Australian Curriculum review changes the goalposts

The report of the Australian Curriculum review has been released this week. While the report stresses the importance of arts education and the need to support professional development of teachers, it has suggested that only two arts subjects—likely visual arts and music—need be mandatory.

Australian Curriculum review changes the goalposts


This is a change from the Australian Curriculum : The Arts that was endorsed by all education ministers in July 2013, subject to further consultation with Western Australia.

The arts curriculum was also recognised internationally in the International Arts Education Standards, prepared by the New York-based College Board for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards:

The Australian arts curriculum could be considered as exemplary in the breadth of its scope, the considerable attention to defining its own language, and the lengths it goes to in recognising the differences in abilities and learning opportunities at the different age/grade levels. It considers the importance of the arts in the roles they may play in other parts of the general curriculum: literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, cross-cultural and environmental awareness, social and ethical development. Uniquely among the countries studied, it provides a link for a comprehensive documentation and explanation of the research that informs the curriculum.

‘It is surprising that the review team has said that they believe the arts curriculum has been “cobbled together, as a simplistic way of maximum inclusion to achieve compromise”,’ Ms Bethwyn Serow, Executive Director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, said.

‘It was actually developed after an enormous deal of consultation since 2010, and with great collegial discussion—our members consulted directly in artform groups with ACARA (the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority), as well as through various membership bodies such as the NAAE (National Advocates for Arts Education).’

The existing National Curriculum specifies five mandatory arts units for Foundation–Year 10—music, visual arts, dance, drama and media arts.

The Australian Government established the review in January 2014 to evaluate the development and implementation of the Australian Curriculum, as well as to ensure Australia was performing well in the international context.

‘The observations made in the review are not entirely consistent with one another and so we are not clear on the practical impact of certain recommendations or why some art forms are championed over others,’ Ms Serow said.

‘My understanding has been that the arts curriculum was endorsed by all the states as a practical and flexible curriculum providing certainty of a base level of exposure to each of the performing arts subject areas for all students in Australia.

‘In primary these subjects combined would amount to just over an hour a week —so I don’t think there’s an issue here about overcrowding the curriculum.’

She said the role of the arts in education was critical to the educational outcomes of Australian students—and she reiterated her members’ concern that the arts strengthened place in the national curriculum be maintained.

‘Our major performing arts companies will therefore need to consider the report’s recommendations and assess their impact on the education programs they offer,’ she said.

The review team, led by Dr Kevin Donnelly and Professor Kenneth Wiltshire, received almost 1600 submissions and conducted consultations around the country. It also engaged subject matter specialists—in the case of the arts, Ms Michele Chigwidden and Dr John Vallance.

Dr Vallance and Ms Chigwidden examined how the rts were treated in the Australian Curriculum, in the five subject matter areas: music, drama, dance, visual arts and media arts.

As a point of comparison, Dr Vallance examined the Arts curriculums in England and the Republic of Korea, concluding that the Australian model was well behind both in terms of quality and clarity.

Compared to the other two examples, our curriculum appears organised around a series ofunfocused, apparently unexamined assumptions which have their origins far outside the classroom.

Ms Chigwidden concluded the reverse:

The National Curriculum in England is easy to read and follow the sequencing, except Attainmenttargets which are far too generic, and seems flimsy and lacking depth in regards to Arts subjects. Most of the guidance is implicit – leaving too much open to interpretation. Where the curriculum in South Korea is prescriptive, it seems that the curriculum in England is on the other end of the scale.

She also recommended the implementation of the Australian Curriculum stating that the Arts curriculum is essential to Arts education in Australia.

The review’s recommendations in the arts are:

  • The Arts curriculum should be available to all students throughout all the years of schooling. The learning area should be formally introduced at Year 3 but provide a rich source of resource material for Foundation to Year 2, the Foundation years.
  • The core content of the arts leaning areas(i.e. dance, drama, media arts, music, visual arts) should be reduced and a considerable portion of the current core be included in school-based curriculum and activities, thus augmenting the rich arts programs which most schools are already conducting.
  • Two of the arts strands should be mandatory and we recommend music and visual arts. The other three strands would be elective subjects and schools would choose which to offer according to their resources and wishes of the parents and nature of the school context. Media arts should become a separate standalone subject and substantially reduced in content.
  • Elements of the current arts curriculum should also be integrated into other learning areas such as English, health and physical education, history and technologies.
  • The content of each of the arts forms needs to be restructured and re-sequenced along the lines suggested by the subject matter specialists. The documents need be expressed in clearer language. The balance between ‘making’ and ‘responding’ in each of the strands needs to be revisited involving consultation with arts teachers.
  • The considerable resourcing costs associated with delivering the arts curriculum need greater consideration, and professional development for teachers is needed as the years progress. It needs to be acknowledged that arts specialists will be needed at the advanced levels.
  • An analysis needs to be undertaken to identify the extent to which the cross-curriculum priorities have produced repetition of content in these strands, and the extent to which they have skewed the content of all the strands, particularly away from Western and other cultures. The cross-curriculum priorities should be integrated, but only where appropriate, and their presence more clearly indicated.

The government has also released an Initial Australian Government Response as a starting point for discussions with states and territories and other key stakeholders on how to strengthen and refine the Australian Curriculum There are no initial positions stated in relation the specific arts curriculum.

Education Minister, the Hon Christopher Pyne, will take the review and the initial response to the Education Council of state and territory education ministers in December 2014 for consideration.

The arts content of the review can be found here.

The full review can be found here.

Supplementary Report including both Mr Vallance and Ms Chigwidden's individual reports in fullhere.


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