Release type: Transcript


Press Conference - Adelaide

State Library of South Australia, Adelaide

Subjects: Review of National Curriculum, Students First education reforms


Good morning everyone, and thank you for coming to the circulating library here at the State Library, this beautiful setting.

Today I’m announcing that the Federal Government is appointing Professor Ken Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly to review the National Curriculum.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Government is concerned about the results for our students over a long period of time. For 10 years, whether it’s OECD statements, PISA reports, the NAPLAN data, TIMSS documents, and all the international and domestic studies of our students’ results indicate that we’ve been going backwards for a good decade.

Students are our first priority for this Government. And therefore, during the election campaign, we talked about four pillars that would form the centrepiece of our approach to school education. It was teacher quality, parental engagement, school autonomy, and the National Curriculum.

We said we wanted to have a robust curriculum that was going to serve our students well. And today we are keeping that election promise by addressing that pillar of our approach to school education by announcing a national review of the National Curriculum.

Of course, the states and territories own and operate all the schools. So we’ll be working very closely with our state and territory ministerial counterparts to ensure that, whatever the national review comes up with, the recommendations of that review are implemented by the states and territories in concert with the Commonwealth.

So this is a cooperative approach to school education. I want to make sure that our students are put first, and I’m sure every state and territory education minister would accept and agree with that priority.

I’m not going to pre-judge the outcome of the National Curriculum. But suffice to say there has been criticism of the National Curriculum over a lengthy period of time.

The criticisms have ranged from it being overcrowded and heavily prescriptive and rigid through to the necessity to have themes that form the National Curriculum at the moment.

The current three themes are Australia’s place in Asia, Indigenous Australia and sustainability.

Now there’s some question about whether those themes fit with maths and science for example. So these are some of the things that I am going to ask the national review of the curriculum to look at and I’m sure they will do an excellent job.

Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire are both highly intelligent and well considered very experienced educators—over a long period of time and in broadly similar, but also different fields.

So while Kevin Donnelly has been a teacher for 18 years and since that time become an academic, a researcher a commentator, a writer about education and curriculum. He brings that particular perspective to a review of the National Curriculum.

Ken Wiltshire is a professor at the University of Queensland. He has been a longstanding academic involved in the development of curriculum in Queensland and internationally, and both men will bring a real perspective to this review that I think will make a difference for our students in achieving a better curriculum—a curriculum that is robust and worthwhile and sets up our students for the 21st Century.

So I might ask Kevin to make a few comments and then I’m happy to take any questions.


Thank you very much Minister. Welcome to all of you here today. It’s a great honour and privilege to be involved in this review.

My background as some of you might know, I was a teacher for 18 years as the Minister has said. I suppose I’m a “curriculum nerd” if you like, I actually wake up in the morning and my wife gets a bit distressed (laughs) I always sort of read the papers and see what’s happening with education.

While I was a teacher I did postgraduate work in curriculum and I’ve actually been involved in three significant benchmarking projects over the last 20 years or so—one in Victoria when Phil Gude was the Minister, one federally, when Brendan Nelson was the Minister, and also one in New Zealand for the Business Roundtable.

And one of the things that fascinates me and I think is critical as the Minister has suggested, is to try and look at those better performing systems—those education systems overseas. Now whether it’s in Europe, most of them are in Asia–Pacific actually, so Singapore, Japan, Korea, but also Finland.

To look at those education systems and to try and learn as much as possible that we can in Australia, at the state and territory level what can be done, to improve, strengthen the curriculum.

Now, it will be consultative. I was on the Board of Studies in Victoria for a couple of years. I know the states and territories have ownership, if you like, they employ the teachers, they manage the schools. So it will be consultative. Many of the people who I will be talking to are friends who I’ve known for many years. Australia is quite a small education community in some ways.

So, as I said I’m very eager to get involved, I’m very happy to be involved, it’s a great privilege, and it’s something that is critically important for young Australians, and for teachers.

I mean, my daughter’s a teacher, my wife was a teacher, I was a teacher. We need to look at a curriculum that is teacher-friendly. We need to look at a curriculum that is world’s-best to use that cliché, and we need to look at what will be, frankly, cost-effective, because a great deal of money goes into education, a great deal of innovation has occurred, and sometimes I wonder what the outcomes are in terms of, has it actually worked or not. So it’s a good time to be doing this, and thank you very much.


Thank you Kevin…any questions?


[inaudible] …it won’t produce obviously a curriculum as such can you run us through what happens next up until to the point where we actually get a new curriculum?


