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Speech at the 2008 Curriculum Corporation Conference, Melbourne.
The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Minister for Education. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister for Social Inclusion. Deputy Prime Minister 10 November, 2008
2008 Curriculum Corporation Conference
10 November 2008, Melbourne
Thank you for the opportunity to launch this important conference on building a more socially inclusive and
productive nation through education.
Let me start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people. I
thank Diane Kerr for your Welcome to Country.
Let me also acknowledge our overseas guests: Michael Stevenson, Valerie Hannon, Chris Wardlaw and
Professor Stephen Heppell. Your participation and your expertise are very welcome as we discuss the future of
And I welcome all of the Australian educators here and the combined wealth of knowledge and commitment
that you bring to this discussion.
I am sure the insights and connections that you take from this conference will be of great value as you pursue
innovation and improvement in your own school communities.
THE EDUCATION REVOLUTION
This is an exciting and challenging time in Australian education.
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We came to office promising an Education Revolution and work is progressing on many fronts.
We have made significant progress in what will be a sustained, long term agenda.
Over the previous 12 years, under the Howard Government, our education system had been allowed to fall
behind. It has suffered more than a decade of neglect.
Lack of investment in early years and in tertiary education became a national embarrassment when Australia
was compared to the rest of the world.
National schools policy encouraged division and stagnation, exacerbating the public-private divide and
diverting attention from deeper issues of quality and equity.
We have set a different course.
Our argument was based on two principles.
First, the world is changing in ways that make education more vital than ever. Reform and innovation,
supported of course by investment, are urgent priorities.
Second, our approach to education is about excellence and equity, productivity and participation.
As a Government, we explicitly reject a view of education which leaves significant numbers of Australians
behind. Our commitment to educational excellence - to raising our highest standards further - is just as
I believe that the wider Australian community also rejects the view that other Australians should be
Australians recognise that we need to build an education system for a new century which maximises the
potential and the contribution of every individual.
That means we have a huge opportunity and an enormous challenge.
We are already acting on that challenge through new investments in schooling.
Our Digital Education Revolution program will invest $1.2 billion in computers for secondary schools,
supported by digital content resources, professional development and broadband connections.
Our $2.5 billion Trade Training Centres program will build new, shared infrastructure to develop vital skills
and talent among our secondary students for a 21st century workforce.
We are investing in local collaboration between schools, in Asian languages and studies.
But simply spending more will never be enough. Our investments will be underpinned by a stronger emphasis
on equity, excellence, transparency and cooperation.
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Our goal is to lift standards for everyone.
And to do this, we are working to re-invent Commonwealth-State school funding arrangements: to ensure that
resources are matched to need and encourage innovation and improvement for all school communities.
Through the Council of Australian Governments we have already agreed a shared policy framework which is
unprecedented in Australian education. It commits all governments to a common set of outcomes, targets and
policy directions to boost educational achievement, which in turn will boost participation and productivity in
This commitment is strengthened further by the new National Declaration of Educational Goals for Young
Australians, to be released next month by the Education Ministers of all jurisdictions.
We need to settle and strengthen a new educational consensus about what our young people really need in
order to thrive in a new century.
In doing that, we have an opportunity to establish the right expectations of teaching and learning in schools
and of how the wider community will support education.
That is why one of the most important elements of our Education Revolution is our pledge to create a new K to
12 national curriculum - beginning with English, Mathematics, Science and History - by 2011. This too is
being achieved through collaboration, goodwill and hard work.
It will outline the curriculum entitlement for every young Australian.
It will benefit teachers by giving them a clear understanding of what needs to be covered in each subject and in
each phase of schooling. It should also allow teachers the right flexibility to shape their classes around the
curriculum in a way that is meaningful and engaging for students.
The national curriculum will also make life easier for some 340,000 Australians, including for some 80,000
school-aged students who move interstate each year in pursuit of educational or employment opportunities.
And it will bring benefits to parents. It will give them clear and explicit agreement about what it is that young
people should know and be able to do.
This is something that I believe is 30 years overdue for a modern, talented and resource-rich country such as
GOOD CURRICULUM PROGRESS
As many of you already know, this effort is being undertaken by the interim National Curriculum Board, led
by Barry McGaw and Tony Mackay. They are doing an excellent job and I want to thank them for their efforts
The Board has already met six times this year, conducted extensive consultations around the country and held
a national consultation forum with hundreds of stakeholders.
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In mid-October they released initial advice papers in the four key subject areas. You will have noticed the
extensive national debate that they triggered.
It is healthy that the essentials of what students learn should be vigorously and openly debated. This means
that there will be strong and opposing views.
I am encouraged that these debates are not only occurring through parliament and the media, but in schools
and local communities.
This is in large part because of the thorough and open process that the Board is using to develop its advice and
work towards the drafting of the curriculum itself.
Let me quote one teacher in New South Wales who said in an email to her colleagues:
“There is so much goodwill and lots of positive energy to stride forward, at last, towards achieving a National
Curriculum…What I like most about the process so far is that they have an impressive and inclusive e-strategy.
They want to give classroom teachers every opportunity to get involved, to be informed and to share the
A new curriculum will only achieve its goals if it influences the practice of teaching and learning. The active
involvement of educators as partners in reform is essential.
This leads me to two further messages that I want to leave you with today. The first is about the content of the
curriculum. The second is about making sure that it is aligned with high quality teaching and rigorous
A FLEXIBLE CURRICULUM
Of course this process hasn’t started from scratch. We already have excellent state-based curricula and
curriculum development practice across the country.
