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Estimates: Development of the national curriculum

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 26 Feb 2014

Senator Penny Wright questions the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) during Senate Estimates.

Senator Wright seeks to clarify the total expenditure incurred by the government in developing the Australian Curriculum and touches on the current review of the Curriculum, asking whether the timeframe for this review is reasonable.


Senator Wright: I have a few questions, so I do not think you will be wasting your time. Good morning, Mr Randall. I wrote down what you said there. You said ACARA has had an extensive, rigorous process to develop what we have here-meaning the current state of the Australian curriculum as it is being implemented now?

Mr Randall: Yes.

Senator Wright: Thank you for that. The first thing I wanted to ask you was how many years were spent developing the curriculum to its form as it is currently being implemented.

Mr Randall: The work started in 2008 with the establishment of what was then the interim national curriculum board. That work was taken up by the Australian Curriculum Assessment Reporting Authority, established to do that and other bits of work. So the start of our work back in 2008 was the scoping and design of the work, and it went all the way through to last week, when we released curriculum in an additional five areas. Typically, an area of curriculum, as I answered previously, is two to three years.

Senator Wright: Thank you. My understanding is it is now being implemented and rolled out and that that process is ongoing.

Mr Randall: English, mathematics, science, history and geography have all been approve by the ACARA board and endorsed by the ministerial council. This is F-to-10 curriculum in various stages of implementation. Some states and territories picked it up straight away; some have taken a bit longer.

Senator McKENZIE: Could you outline in more detail which states have picked it up and in what aspects across the school they are being implemented?

Mr Randall: I am happy to provide a more detailed summary on notice-though we have some of this information on our website-rather than go through each state and territory. The ACT was one of the first to commence implementation of the curriculum. New South Wales, for example, has taken the Australian curriculum and, through the process it has under its local act, put it into their syllabuses, which is the form they need to have available in New South Wales. So they are now implementing English, maths, science and history. They will have specific advice about which years of schooling and which areas they are doing it in.

Senator McKENZIE: But it is not completely blanketed rolling out across the board from prep to 12.

Mr Randall: It certainly has not all been at the same time, but we are now at the point where we can confidently say all the areas are being implemented.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.

Mr Cook: New South Wales, for example, have indicated they will not have their completion undertaken until 2016. South Australia has indicated that they will have it implemented up to year 9 this year but not year 10. WA expects to have their completion by next year, 2015. Other states and territories are predominantly implementing in 2014, but there are a number of states which are over different time lines.

Senator Wright: So it is clearly a real work in progress; but this is, as you have indicated, Mr Randall, an extensive process over a long period of time. Perhaps we could ask for those details to be on notice. That would be helpful, thank you.

What expenditure has the government incurred in developing the Australian curriculum up to the point that the minister announced the review to be led by Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire? I understand you may need to provide an estimate here and then maybe take the precise figure on notice, but I just want a sense of what the costs have been up to this point.

Mr Randall: The first part of my answer to the question will be that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority is funded 50 per cent by the Australian government and 50 per cent by states and territories. Your question was the Australian government.

Senator Wright: Yes.

Mr Randall: If you like, I will provide some figures here but maybe follow it up with the answer.

Senator Wright: Thank you. That would be helpful, and I would appreciate as much information as you can give now.

Mr Randall: Certainly. I have in front of me project costs and staffing costs. As I am reading these I need to double-check that what I am reading here adds up to the total. Project costs, which are the costs of engaging writers, conducing consultation and the like-I will do these in rounded up figures-starting with 2008-09 are $150,000; in 2009-10, $3.7 million; in 2010-11, $3 million; in 2011-12, $3.2 million; in 2012-13, $4.5 million. They are the project costs. Then we will have some salaries with that. Typically, I do not have the broken-down salaries of the different elements of our organisation. We could argue the CEO has a role in curriculum development, but we do not necessarily get it all down to that role. I might, if you are agreeable, supplement what I have given you now with the project costs plus the salary costs on notice.

Senator Wright: Thank you for that. That would be good. To be quite clear: you indicated that ACARA is funded 50 per cent by the federal government and 50 per cent by states and territories. Is that right?

Mr Randall: Yes.

Senator Wright: So they are the total figures that ACARA could account for.

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator Wright: My next question was: do you have an estimate of what the states and territories have incurred in this process? In a sense, that encompasses some of the costs that they have incurred because they have contributed to the running costs of ACARA. Would there be other costs additional to what ACARA has incurred in terms of states and territories preparing for this Australian curriculum as well-consultation that they do independently et cetera?

Mr Randall: I am sure that is the case. I am sure people could account for the effort that is there in other ways. Senator O'Neill referred to the Board Of Studies New South Wales. It will have its staff providing advice and managing consultation processes and reports. That would be true of others. That would be true of the different organisations that are there. We do not have that but, yes, there would be additional. As in any of these enterprises, the effort that goes into them could be accounted for. But I will not be in a position to be able to give you that.