Well I wouldn’t say we’re going to get a new curriculum.

What we’ve got at the moment is a National Curriculum in English, science, maths and history, and a proposed curriculum in another four or five subjects which have been completed by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority but hasn’t yet been adopted by all the states and territories as an extension of the National Curriculum.

But what I’m hoping this review will do is look at all of those subjects, ensure that they are robust and useful and worthwhile, that they’re likely to achieve good results for our students. That will report to me, I’m hoping in May, possibly June, and then we’ll have six months to look at the recommendations of this review, being done by Ken and Kevin, and then I’ll work with the states and territories through the ministerial council process to ask them how they view the recommendations of the review of the curriculum, with a view to implementing changes in 2015.

So yes, I would like to see improvements to the curriculum in 2015. I’d like to see an extension of the National Curriculum into those four, five extra subjects down the track. But each of those new subjects, and the ones we’ve already accepted, need to be as good as possible and I’m hoping that in 2015 we’ll be able to implement changes that this review suggests should the state and territory ministers agree with me that we need to make those changes.


Is that pretty ambitious given you’ve got to get it past the state and territories [inaudible]…


Well I’m very hopeful the states and territories will want to work with us to have the best curriculum possible. And this is a very objective process. We have a national review, it’s for people that are outside the current system, and I think having fresh eyes is always a good approach.

I’ll be very surprised if state and territory ministers didn’t want to work to have the best curriculum possible. And I’m very willing to work with them and I’m sure they’ll be willing to work with me. 2015 is ambitious but we have to put our students first, and it is ambitious to want to have the best curriculum possible for our students but it’s too important to delay, so we don’t want any political bickering over this issue because that will slow down the process of getting the best curriculum possible for our students.


How much is that going to cost and where is that money coming from?


Well the review won’t cost very much at all, because there’s just Ken and Kevin. The whole process won’t cost a great deal and that money will be found within the current budget of the Department of Education federally. The Australian Government will pay for the entire process but this won’t run into large amounts of money at all.


So we’re not going to see any cuts…


No, no, this is administrative support for Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly. That won’t cost very much, that’s within the Department of Education and Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire are being paid according to the remuneration that’s appropriate according to the department, and that is not exactly a king’s ransom, but it’s a little bit of money.


But as far as any changes that they make, to get to the point where kids are learning what you want them to learn, are we talking about, like, how much money are we talking about there, and where’s that funding coming from?


Should there be changes to the curriculum arising out of this review that will be managed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. They already have a budget, and of course they have an ongoing process, of making sure the curriculum is not a static document, and any costs about changing the curriculum will be met within the current budgets of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

Changes that are made by the states and territories will be met within the states’ and territories’ budgets, if they roll out changes to the National Curriculum, but they each would already have in their budgets for education a line item for the curriculum because they fully expect that there will be new subjects coming on stream on a regular basis over the coming years.


Minister. I’d like to ask you about the appointment of Kevin and the decision behind that. It’s no secret that Mr Donnelly’s opinions and critiques of the education system, things like Australia party Anglo sphere, equal funding for Catholic and independent schools, class envy, the cultural left likes to bang on about equity in education socialist utopia, the bible deserves a place etc. Are you getting people to objectively review the system or just tell you what you want to hear?


I’m getting people to objectively review the National Curriculum to ensure that it is robust, and to ensure that it puts students’ results first, that the priority is on outcomes and everyone in education, well everyone has been to school, everyone is an expert on education in one way or another, almost 40 per cent of many of the populations in capital cities have been to school, have been to universities, and they’re also experts on university education.

So, it’s not possible to appoint anybody to review the National Curriculum who doesn’t have a view on education. The important point is to appoint people who are going to bring an intelligent, considered approach to the review. And both Kevin and Ken have a long history, and experience in education. Not everyone will agree with my views about education, or anybody that I would have appointed. I am very confident that Ken and Kevin will bring a considered approach.

One of the criticisms of course, of the curriculum, has been that it has not sold or talked about the benefits of western civilisation in our society so I would be surprised if there weren’t people who disagreed with the need to have the benefits of western civilisation as part of our curriculum. I’m sure they will criticise people who share the other view.

But we’re part of a robust democracy. I’m quite prepared to have people put their opinions one way or the other about this review. But I’m very confident that its outcome will be objective and fair.


Is it your opinion that the curriculum is currently too left leaning?


