Review of the Australian Curriculum, passing of Dr Bob Such
- Minister for Education
- Leader of the House
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I’m here this morning to announce the curriculum review report being released. In January I commissioned Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly to do a review of the curriculum across all aspects which I thought would take most of this year and I'm pleased to say that here in October, effectively ahead of schedule, we are announcing and releasing that review.
It is a very comprehensive document, 297 pages. It’s very well researched it received 1600 submissions, meetings with around 70 different organisations across Australia. ACARA, of course the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority, closely involved in the review. Submissions from most state and territory governments as well as the organisations that have been involved in education. And I must say that the review I think does make a very good fist of ways that we can improve student outcomes. In five key areas the Government is responding this morning in an initial Australian Government response. It’s initial because of course the Commonwealth government doesn’t run any schools. We need to work closely with state and territory governments to collaborate with them if we want to bring about change to the curriculum. The National Curriculum is a good idea. It is expanding into different subject areas and I think it has certainly made a difference to consistency across Australia. At the Education Ministers conference in December this year, I will sit down with the Education Ministers and talk to them about how to implement, where they wish to do so, the improvements that this review outlines. I wrote to the Education Ministers on Friday enclosing a copy of the review and the Government’s initial response.
Over the next few months, I’ll consult with people in the sector, with my Education Minister colleagues and then we’ll do a final Australian Government response probably in the early part of the new year. Because I want to emphasise to everyone involved in this very important area that politics is too trivial for getting the review, getting the curriculum right. We want the best outcomes possible for our students. They face real competition now from around the world in terms of high quality primary and secondary education. Australia can’t take for granted our very high quality education system and this review gives us a pathway forward on how to build on the good work that the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority has already done in establishing a national curriculum. There are some aspects of it I might just briefly comment on. We do want to see a less crowded curriculum particularly in the primary school years. The review finds that there is a great deal of breadth but not nearly enough depth in areas like for example literacy and numeracy. We want a curriculum which is more parent friendly, which engages parents more in their children’s education. A curriculum where children with disabilities and learning difficulties are given more specific support, more specific documents and curriculum that will allow them to reach their full potential. We want to address issues around the governance of the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority, but that is more a machinery provision than it is one that will change the curriculum. And we also want to make the themes match the curriculum rather than the curriculum trying and match the themes that are in the national curriculum. By and large the review finds that the national curriculum is an excellent document but it can be improved and this review will be a very good step along the way in making sure that we have the best outcomes possible for our students and that’s what parents want.
JOURNALIST: [Inadible] de-clutter the curriculum as observed in the report. What should be prioritised to go?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well look I don’t think today is a good day, Christopher, for me to pick and choose bits of the curriculum review that I like or dislike...
JOURNALIST: But there must something you think, a bit airy fairy, that could go, more focus on the things that matter like maths and literacy.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Look I think the review itself says that there needs to be a greater focus on literacy and numeracy particularly in foundation to Year 6 and Year 7 and I think that is a sensible suggestion. It’s possible that in an attempt to please all people there has been an over-crowding of the primary school curriculum and the review itself says that when children leave primary school and go to high school it’s more important that they have a depth of knowledge in the key areas like literacy and numeracy than that they have discussed every aspect of the curriculum. It also says, and I think it’s very sensible, that in maths for example, it’s more important that people progress on the basis of their knowledge than on the basis of their years at school and I think that is a sensible suggestion. So I think there’s lots of good part of it but I don’t want this to become a debate about what I particularly think about aspects of the curriculum. We’re putting the review out there, it’ll generate debate. But I think what parents want is some practical movement. One of the other aspects of the review which I think is interesting is that they have effectively said that phonics should be the basis for literacy from foundation to give children a very strong grounding in being able to read so that they can then learn.
JOURNALIST: What about the education of our teachers, do they lack grammar skills?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I think that is an interesting finding in the review and I don’t think anyone is pointing the finger at teachers. We want teachers to be as good as they possibly can be because they are teaching our young children at school and it says that for 30 years, students, all of us here except in fact probably Johnny, he’s probably a bit older than all of us but all of us here, weren’t taught grammar at school and therefore you couldn’t expect teachers of today, necessary to have a strong grounding in grammar and punctuation when they weren’t taught it themselves so that plays into another review that will be handed down soon which is the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report on teacher education at universities. That might well recommend grammar and punctuation training for teachers at university because they weren’t taught it at school and I don’t think you can expect teachers to teach something that they themselves have no grounding in, but the review does indicate that is a very important part of being able to teach, to actually understand the grammar and punctuation.
