ACARA, Annotated

Yesterday, ACARA’s draft curriculum was approved by the Ministers, as it was always going to be. The draft is, of course, still secret, since when did ACARA ever give a stuff about what anybody thinks? The draft is due to appear in a couple weeks. We shall be ready.

Until the draft is released, there is not a lot upon which to comment. We know some details of the reprehensible process of the last month, and we have been given some vague hints of the nature of the new curriculum. But, because of ACARA’s insidious NDA, and out of a respect for sources, there is little we have to write and less we are permitted to write. We know, however, what to be watching for, and we’ll be waiting.

For now, all there is to go on is ACARA’s pleased-as-punch media release, which we annotate below. Much of the annotation is necessarily of the form “we shall see”, but there are a few things to note.

UPDATED AUSTRALIAN CURRICULUM RAISES STANDARDS

We shall see.

A decluttered Australian Curriculum that sets high expectations and standards for what all students should know and be able to do, and that supports deeper conceptual understanding and improvement in educational performance, has been endorsed by education ministers today.

We don’t quite know how a curriculum “supports” a “deeper conceptual understanding”, but we very much doubt both aspects. This was always the selling point, and it was always a bill of goods.

“The Australian Curriculum ensures the same high standard curriculum content is available to every student, regardless of where they live. It reflects the priorities and expectations we hold for our young people, and this curriculum sets a new high benchmark,” said ACARA CEO, David de Carvalho.

“regardless of where they live”. There’s some subtle, populist whistling in that clause, and not for the first time.

“Importantly, this is a more stripped-back and teachable curriculum that identifies the essential content our children should learn. Together with new resources designed to support our teachers, it is expected the Australian Curriculum will lead to improved student outcomes.

We shall see.

“There is a stronger focus on phonics in English and on mastering essential mathematical facts, concepts, skills and processes. Students will be introduced to concepts and processes at the right time.

We shall see. ACARA were of course hammered for suggesting kids skip-count for a decade before eventually, grudgingly, cloudedly getting to the multiplication tables. It was inevitable that they’d have to give way on this and the like. How much they have given, and whether they have framed the material so anybody will pay any attention, that is much less certain.

“History has been significantly decluttered, allowing more time for in-depth teaching. There is a strengthening of explicit teaching of consent and respectful relationships from F–10 in age appropriate ways.”

Ministers considered the final draft earlier this year and were supportive of the revisions to 6 of 8 learning areas, as well as the cross-curriculum priorities and the general capabilities. Further revisions were requested in Mathematics and the Humanities and Social Sciences, which have now been approved.

Australian Curriculum – summary of key changes

• the removal and reduction of content so the curriculum can be taught with depth and rigour, including a 21% reduction in the number of content descriptions, which describe what is to be taught and what students are expected to learn

“depth and rigour”. Sure.

It is also a weird mind that imagines the phoney precision of 21% is impressive or meaningful. The statistic is, in any case, irrelevant. The number of content descriptions has never been a problem. The problem has been the quality of the content descriptions and, much more fundamentally, the number and the quality of the topics.

• a stronger focus on phonics in English • a stronger focus on students mastering the essential mathematical facts, skills, concepts and processes, and being introduced to these at the right time 2 OFFICIAL

• making clear what mathematical computations need to be done without a calculator, reinforcing the importance of achieving proficiency in foundational skills • a revision of the sequencing of content in Mathematics, in particular, telling time, introduction of fractions, recall of multiplication facts and the solution of linear equations

Again, ACARA was always going to have to give ground here and, again, we shall see how much ground has been given.

• lifting standards for Mathematics in Year 1 in relation to addition and subtraction, and with additional content setting expectations about recall and proficiency with multiplication facts (“times tables”) beginning in Year 2.

Same.

• prioritising Australian history in Year 9 and 10 within a global context • deepening students’ understanding of First Nations Australian histories and cultures, the impact on First Nations Australians of the arrival of British settlers as well as their contribution to the building of modern Australia

• strengthening and making explicit teaching about the origins and heritage of Australia’s democracy and the diversity of Australian communities • strengthening the explicit teaching of consent and respectful relationships from F–10 in age-appropriate ways

• addition of privacy and security in the Digital Technologies curriculum

• strengthening the focus on students being physically active and content with a focus on activity in natural and outdoor settings.

• strengthening the Foundation year by identifying the essential content to teach in the first year of school across all 8 learning areas.

It is not clear to us what this means.

ACARA is also undertaking further work in the important area of mental health for young Australians. This will be reflected in later updates to the Health and Physical Education curriculum.

