Union condemns rushed NSW Curriculum reform
The Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT Branch has cautioned the NSW Government not to rush new curriculums into schools, saying it risks delivering poor quality syllabuses, under-prepared teachers and short-changed students.
The NSW Government made the decision to streamline and reduce ambiguity in the state’s syllabuses following a two-year review into the NSW curriculum conducted by Professor Geoff Masters, concluding last June. Professor Masters suggested the changes be made over a 10-year timeframe.
The timeline for implementation of the new syllabus as proposed by Professor Masters has been severely compressed. The government has decided to do the entire transition over just four years, with some syllabuses – kindergarten to year 2 English and maths – to be rolled out into classrooms as soon as next year.
Many education advocates, including the IEU and NSW Teachers Federation, principals, and academics have condemned this hasty process.
IEU Secretary Mark Northam has called for the teaching profession to be given more time to adjust to the significant changes that are to come – described as the biggest curriculum overhaul since 1990.
“The profession requires time to familiarise and plan to ensure the reforms can be implemented in a coherent manner,” Northam said.
“It’s an intensive process to execute such a significant exercise. A teacher can’t just be handed a new syllabus and be told to take it straight into the classroom to teach.
“It’s not fair on the teachers or the students,” said Northam.
Any syllabus changes, however minor, constitute a tremendous increase of workload. Teachers need to be given the time and opportunity to get acquainted with the syllabus content and use their professional judgment to lay out a term or years’ worth of learning.
While some professional development will undoubtedly be necessary, the focus should be on identifying changes to the existing syllabuses and allowing teachers the time to develop professional teaching programs. Wherever possible, teachers should be released at the school level to work in teams to create the programs, assessments and scope and sequence documents that form the necessary compliance documentation.
Schools and teachers will need time to familiarise themselves with the new syllabuses with a trial year before they are mandated. This has been the usual practice in the past when new curriculum documents were introduced.
Plans need to be put in place for schools and systems to prioritise relevant professional development and release time for the new syllabuses. Over-extending teachers by maintaining current initiatives during the phase-in of new syllabus documents is likely to seriously threaten the success of the implementation of these new syllabuses.
NESA chief executive Paul Martin has defended the expedited plan, telling the Sydney Morning Herald’s Schools Summit: “The education ship takes a long time to turn.”
Mr Martin said English and maths would not be changed, while less relevant material would be removed so teachers could focus on key content. “We can get the syllabuses out there, and we believe teachers can implement them, because hopefully what we’re doing is making their life easier not harder,” he said.
The argument for why it was appropriate to turn the ship two and half times faster than the manufacturer’s recommendation appears to be because, once the manoeuvre is complete, the new bearing should take them into smoother, more navigable waters.
But the IEU’s Mark Northam is one of a number who are not convinced.
“Yes, the decluttering is a positive and will provide more time for deeper learning, but the process of decluttering is complex and shouldn’t be rushed.
The union is generally supportive of the review’s findings of the review and welcome reform to the complex and overburdened syllabus documents.
“What the union and our members are saying is, let’s expand the timeframe back towards its original recommendation, and allow ourselves to turn the corner safely,” said Northam.