I don’t think it’s worthwhile getting into the particular views about whether the curriculum is one kind of curriculum or another. What I want the curriculum to be is a robust and worthwhile document that embraces knowledge and doesn’t try and be all things to all people, that isn’t too rigid, that doesn’t try and be prescriptive about every aspect of maths, science, history and English.

I also want the curriculum to celebrate Australia, and for students, when they have finished school, to know where we’ve come from as a nation. Because unless we know why we are the kind of nation we are today, we can’t possibly know where we want to go in the future.

There are two aspects to Australia’s history that are paramount. The first, of course, is our Indigenous history, because for thousands of years Indigenous Australians have lived on this continent. The second aspect of our history is our beginnings as a colony and, therefore, our Western civilisation, which is why we are the kind of country we are today.

It’s very important the curriculum is balanced in its approach to that. It’s very important the truth be told in our history. So, yes, the truth of the way we’ve treated Indigenous Australians should be told in our curriculum. But also the truth about the benefits of Western civilisation should be taught in our curriculum. And I think that there is some fair criticism that the curriculum is balanced one way rather than the other.


You’ve said that you want to take politics out of the curriculum. But just going on from a previous question do you think you could have appointed people to take part in this review that come from more varied sides of things and opinions if you’re looking to take politics out of education?


Well I don’t believe you gain a great deal by appointing a committee, which will often come up with, if it’s a large committee, will tend to be harder to manage and come up with a report that tries to please everyone.

That isn’t the objective of this review. The objective of this review is to turn out a robust curriculum, a good curriculum that improves the results of our students. It’s not a political exercise so everybody ends up having a piece of the curriculum.

That’s not the purpose of the curriculum. Therefore, I’m quite unabashed that I’ve appointed people that I think would do a good job at creating a robust curriculum. I haven’t appointed a committee that tries to please everybody and therefore does not produce a robust result.


Do you think you gave the Gillard Government’s changes enough time to take effect?


Well the Gillard Government hasn’t made any changes to the National Curriculum. The Howard Government initiated the National Curriculum. Then the Gillard Government and Rudd Government got elected and they implemented the National Curriculum that the Howard Government had begun.

That started in 2010. There have been no changes to the National Curriculum since it started being introduced into schools and I think it’s timely to review it.

I don’t think the National Curriculum is a static document. I think it should always be being tested and questioned and argued about because that is the nature of education and a good curriculum. Maths is often changing. Science is changing. The way we view history and English changes, the emphasis changes on what we think students might need.

So, the document should always be a living, exciting document. So it’s because the National Curriculum was introduced by a particular Government doesn’t mean it then stays that way forever. It is not a political document. It should be a document that is designed to bring about the best outcomes for our students.


How do you think teachers will respond to this review? Do you think that they will be welcoming of it? Are they unhappy with the way things currently are?


I think teachers like certainty. And I think that they have embraced the National Curriculum. In many states and territories, the National Curriculum is better than the offerings that were in place before. And I think that a lot of the teachers have invested their own personal time and money into embracing these, for subjects and doing them well, and I welcome that. And I think that they will also welcome improvements to it to make it a better curriculum.

We’re not suggesting that the curriculum be thrown out and started again. So teachers won’t have to re-learn a whole new way of teaching, or a whole new curriculum. We’re talking about improving a good document. And I think teachers will embrace that.


Speaking about education, do you believe that the Australian public deserves to be better educated about border security?


(Laughs) I’ll leave answers to questions about Operation Sovereign Borders to the Minister for Immigration, and Tony Abbott.


And what about Cory Bernardi’s comments, do you agree with what’s been said in the media, from him?


Well, Senator Bernardi’s entitled to his own opinions, and to be able to write about his views. And similarly I think he’s probably best to respond to questions about his own opinions.


But does he represent the Liberal Party?


Well, the great thing about the Liberal Party is that we are a very broad church. It’s a hackneyed term, but it’s true. We don’t take a Stalinist approach to the views of our members. We represent the whole cross section, the broad spectrum of Australian thinking.

In many respects, the Liberal Party is the only true national party, because we don’t represent a section or interest. That’s been our history since 1944. So you would expect there to be a broad spectrum of views in the Liberal Party. Cory represents his view, and I represent my own, and I don’t seek to try and lecture anybody in the Liberal Party that they should change their views.


Do you share any of his views?


On some things, I’m sure I do. Yes.


And what are those?


(Laughs) Look, today is about a positive announcement about the National Curriculum, I’m not going to let it be railroaded by a minor debate about something that is many days old.