Education reviews are booming. Shame the same can’t be said about school standards

Blaise Joseph

25 June 2020 | Spectator

Don’t be fooled by the “back to basics” language from the Berejiklian government — in reality, this NSW curriculum review also contains wishy-washy educational progressivism at its worst. 

We’ve all had enough of low expectations for students and fluffy education ideas. At least as an afterthought the government now conceals progressive education ideas under the rhetoric of “basics” and “core content” — but their ideas are still just as bad. 

To summarise, the review recommends scrapping A to E grades, making the curriculum “untimed” so there are no set standards or expectations for age groups, and making HSC exams worth less which would reduce the rigour and fairness of the Year 12 certificate. Managing to get this reported in the media as “back to basics” is admittedly very good spin (whoever the responsible media advisers were, they probably deserve a pay rise).  

The radical central proposal of moving away from a year-level curriculum to an ‘untimed’ curriculum that does “not specify when every student must commence, or how long they have to learn, the content of each syllabus” would remove any absolute standard for what all students should be expected to achieve by a given age. Telling students to always go at their own pace risks leading to more underperformance. 

And it seems completely impractical. How are teachers meant to teach many different syllabi at the same time in the same class? Are they seriously meant to produce individualised learning plans for every student?  

There is no doubt the curriculum needs to be improved, and there are positives to come out of the review and the government’s response. A greater focus on literacy and numeracy being taught systematically in the early years of school is welcome. And removing pointless subjects from the HSC is also a sensible move. 

But the onus is on the NSW government to clearly reject the bad ideas, while accepting the good ones. It’s a total abdication of responsibility for a government to simply adopt whatever a review recommends without first carefully considering each recommendation on its merits.  

This principle — that elected governments, not review authors, should determine policy — is even more important to defend giving the upcoming barrage of more Australian education reviews. 

There is a review of the Australian curriculum in the next three years (which will likely cause further substantial changes to the NSW curriculum — a great example of the total lack of coordination in Australian education policy), a NAPLAN review, a senior secondary pathways review, and a NSW vocational education review. And the NSW curriculum review recommended even more reviews into the ATAR and teacher red tape.  

Rest assured, while most of the Australian economy may be struggling at the moment, at least our education review industry is still booming. 

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