Neoliberalism and the national curriculum

September 24, 2010

Teachers around the country have criticised the introduction of a new national curriculum.

The states have agreed to implement the new curriculum by 2013. However, the Gillard and Rudd governments have consistently pushed for this to take place by 2011. Considering that draft versions of the first curriculum documents were only released for consultation in March 2010, this was bound to end up being impossible to meet.

Initially, the consultation period for the draft curriculum was to finish at the end of May. The final draft of the national curriculum was to be released in August or September and approved by the states by October.

But the development of new teaching programs and units of work in schools is a massive task that simply cannot take place in the timeframe expected by the politicians.

Such a major change in curriculum will require much re-training for teachers — something that also cannot realistically happen within the expected timeframe.

So now education ministers in NSW and Victoria have finally agreed with educationalists that the national curriculum cannot be implemented by 2011. Both states now say that they will be using existing state syllabi next year.

However, the plan, agreed to by NSW and Victoria, to implement the new curriculum by 2013 may be as unfeasible as the initial plane. Teacher unions, state boards of studies and professional associations have all voiced concern over the timeframe.

The New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF) has questioned the implementation schedule and issues of quality and content. Most recently, the NSWTF Council meeting in August debated concerns about the lack of adequate indicated hours for certain subjects in the senior curriculum.

The NSW Board of Studies expressed similar concerns in its submission to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which is highly critical of the draft curriculum’s quality and standards.

Similarly, the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals has spoken out about the content and quality, and called for more time for development of the document.

Teacher unions such as the NSWTF support the development of a national curriculum but the timeframe and content of the national curriculum proposed by the government is a concern.

Furthermore, PM Julia Gillard has for some time been pushing an extremely unsavoury education agenda based on the failed “New York model” pioneered by Joel Klein, head of the New York City education department — the agenda of corporatising schools.

This agenda involves mass standardised testing, league tables and the grading of schools, performance pay for teachers and the devolution of schools — all of which further the agenda of big business while undermining school communities and the provision of quality public education.

The lynchpin of this whole agenda is mass testing — in the Australian context, NAPLAN.

Performance pay for teachers and devolution have become recurrent issues in Australia in recent years. The ALP made promises to introduce them during the federal election campaign.

A national curriculum designed to allow this educational neoliberalism on a national level cannot ensure the provision of quality public education.

[Pat Donohoe is a councillor of the NSW Teachers Federation, secretary of Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association and a Socialist Alliance activist.]

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