The following papers were presented in response to the recent Review of the Queensland School Curriculum at a Panel-Discussion sponsored by QIER in May. Some 120 people attended the session held at St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace.
Headmaster, Brisbane Grammar School
I thank QIER for this opportunity to participate in the public debate upon the 'Wiltshire' Report. I fear that my remarks will not be advised by the degree of expertise in educational research with which some other speakers this evening will be able to inform their comments, but perhaps my observations can be taken simply as those of one practising principal of a Queensland secondary school who is struggling valiantly to acquire a working knowledge of this compendious report and who is seeking to understand and to reflect upon the implications which it would have for schools.
I would like to begin with some general remarks. First, I applaud the inclusion in the report of examples found by the panel of good educational practice in schools in Queensland. I hope that the approach to be adopted in implementing recommendations from this report will be based upon good practice; for it would be a shame if efforts to achieve desired outcomes were to be largely reliant upon the imposition of a complex array of structural controls which themselves appear to be founded upon a deficit picture of schools.
Second, it would have been desirable for the report to have presented a more certain picture of the kind of young people which we would like schools to help society in developing. It would then have been possible to work backwards to the curriculum required to best pursue those goals, and from that to the structures which would best support the planning and implementation of such a curriculum.
One is also left with the impression that the report has been informed by political agendas, although these are not made explicit. There are many calls in the report for greater accountability and throughout there is a very definite tension between centralist control of curriculum and a devolution of responsibility to schools, to principals and teachers.
Philosophical tensions can also be observed in this report. As an example, I would suggest first that there is much still to explore before we accept too readily the call for a convergence of general and vocational education in schools. I find it very difficult to envisage how the pursuit of vocational courses will better equip young people to deal with a future in which it is confidently predicted that men and women will change their work more often than in the past, and where work itself will change far more rapidly than has ever occurred before; I remain to be convinced that schools will thus turn out flexible, life-long learners.
There is much in the recommendations which seems to me to be unexceptionable. To plan the curriculum across P12 will hopefully assist continuity of learning, which is at present somewhat disrupted by our 'lock-step' age-linked school structure, with its formal break between primary and secondary school and, to a lesser, extent between Years 10 and 11. Also, a curriculum consciously developed with a view to preparing children for their future and with deliberate expression of a set of values, intended to inform both the curriculum and schools as societies where children learn, are commendable and important ambitions. Again, the interest and support shown in the role of primary schooling, together with the emphasis upon literacy and numeracy as fundamental competencies for further learning are most welcome. Nonetheless, even while applauding these recommendations in principle, the openness of them, as they are framed in the report, should also counsel a judicious caution.
First, while some very valuable preparation for the future might be expected to develop from a more overt and deliberate attention to teaching thinking skills through existing areas of learning, I would hope that we would not see an unseemly rush toward more speculative forms of Futures Education. The conservative side of me urges strongly that a 'Futures Perspective' for the curriculum, while important, should not diminish the importance of young people learning about both the past and the present.
Second, I have some concerns about the panel's Charter of Values. My major concern is not with the values supported by the panel, but with the proposed process. If such a set of values is to have any real effect in and through the curriculum, then ownership of those values is essential. The process of determining the values which should inform schooling is critical. If teachers and parents do not feel that these values, and others which may be determined, are important, and if they are not seriously committed to modelling them and to supporting and promoting them both through the curriculum at school and in the home, then this Charter will be no more than a piece of paper, nicely framed in principals' offices or hanging in the entrance lobbies of schools.