JOURNALIST: Would you go back and teach them, even though they’ve got all of their qualifications?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well ongoing professional development is a part of being a good teacher and we obviously can continue to support teachers in professional development at school. I’m sure the states and territories would want to cooperate in that as well. The review doesn’t find that we face some kind of crisis in education, but the review says that we could do better and this is a way of moving forward and I think for my own knowledge over the last few years as a Minister and Shadow Minister, it’s clear that, that edge that Australia has always had in terms of high quality school education does not exist anymore against our Asian competitors and if we want our children to be able to be international in their outlook and travel the world and be able to compete for jobs with everyone then we’re going to have to adopt a lot of this review if we want our curriculum to be the best it can be.
JOURNALIST: What did it say about NAPLAN?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, another specific aspect that I don’t really want to make the focus of this review but it supports the current assessment, it supports testing of students, it says that A to E marking could be clearer and more consistently applied across Australia so that parents have a better idea of the progress of their children. It does indicate that some states do A to E marking very well, others don’t; some schools do it well, others don’t and I think there could be better consistency across Australia on the assessment of students. But NAPLAN is, I think, a very important tool for teachers and for parents and also the principles and we continue to support National testing and publication of results.
JOURNALIST: The teaching of history has it been wrong in the past?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the review finds that there has been a tendency to try and make the content fit themes rather than allow themes to be a guide and I think that is definitely the case. Everyone in Australia would support a very clear teaching of Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander history and culture. Whether Asian sustainability, Australia’s place in Asia and Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander culture fits into the mathematics and physics curriculum for example, I think is a debatable point. In terms of history, what it finds, and I support and think most would is that we need to continue to have a strong emphasis on Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander culture and history but you can’t know the people we are today without knowing our western civilisation of where we’ve come from and how we’ve arrived and what we have today and I think that it emphasises that as well. It’s a very balanced review. There’s no attempt to criticise what’s gone before. We want to build on the foundation that’s already there and we’ve come a long way in the last couple of decades in terms of teaching Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander history and culture and we certainly don’t want to slide backwards on that front.
JOURNALIST: Should it be condensed then? Those subject matters? Australia’s relationship with Asia and Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander studies? That should be condensed in the same subject matter rather than incorporated?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the review finds that there has been a tendency to try and make the content fit the themes and that is not necessary. Perhaps in the initial national curriculum, the drafters might have gone too far in one direction to overcorrect and now we’re at a point five years later where we can perhaps achieve more of a balance. The review suggests Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history could be a subject of its own within the history curriculum rather than try and infuse every aspect of the history curriculum, that’s something people can discuss. As I say we have an initial Australian Government response. I don’t want to try and drive the public debate about this, but I want to actually implement positive practical change for the benefit of our students.
JOURNALIST: What about funding some of these issues, the Government hasn’t spent as much on education as Labor promised to…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That’s not true
JOURNALIST: How are you going to fund some of these initiatives?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The first thing to correct is that actually we are spending more on school education than Labor would have if they had been re-elected, because Bill Shorten removed $1.2 billion from school education and we put it back and education increases every year for the next four years, 8 per cent each year for the next three and then 4 per cent in the fourth year, so in fact it’s not true that we are spending less money, we are spending a great deal more. Moving on from that Labor myth, there’s always more money allocated every year for curriculum development, for professional development of teachers for improving what we do in our schools, that’s part of the $64 billion that the Commonwealth provides for school education and the states of course provide funds even above that so there is no shortage of funds available for updating the improving the curriculum and implementing that. There is no suggestion of wholesale change to the curriculum, this is not a rewrite of the National Curriculum, it’s building on the foundation that’s already there. The government already funding the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority that has the job of constantly improving and updating the curriculum, so in terms of new funding, there is no requirement for new funding to improve what we already have.
JOURNALIST: You’ll need the states on deck to get this curriculum to operate, how are negotiations going?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the states and territories and the Commonwealth regularly meet and talk about all aspects, whether it’s parental engagement, principal autonomy, the school chaplaincy programme, the curriculum itself and teacher quality. We have regular meetings as well, so I feel that our relationship is a very good one. Obviously the states and territories own and operate schools and as you point out we want them to be very much on board in improving the outcomes of our students, but I don’t know any education minister that doesn’t think if we can make an improvement then we should make it and this is not an ideological document, this is a document about how to improve student outcomes written by two very eminent educators who spent a great deal of time consulting around Australia and I must say the education community got very involved in the review, there’s no sense that all voices weren’t heard and included and I feel the states and territories will want to cooperate because it is about the best outcomes for all of our students
JOURNALIST: On that question of ideology in the curriculum, do you see a way of eliminating that in the future. Successive governments have a tendency to want to put their own agenda inserted into school curricula, is there a process to do away with that tendency?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I don’t know if there’s a process Christopher, I don’t know you can ever implement a process to take politics out of our daily lives in Australia since it’s a big part of our democracy…
JOURNALIST: For school children, subtly altering a curricula in order to get a certain agenda across?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well we don’t want any politics in schools obviously, we want our children to be focussed on learning rather than politics and I don’t get the sense that this is an ideological document and I don’t feel the national curriculum is an ideological document. There are certain themes in the national curriculum that the review has found appropriate in some aspects, not appropriate in others, that there may have been a tendency to try and squeeze the content into themes that were not likely to be appropriate. For example it’s hard to have Australia’s place in Asia squeezed into the mathematics curriculum and yet there was an attempt to do that. So I think this probably frees the curriculum for the strictures of trying the make the content match the themes and instead of allowing the content to speak for itself, whether it’s maths or science or English or geography etc.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] play a massive role in the generations to come, how important is it to adapt our teaching and have things like the National Broadband Network in place.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the National Broadband Network will be in place because of the election of a Coalition Government, it wouldn’t have been in place if Labor had remained in office…
JOURNALIST: A watered down version of the National Broadband Network will be in place. Is that [inaudible]
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, no the National Broadband Network will be in place using a number of different platforms.
