work: academics, principals, teachers, and parents. 

In Australia, the competition between the states helps to foment ideas. We learn off each other, we learn from each other’s best practice. There are significant pluses in doing that. But you have to ask, what kind of resonance will a nationally imposed curriculum have on schools in rural or outback Australian or on Indigenous education? Let me give you an example. When the federal government recently introduced major funding changes to Indigenous education, we saw large numbers of locally engaged Indigenous support workers lose their jobs and a real fall-off in Indigenous parent participation in the education of their students.

Blanket policy decisions in Canberra will not solve the issues facing Australia’s education system. A singular view from Canberra may even exacerbate them, particularly if it is ideologically driven. A recent history of education development at the national level has demonstrated the determination of the federal government to use education as both a political and an ideological battleground.

Peter Fray

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