Third, one can only hope that the political and popular slogan 'Back to Basics' will not be taken too literally. From what has already appeared in the media, among popular opinion-makers there are more than a few reactionary fundamentalists who believe that if only we teach 'readin, 'riting and 'rithmetic the way it was taught when they were at school, then all will be well - and perhaps we should bring back the birch for good measure. Unemployment, delinquency and the issue of the nation's international competitiveness, will be solved at a stroke, or at least at a few strokes! I think educators find it not a little quaint that some who in their own specialties wish to be at the 'cutting edge' of innovation and technology, adopt a singularly unprogressive, fundamentalist approach to children's education, without good research to back up their claims. It will be incumbent upon educators to ensure that non-educational policy-makers appreciate that much has been learnt about how children learn since 'the good old days'; moreover, medical research is rapidly increasing our knowledge about how the human brain works - knowledge which it will be important for educators to assimilate and to assess for its implications for learning.
A few points about the proposed structure for dealing with curriculum:
It is probably outside the parameters of the report but one would like to see the opportunity taken to remind the government that education does not just happen within schools. Too often schools are contending against hostile or at best indifferent attitudes to learning, picked up by children from the culture which surrounds them at home and in the general community. Just how committed are we Australians to life-long learning? How much do we show that we value literacy, that we read books? That we enjoy solving problems? What might be achieved if the government were to complement the report's backing for the importance of literacy and numeracy in schooling by a campaign, using all the persuasive skills to which governments can turn media and aid of other political interests, to show parents how valuable a part they can play in helping their child to become literate and by promoting learning as something which our culture should genuinely value, rather than merely pay lip-service to, in order to become a more civilised, and more prosperous, society? Can be imagine the Queensland Government promoting education and learning with the same skill and enthusiasm as we have recently seen governments in this country promote a Republic or the Olympic Games? Such a serious commitment by the state government could lead to a really powerful partnership between schools and the community!
In summary, I find much that is valuable in this report. It provides a useful collection of information about the Queensland curriculum as it now is, and some assessments of and comments upon the current state of affairs. It presents some very interesting supplementary material on critical issues, and it opens up discussion and debate upon those issues, providing material to inform that debate.
However, I would question whether a number of recommendations of this report are ready for adoption without substantial quality debate upon the issues - and I don't mean just an extra month or two. I would have grave concerns about the very tight timeframes for implementation which are contained in it. I would query the need for such large-scale structural change as is recommended; most of the best change which I have observed in schools has come about through incremental and carefully planned and monitored change, made in pursuit of a clear vision for what schools are seeking to achieve.
Director, Board of Senior Secondary School Studies
My comments today are made from a research perspective in keeping with the focus and orientation of QIER. And so I ask the question: How good is the evidence for the recommendations of 'Shaping the Future'?
I reflect on the Viviani Report in which the Board was criticised for the lack of research data on its activities and supporting its operations. Valid criticism indeed which led to the establishment by the then Minister of a small but effective research arm at the Board and the adoption of the principle within the office that from that point on our decisions would be data driven to the maximum extent. Only in this way could the myth, the rumour, the heartfelt concerns, be effectively addressed. I cite the curriculum scan as an example of successful implementation of that principle. Extrapolating from that particular background to the wider scene of education generally, I would argue that there is a crying need for good educational research in which implementation decisions are grounded. In my view this report has missed a most significant opportunity in this regard.
I shall try to illustrate my claim with a few references - if time permitted I could cite many more.
This means I won't mention much in the report that I like when the reason I like it is more because it panders to my personal prejudices and visions than because it convinces me through persuasive debate.
I sincerely hope the Government picks up the emphasis on literacy, for example, and runs very hard with it. But the evidence even for that recommendation and indeed the technical data on, say, testing very young children, are missing. Evidence and data would have lent support and credibility to the recommendations. Maybe some of these things are alluded to in the report: it is the lack of detail, rigor, and internal consistency that I raise today.
A number of statements and conclusions seem to be based on informants' comments. These are usually introduced under the headings of 'concerns' or 'community concerns', and are usually qualified by an assortment of words like 'some' or 'a few'. I don't consider these to be evidence per se - I ho]d that such comments/ assertions should form the basis for research questions upon which data can be gathered and analysed.
