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ELEANOR HALL: It was a goal of the previous federal government. Now Kevin Rudd is pressing ahead
with plans for a national curriculum in Australian schools.

This week has seen the release of the blueprint for changes in history, maths, science and English.

But while there's bipartisan support for the principles of a national framework, the Federal
Opposition says there needs to be more flexibility to accommodate alternative teaching methods such
as those taught in Steiner and Montessori schools.

Simon Santow has our report.

SIMON SANTOW: It's long been a cry from academia and from employers that there's not enough focus
on teaching the basics in the nation's schools.

When the Coalition was in government it promised it would restore numeracy skills in maths and
improve basic phonetics in English by imposing a national curriculum on the states and territories.

Labor has not retreated from that undertaking; and now after consultation the draft framework is
out.

There's to be a renewed emphasis on teaching English grammar, as Sydney University's Professor
Peter Freebody explained to AM's Richard Lindell.

PETER FREEBODY: There was a period where there was a kind of shying away from or a turning away
from the teaching of grammar. And it was partly because people didn't particularly know how to
teach it very well and partly because it was, at that time, you know, just embedded in forms of
teaching that didn't liven it up with the use of real text and so on.

Now teachers don't do that anymore. They know how to liven these things up.

RICHARD LINDELL: Do you reject the notion that students are leaving school ill-prepared? I mean
this is what we're hearing from business. This is what we're hearing from many universities as
well, that students are leaving school without the basics of grammar, without the basics of
punctuation.

PETER FREEBODY: I don't reject that. I think that there are still way too many students who are in
that position. What I do reject is that there was a golden era when there was nobody who left in
that position.

SIMON SANTOW: Not surprisingly, English teachers are sensitive to any criticism that they're not
turning out students with basic skills.

Yvonne Emmelhainz teaches at a high school on the New South Wales north coast.

YVONNE EMMELHAINZ: The biggest hurdle we've got is to engage the students and if we can do that
with interesting texts and then tie those other things in according to the abilities of the
students we're teaching, then I believe that's the best way to go; rather than enforcing certain
activities.

SIMON SANTOW: And are you confident that when students graduate from high school at the moment that
they do have those, very much those basics down pat?

YVONNE EMMELHAINZ: Students do have basic skills but of course you realise there is a range of
abilities. Once they are leaving school they're at all different sorts of levels with their
learning. I think that the system is working for most students to various degrees.

SIMON SANTOW: Currently each state or territory has its own curriculum. But while schools may
answer to state-based bureaucracies, their funding increasingly comes from the Federal Government.

The Opposition's education spokesman is Christopher Pyne.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The national curriculum is supported by the Opposition but we don't believe that
it should be mandated in the inflexible way that crushes the International baccalaureate or special
needs programs in schools for disabled children or Montessori schools or Steiner schools. And I'd
hardly regard that as controversial.

SIMON SANTOW: In practical terms this is all meant to be up and running for 2009, not that many
months away. Is that achievable do you think?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Look I think it is achievable and it remains to be seen whether the Labor Party
can bring it about. On current performance you'd have to say that it probably won't happen. The
computers in schools program is in freefall; the national curriculum hopefully won't go the same
way. But I guess it remains to be seen whether our part-time Education Minister can make this
happen.

SIMON SANTOW: The Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard was unavailable to speak to The World
Today but a spokeswoman for the Minister insists the final curriculum will provide scope for
flexibility and alternative teaching styles.

The Government hopes to have a very limited pilot program in a handful of schools some time next
year. There are then plans for more consultation with parent and teacher groups as well as state
and territory governments. The aim is to have the final version of the national curriculum up and
running in 2011.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Santow reporting.