Australian Curriculum – consultation

The review set out to improve the curriculum from Foundation to Year 10 by refining, realigning and decluttering the content.

They keep saying that, like a nervous tic, and it is still not true.

For the first time, proposed revisions to the entire F–10 Australian Curriculum were released for public comment at the same time. During that consultation period, more than 6,000 online surveys and 900 email submissions were received.

Submissions to which there is no evidence you paid any attention whatsoever, which you did not publish, and to which you promised to respond but never did.

Eighteen teacher and curriculum reference groups comprising 360 teachers and curriculum specialists from across Australia also supported and provided advice during the review process.

And not a single mathematician.

“The Australian Curriculum must represent broad community consensus

What makes you imagine such consensus now exists, or is even possible? Ignoring the question of the wisdom of aiming for consensus rather than quality, how the Hell can there possibly be “broad community consensus” on an invisible document?

and be based on well-informed and researched evidence,

What “researched evidence”? Do they mean this or this or this or this?

and the consultation process has helped achieve this outcome,” ACARA’s Curriculum Director, Sharon Foster, said. “The final version has been significantly improved as a result.”

How?

ACARA appreciates the leadership provided by education ministers, and the input, direction and support provided by practising teachers, curriculum specialists, subject matter experts, academics, and peak professional and industrial bodies, as well as the extensive public feedback received during consultation.

(02/04) The “subject matter experts” that, by desire and by design, you ignored for a year, and then treated with contempt for another year, and then finally, at gunpoint permitted to take a last-minute peek at the curriculum? Great way to show your appreciation, guys. Thank God you don’t hate us.

You also didn’t claim, by the way, that these “subject matter experts” approved of either the final curriculum or the process of getting there. Strange, that.

“I want to thank everyone who engaged in the consultation for their input, direction and support. It has helped to shape an Australian curriculum that will help our education system to achieve our national goals of excellence and equity,” Ms Foster said.

We shall see.

The existing Australian Curriculum that is currently taught in schools, and all support resources, will continue to be available on the current Australian Curriculum website until all states, territories and schools are implementing the updated curriculum.

Australian Curriculum – new website

The updated curriculum, Version 9.0, will be available on a new website in Term 2, 2022 and will be implemented by schools according to the timelines set by education authorities in states and territories. To support implementation, ACARA will source and develop resources for teachers, with a focus on new and changed content areas.

Which clowns will you have develop these resources? The same clowns that produced your original draft?

We shall see.

5 Replies to “ACARA, Annotated”

  1. OK, let’s play ACARA’s game for a moment … “it is expected the Australian Curriculum will lead to improved student outcomes.”

    I have two questions:

    1) What are these outcomes?

    2) How will improvement be measured?

    Actually I have one more question:

    3) What will be the consequences if/when, as has happened with previous ACARA curricula, the outcomes are NOT achieved (and, in fact, things get even worse)?

    (I doubt there will be consequences on De Carvalho, because I’m certain he’ll be moving on – very soon – to inflict his UNleadership elsewhere with another bunch of clowns)

    1. Can we get a bet (probably safer not to – it might interfere with Marty’s ACARA Bingo game) on whether the answers from ACARA will be along the lines of:

      1) We will tell you in a couple of weeks. But since we are using the skip-counting method, we have not actually defined what is meant by “a couple”, so we may never actually tell you.

      2) If you were a decent teacher, you would know. Now, in a totally unrelated matter, we are seeking to employ 10000 extra teachers nation-wide. People with experience in anything other than teaching are encouraged to apply. Please note the standard pay-cuts will apply immediately upon your appointment to a school nowhere near where you live.

      3) All correspondence will be answered when we are ready. See definition of “a couple” above.

      1. My guess is:

        1) The ‘outcomes’ will be cherry-picked retrospectively. Anything that shows ‘improvement’ – anything at all – will be given cosmetic surgery and cited as an outcome. And by definition, this will answer 2).

        ACARA will be too cowardly to be upfront with clearly stated ‘outcomes’ are, because it won’t be able to deny failure if/when those ‘outcomes’ fail to improve. Although, as the old saying goes, you can prove anything with statistics and this is something these ‘experts’ consistently do.

        As for 3), there will be no consequences because blame will be deflected. This is the root of the problem. Typhoid Mary – the professional bureaucrat responsible for this mess – will have moved on. But you can be certain that the same clowns that created this mess will be asked to fix it. The definition of stupidity. And I suspect an old pal of ours will soon be running ACARA.

        It would be very good to see the media push hard to get some straight answers to 1) and 2) from De Carvalho, while he can still be held accountable.

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