There is significant criticism of the QCS Test - R6.2 is one such example. It states 'Better feedback should be given to schools on the performance of their students on the QCS Test' - supposedly based on concerns expressed by schools. There are no hard data provided - it simply pops up. We have conducted a simple survey:
|Types of Feedback||N/A||1||2||3||4||5||Total|
|SRI Marking Schemes 1992||4||0||2||15||132||220||369|
|Retrospective - 1992||5||0||2||39||116||195||352|
|Retrospective - 1993||4||0||2||12||128||230||372|
|Principals' Meeting - 1993||3||1||2||48||140||155||346|
|Principals' Meeting - 1994||3||1||10||27||140||170||348|
|Tables of OCS... data||1||2||12||33||144||155||346|
|Scaling means... means differences||2||3||6||57||144||120||330|
|1993 Statewide Data||1||3||6||36||152||150||347|
|Number of responses 87|
The highest possible total for each area of feedback is 87 x 5 = 435.
... and there doesn't seem to be a major problem. School principals' comments on the origin of this recommendation make interesting reading.
Let me turn to comparability. Anyone who reads the recommendations will see a strong emphasis on the need for, and presumed lack of, comparability, especially it seems, at the senior secondary level - where the implication is that reference tests will fix it. Is the perception the reality? The review team had access to work done through CRAMP as well as the TEPA sponsored ACER study - both Viviani inspired. Each report would, at the very least, throw considerable doubt on the perception of lack of comparability yet the recommendations do not seem to recognise this and there is no real debate in the report. Here is a concluding comment from the ACER study:
By any measure, this study has revealed outstanding levels of inter-rater reliability. Between-marker agreement in allocating Levels of Achievement to student folios exceeds the level typically reported for systems of holistic scoring and is comparable with the highest levels reported for experienced markers of essays on external examinations. The fact that:Furthermore, the Government is being advised to introduce reference tests at considerable expense, seemingly based on the advice of a single academic, from New Zealand. There is no internal assessment in New Zealand at the moment: whatever their plans for the future, external exams at both Year 10 and Year 12 are still in place.
suggests exceptional inter-marker consistency in the interpretation of standards and criteria.
- high levels of agreement were achieved across 62 assessors;
- the three assessment conditions imposed in this study consistently produced an inter-rater reliability of 0.94; and
- a similarly high level of agreement was obtained with the exit Levels of Achievement for these folios
[Source: An Investigation of the Comparability of Teachers' Assessments of Students Folios, G.N. Masters, B. McBryde, 1993.]
Reference tests are expensive and problematic, not ]east in their potential to affect the curriculum negatively. We must be sure, on a good research base, that they are needed and that they will work as desired before we introduce them. Perhaps calm and effective leadership is a cheaper and more viable option, especially if the problem is largely one of perception. Nevertheless, if research evidence is forthcoming then I have no doubt we can produce reference tests.
My allusion to the advice of the New Zealand academic should not be seen as disparagement of the man himself - whom I respect. It is, rather, a concern with the espousal of the single expert mode of advice in this case and elsewhere in the report.
Dr Radford's report over twenty years ago rejected the role of the single expert chief examiner with all its enormous power and its potential for filtered versions if not downright bias. In the review we find the single expert model - mostly interstate experts at that - resurrected. Whatever the comments they made and however eminent their status, it is poor public policy practice to accept the advice of a single expert on anything. I can predict with confidence some disagreement from other experts, especially since it seems that with senior syllabuses the consultants were not provided with sample work programs. This fact alone would make their task more difficult, cast doubt on the validity of their comments and might help explain some of their expressed co nfusion. A simple argument that a syllabus ought to stand alone ignores the overwhelming research and practical evidence of the last forty years.
It also seems that quotations from these critiques are somewhat selective. A quick count reveals that the twenty quotes come from only ten of the seventeen reports and that nine of the twenty come from two reports, Music and Technology. All tend to be critical, yet many positive quotes are available.