And this has been reflected in the framing papers.
Each of them has re-stated the importance of deeply grounded disciplinary knowledge in each subject area:
grammar, literature and language in English, key scientific and mathematical concepts and methods; major
historical events and processes that have shaped our world.
This focus on disciplines and their content, as I have said before, is one that I strongly endorse. We’ve gone
out of our way to keep politicians out of the curriculum framing process, but I want to say that I’m personally
thrilled to see a greater focus on the basics.
One purpose of a national curriculum is to spell out what we, as a wider community, consider essential for all
But it is equally important that we address the need for a curriculum that is engaging, innovative and forward-looking.
So, for instance, while some would view the proposed new emphasis on world history as an innovation, it is
also in the very best traditions of the discipline: giving students the contextual knowledge they need to
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understand the world around them and the nation they are growing up in.
Or in science, the framing paper suggests that in the senior secondary years the three core disciplines of
physics, chemistry and biology would be pre-eminent, but there should be space for more applied and
specialist subjects to be taught too.
All the papers emphasise, as I see it, the importance of ensuring that curriculum content leads to depth of
But I recognise that the whole exercise creates a pressure to cover the many different areas of content which
many different people and organisations consider important, if not essential, for our students to learn.
Within any discipline this is a challenge. Across all of them the challenge is even greater.
We must make sure that, in the process of covering off the many different things we consider important,
students themselves do not become the losers in the process.
They would lose if they ended up with a curriculum that skated across the surface of many subjects but failed
to achieve depth or fluency in any.
They would lose if the curriculum became a rigid list of topics to be covered in standard ways.
And they would lose if the emphasis on curriculum content were to displace the focus we also need on the
quality and impact of teaching itself.
So, in asking the Board to develop a draft curriculum beginning with four core subjects, we must avoid
overcrowding the curriculum as a whole.
Other countries are seeking a similar balance. As I understand it, both Korea and Singapore have recently
reduced the amount of compulsory content in order to strengthen the focus on depth of understanding and
developing student’s learning and problem-solving skills. I am sure there will be lessons to learn about
curriculum flexibility during this conference.
We need a rigorous curriculum with the right level of flexibility.
While I am addressing flexibility, let me also address the concerns that have been raised in recent weeks about
the national curriculum in relation to some non-government schools.
Because this Government believes in transparency and accountability, the Schools Assistance Bill currently
before Parliament, which provides for non-government school funding over the next four years, includes the same requirements for curriculum, assessment and transparency that will be applied to government schools
through the forthcoming National Education Agreement.
The national curriculum, once agreed and completed, will be compulsory. But it will not mean that every
school will be required to teach the same subjects, line by line, in the same way.
I recognise that some schools use a specialised curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate and that
some, such as Steiner and Montessori schools, have educational philosophies which involve a particular
approach to curriculum.
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Clearly there are a number of approaches that are internationally and educationally recognised and used by
schools that can show their approach to curriculum is well structured and high quality. I will ask the National
Curriculum Board to advise in due course on the most effective method for confirming this recognition of
well-established alternative curriculum frameworks.
What is not open for negotiation is the idea that a world-class curriculum will be an optional extra for schools
that are receiving significant public funds.
A NEW ERA OF TRANSPARENCY
A rigorous curriculum needs the right degree of flexibility.
It must also be aligned effectively with teaching and assessment.
High quality learning depends on great teaching of stimulating content.
Accurate, properly focused assessment of learning is an integral part of that process.
I believe that the combination of great teachers, new technologies and engaged communities has the potential
to deliver world class education to every Australian student.
That is why our reform agenda includes a strong focus on assessment and transparency, as well as ongoing
investment in the curriculum materials and professional development that support great teaching.
That includes, as I’m sure you all know, to a new level of transparency in the reporting of student and school
The Prime Minister and I have both argued that to lift performance and direct new resources to where they
will make most difference, we need a new level of rigour and openness in the collection and publication of
information about student outcomes.
This year we have made real progress in working with State and Territory governments to develop a
framework for publishing consistent, accurate and appropriate information.
This debate raises strong feelings. We recognise that the misapplication of over-simple measures can have
negative and perverse effects on schools.
But that is not what we propose. Instead, we will be insisting on comprehensive information which will be put
in its proper context. Specifically, we will be comparing how the performance of a school compares to that of
other ‘like schools’ serving similar student groups.
If we are to properly understand how great schooling can improve educational outcomes in every kind of
community, we must accept the case for transparency and accountability across the whole of Australia’s school
CONCLUSION: ALIGNING OUR ACTIONS
To ensure this alignment in our national school reform agenda, we are establishing a new national body: the
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (or ‘ACARA’).
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For the first time in Australia, these roles will be comprehensively brought together. ACARA will be funded by
$37 million from the Commonwealth, with further contributions from the States and Territories. It will report
to all Australian Education Ministers through the Ministerial Council.
The ongoing work of the National Curriculum Board will now form part of this new authority, placing it in a
comprehensive framework for the future of Australian schooling.
I am confident that it will play a positive and influential role in taking forward our schooling agenda.
An Education Revolution requires a long term commitment to action at every level of our school system and
Those actions have already begun. We are deliberately taking them in a way that builds a platform for
sustained, far-reaching change.
With your help, we can take this opportunity to make Australian schooling among the best that the 21st
century has to offer.
It will need effort, innovation and a commitment to collaboration.
That’s what this conference is all about and I wish you well for the conference ahead.
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