Senator Wright: All right.

Mr Cook: All states and territories, as you know, have curriculum and assessment authorities in a sense, so they have had a role for many years now-the Board of Studies NSW, the curriculum assessment authority in Victoria. They have developed either their own state based curriculum or their own state based assessment programs before NAPLAN came along. It would be difficult, other than going to their own education budgets, to get a sense of what they looked like.

Senator Wright: Thank you. I did think it was probably unlikely you would be able to give me that, but I was hoping you might have some sense.

Senator O'NEILL: On the same issue: what about the impact of what you have just been discussing on electronic NAPLAN delivery and curriculum development? We know that there was money to do those things. What is going to happen or now not going to happen?

Senator Wright: Do you mind if we come back to that in a minute? I want to follow up on this particular aspect.

Senator O'NEILL: Sure.

Senator Wright: Thank you. In developing the Australian curriculum, did you consider the curriculums of other high-performing nations?

Mr Randall: Yes, we did.

Senator Wright: What did you learn through that process?

Mr Randall: Again, I will preface part of that. In terms of looking at curriculum in other countries, and high performing countries, we did two key elements. One is a straight comparison when you look at their documents-what are young people expected to learn in those countries? Then for the first four areas, English, mathematics and science, we added another process-a benchmarking process-bringing in a methodology that had come out of the USA which has been used in relation to benchmarking about our expectations and coverage of curriculum, and engaged teachers within Australia to look at our curriculum and the curriculum of other countries, so you get a more empirical measure.

As to your question about 'overall', again, we can go into individual areas to say what impact did it have at certain times. Typically we sought to learn out of that to make sure that we were pitching our expectations at a level comparable with other places. But equally, along the way, that is not always possible because you also look at the whole curriculum and you look at what is possible here. For example, one that is often cited-which is relatively fresh in my mind-is Singapore, and you look at some of the numeracy developments of young people in Singapore. On some aspects they had higher expectations than we did. We had higher expectations on others. That empirical benchmarking helped give us the dimensions overall. We were also interested in end points, by the end of year 10, and also progress along the way. That became an interesting discussion to say, well, why might they have some of the young people achieving some higher standards earlier along but with the same end point-and then you look at the whole curriculum. That was because earlier on we made the decision that, instead of just narrowing it down, we were endeavouring to put forward a broader curriculum in the early years to make sure there was, by design, space for the arts and other areas. So you get into some interesting discussions and questions of that order.

One of our selection criteria was that the countries were ones that we could easily access. So we have not necessarily benchmarked against Korean or Chinese because that requires a translation exercise, unlike countries like Singapore and others, where we could access standards more readily. That was a consideration along the way.

Senator Wright: I think you said earlier you received, on this particular aspect of your work, the development of the Australian curriculum, 17,000 submissions.

Mr Randall:  There are about 12,000 in the first five areas, and then the other 5,000 or so in the areas that we just made available on our website in the last week.

Senator Wright: Do you think that the four weeks that has been allowed for assessing submissions in the current review of the Australian curriculum is adequate?

Mr Randall: I do not think that the timeline applies.

Senator Wright: For assessing the submissions, not for receiving them. That is six weeks I think. The consultation period is six weeks; I am asking about assessing.

Mr Randall: I do not know their detailed timeline well enough.

Senator Wright: That is what I am putting to you that my understanding is that the consultation period is six weeks and the assessment period then, before the report is due, is the four weeks. Is that adequate do you think, in the context of what you have seen?

Mr Randall: I do not think it is reasonable to compare what we have done and what is being asked here. When people bring things to bear in making submissions, they are referring to something they are already familiar with, that they have been engaged with over time. Any submissions that they are making now are on the basis of their experience previously. I think they are able to do that, then the reviewers have some specific terms of reference that frames it. They have been framed in particular way. I think they have all been set to guide the process. The reviewers themselves, working with the secretariat, have quite sophisticated ways to be able to bring all that analysis together. So I do not accept, if you allow me to say that, that comparison as a valid comparison between what we did and what has been asked in the review process.

Senator Wright: Just given what you have outlined about the extensive, rigorous process you have undertaken and your capacity as ACARA-with arguably total expertise in the field, more than perhaps anyone else-do you accept the claim that has been made that there is left-wing bias in the Australian curriculum as it is now being implemented?

Senator McKENZIE: That is an opinion. It depends where he sits on the political spectrum.

Mr Randall: Senator, I am not going to respond to that one. All the way through the process-

Senator Wright: It does not necessarily. I am asking if it is an opaque curriculum.

CHAIR: The question has been asked. Could you answer it very briefly, because time is limited.

Mr Randall: All the way through the process, there is a range of content. Without doubt, the development of the Australian curriculum has been contested and people will have a whole range of content. I think, professionally and personally, that is absolutely fantastic; it is too important an area for us to not have an ongoing discussion about what we want young people to learn.


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