Where is curriculum heading in Australia? A response to the proposed changes to the Australian Curriculum
Steiner Education Australia has developed the only government recognised national Steiner curriculum in the world – the Australian Steiner Curriculum Framework (ASCF). The ASCF is recognised by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) as meeting the requirements of the Australian Curriculum. This includes providing for students to learn the curriculum content and achieve standards described in Australian Curriculum documents.
There is ongoing development of the Australian Steiner Curriculum as a contemporary curriculum. This includes development in response to issues of culture and histories, gender, anti-bias, decolonisation, diversity and inclusion.
It is therefore with interest that I examined the proposed changes to the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum.
Firstly, Steiner Education Australia applauds the changes which commit to ‘truth telling’ in relation to First Nations People’s experience with colonisation. We endorse the use of the term ‘invasion’ to describe the arrival of the British. Steiner Education Australia has a Reconciliation Action Plan which acknowledges the impact of colonisation and the need to heal the trauma this inflicted on lives, cultures, families. We also recognise the strengths and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and cultures in the face of these intergenerational injustices and impacts.
In the proposed changes there is also a much stronger emphasis on cultural diversity and inclusion in the Humanities and Social Sciences Curriculum which has had a significant revision. The proposed recommendations, which Steiner Education Australia fully endorses, recommends that students learn:
How Australia is culturally diverse, multi-faith, secular and pluralistic society with diverse communities, such as the distinct communities of the First Australians.
There is push back from conservative media and commentators as it signals a move away from the statement in the current curriculum: How Australia is a secular nation and a multi-faith society with a Christian heritage. There is fear that a stronger focus on diversity will diminish student learning on Western civilisation and Australian history since 1788.
It is disappointing that ideological wars played out by politicians and the media – so entrenched in Australia’s contemporary education context – may play a role in deciding which content prevails. Once again, it is the teaching profession and educational leaders who may be ‘consulted’ but rarely at the decision-making table.
Of further concern to Steiner Education Australia is the fact that the increased focus on literacy and numeracy in the early years is at the expense of the arts.
There is so much evidence gathering on the crucial, transformative role the arts play in the ongoing mental health and wellbeing of our young people – starting right from the early years. As Ewing states ‘Learning at preschool or school needs to be artful, relevant, connected and meaningful if today’s children and young people are to remain engaged and motivated for the whole of their educational journey’.
Given that the arts is so central to the development of the whole human being, and enhances student learning outcomes why does it continue to be marginalised in education policy discourse on what matters in education? The answer is complex but might lie in the confused sense of national educational purpose. When we have an Education Minister stating that the big purpose of schooling is to returning Australia back to the top group of nations in global PISA rankings by 2030, and going ‘back to basics’ will get us there, we are in trouble.
An unintended consequence of powerful global measures, such as PISA, is that they have a strong impact on what we think is important in education, with the result that they end up serving as proxy measures for teacher, school or school system effectiveness. PISA scores may have their place, but they are the indication not the definition of a good education which involves young people engaged with a broadly based and culturally rich experience in schools that lay the solid foundations for continued engaged, purposeful lifelong learning for an uncertain future.
There are deeper issues to face in relation to the Australian Curriculum changes. The Minister places simplistic attention on the ‘basics’ and on raising standards of teacher education to solve our ‘crisis’ in education. He conveniently ignores the fact that equity is central to school improvement. It is a fact that student and school performance strongly depend on socio-economic background. Australia is one of the least equitable countries in the world in terms of education. Unless the issues of disadvantage and equity are addressed in Australian schooling, no amount of curriculum adjusting, no amount of teacher education, no amount of ‘back to basics’ will address the obvious failures of the government to develop a whole of systems approach to highly complex issues which affect the schooling experiences of our young people.
Let’s start with improving equity in education through avoiding early tracking of children based on academic ability alone . Focus on inclusiveness, early intervention , family supports and preventative care at the local school level. Let’s focus on the whole child and a child’s well-being, through a a rich curriculum, one that is explicitly arts informed. Governments need to ensure funding for qualified special needs teachers and assistants for every school. The very definition of ‘school improvement’ needs to embrace equity and student well-being goals which ensure students’ home backgrounds do not determine school performance.
Dr Virginia Moller
Steiner Education Australia
 See for example: World Health Organisation. (2019). What is the evidence on the arts improving health? A scoping review. http://www.euro.who.int/en/publications/abstracts/what-is-the-evidence-on-the-role-of-the-arts-in-improving-health-and-well-being-a-scoping-review-2019
 Ewing R. (2020) Introduction. In: Transforming the Curriculum Through the Arts. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
 See for example: https://naae.org.au/evidence-and-research. See also: Ewing, R., & Saunders, J. (2017). Towards ‘grown-up ness in the world’ through drama as critical, quality pedagogy. In G. Biesta, C. Naughton & D. Cole, (Eds.), The arts, artists and pedagogy. London, UK: Routledge. See also: https://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=2335
 Sahlberg, S. (2017). FinnishED Leadership. Thousand Oaks,CA:Corwin.
 Inequality is more prevalent in Australian school system compared to many other OECD countries. For example, performance gap between the highest and lowest deciles in OECD’s PISA 2018 survey was significantly wider in Australia (OECD 2019).May 2021