JOURNALIST: It wouldn’t have been as good as a Labor National Broadband Network?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Is that your opinion or a question?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think we’re getting off the purpose of this press conference and getting into an argument about your views on the National Broadband Network
JOURNALIST: It’s more about technology and how we can adapt and how teachers can use technology.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well ICT is a big part of the curriculum and almost every school student, in fact every school student is using ICT every single day. Every school I go to, students are deeply involved in using technology as part of their education and it’s second nature for students. As the father of four children I can tell you they know a lot more about technology than I do and they use it everyday and teachers the same. The debate about ‘is there enough technology in schools? should they be using laptop computers? Is there enough technology available has well and truly moved on. I go to very very few schools where there isn’t a ubiquitous use of technology. Of course the ICT as a part of the curriculum is second nature to students these days.
JOURNALIST: Minister yesterday we lost an elder statesmen from South Australian politics, would you like to comment on the passing of Bob Such?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I would. Bob Such was a personal friend of mine. I had known him for probably close to 30 years and I always regarded him as a very good friend. I think he was a great South Australian, he very much put his electorate first and the people of Fisher first. He very hard for them as a great local member. He was a cabinet minister and I think his time was cut short as a cabinet minister and I think South Australia was the poorer for that. He was a Speaker as well, he was a man of integrity and a good family man, a good academic. He understood issues and he pushed issues that he thought were for the better of his community and South Australia in general. It was a tragedy I think when we all found out that he was suffering from a brain tumour. One that he was obviously entirely unaware of until after the state election which came as a terrible shock to Lyn I know and of course to the rest of his family and to all of us and I know he has gone very very quickly and we will miss Bob Such and we mourn his passing.
JOURNALIST: What does this mean for the seat of Fisher and the South Australian Liberal Party? What impact will this have?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Bob only died yesterday and so I think it’s probably not appropriate for me to comment on the politics of his seat. I think he probably needs some time and his family needs some time for the dust to settle before we start worrying about his replacement but obviously the State Labor Government will go through the process that’s appropriate.
JOURNALIST: On a question back to the review. How many of these 30 odd recommendations to you expect to accept.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well there are 30 recommendations, almost 300 pages of dense content. I, having read it, and knowing that it’s not an ideological document, I suspect that we will have quite a lot of support across Australia for its improvement. I think the states and territories will believe this is a step forward in a positive direction so I’d like to see most of it adopted. And there’s nothing in it that I can see that states and territories would baulk at because none of it is trying to drive a political agenda. All of it is making a good fist at improving the outcomes for our students.
JOURNALIST: Also in the report minister it has, where would like to see teacher benchmarks in teacher’s grammar improve? How quick?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the review does make the point that it’s hard to expect teachers who have never been taught grammar themselves, or punctuation, to be able to teach it. This will be a slow process because obviously the training of teachers at university is a many year process. As well as the professional development of teachers but I wouldn’t want to put a time limit on, or a time schedule on improving grammar and punctuation. We have to first overcome any concerns that the education ministers might have and work with them. But I suspect that they will want to make improvements that rebalance our curriculum and have us heading in a direction where we can get better outcomes for our students.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] Might be something that you have in mind to actually start a teaching course first and set a benchmark for an aspiring teacher leaving school.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well this has to be the last question because I have Madonna Delle Grazie procession to go to and I won’t want to miss that since I haven’t missed one in 21 years. The Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group will report to me soon. I suspect that they will have recommendations about the entrance of students to teaching at university. I’m not a fan of minimum ATAR scores. I think some of our best teachers might not have achieved particular minimum ATAR scores turn out to be very good because they gwt the right training and the right support. I’ll wait until I get that TEMAG report before I comment further on it but I think we can always make improvements to what they’re doing.