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Speech at the 2008 Curriculum Corporation Conference, Melbourne.

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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

Australian education.

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.


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

our nation.

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



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

and energy.

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



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

students learn.

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 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



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

our community.

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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