My reading of the parent survey, which, I am glad to say, is included in an appendix, would suggest that it is mostly positive and supportive of practices and policies in place. Yet this is not reflected in the discussion. There seems to me to be other inconsistencies between evidence and/or discussion and recommendations, inconsistencies that are not easily explained by editorial inadequacies.
I also question the selectivity of reference material. For example, the four-subject senior question is well documented and the experience of Western Australia is actively implementing it is better than any research project. It is a full-blown experiment incorporating all the behavioural patterns that exist in an experiment and are not available in a research project - but no literature search is in evidence. Again the Government has been asked to explore this issue as though it presents almost as a new problem - it's a very old one. We documented an elegant solution to it in 1987 - recognised then as an idea before its time (and probably still so, but that's beside the point).
The review claims that the Board has conducted research to show that assessments of the key competencies can be extracted from the QCS Test. It appears to be a simple misreading of some information supplied by the Board, which relates descriptions of the key competencies and descriptions of clusters of common curriculum elements. No research has been conducted. The Board's national project on integrating the key competencies into assessment and certification takes quite a different approach.
A comprehensive examination of curriculum - right across schooling, right across this state - could chart the course of education for the next half-century. I believe that this demands the fulfilment of more than the basic requirements of accountability. Major decisions should be based on soundly researched, well-argued, and clearly delineated solutions. Nothing less will suffice for something as important as our children's future.
Still, personally, I have to emphasise that there is much in this report which I can and do support.
Lecturer, University of Queensland
There is also cause for concern. At times it is difficult to follow the relationship between the evidence and the recommendations, data processing are not detailed, some sections are ambiguous (particularly in respect to the use of 'syllabus' and 'curriculum'), some recommendations are unrealistic, e.g. the timeline to develop the comprehensive curriculums, and there are some notable silences, e.g. the fate of the current curriculum materials and frameworks. Having read the report I was left with the impression of it being a 'trust me' document.
I will explore this impression first by questioning the agenda for the report, and then by looking at selected aspects of Key Principles 2, 3, 4 and 7.
Nor am I aware of any intensification across the community of either the disaffection from, or disillusionment with, current schooling which could not have been accommodated within the existing structures that might have generated a sweeping review of schooling in the guise of curriculum. To the contrary, the report itself consistently documents current practice as exemplary ways forward and the consultant reports are consistently positive about Queensland schooling.
I am not denying that significant problems exist in our schooling, as the report rightly recognises. I am only questioning the timing and the reasons for the approach selected by the Government to address such problems. In short, looking at the context of this report I am left with the questions, 'What is the research focus of this inquire? What is the agenda driving this inquiry? Who is setting it? What will be the outcome if this report, like Hughes, doesn't satisfy the Government?'
If the Government's agenda includes resolving the tensions between the Department of Education and the BSSSS, and between the Department and the non-government schools; reducing the resourcing costs generated by curriculum diversity; streamlining the post-compulsory sector with TAFE; increasing accountability and quality surveillance with respect to student progress particularly in the Years 1-7; and re-centralising control over some elements of its own Department, these solutions to such problems reside in George, Mary and Edward Streets. They are predominantly political and managerial problems and should be directly addressed as such by the Minister rather than via a review ostensibly of curriculum.
The agenda is beyond the brief of the report writers, but the politics of the context cannot be ignored when interpreting their recommendations. We would be wise to recall the treatment of other reports on education to Governments in Queensland when considering how best to respond to this report.
Now turning to the report itself.
Principle 2 states that curriculum should be anchored in a set of explicitly stated shared values which are endorsed by the wider community.
This Principle recognises that schooling is essentially a moral enterprise and calls for the informing values to be made explicit. The report produces a sample-set of shared-values in a proposed value charter which is so open to interpretation as to render it meaningless.
One might agree with the spirit of the Principle, but the practical questions it raises include, 'How is such a charter arrived at?', 'Whose interpretations of these statements are to inform practice in particular schools?', 'Who constitutes the wider-community, the local school neighbourhood, the region, the state, the nation?', 'How is it to be used in developing the comprehensive curriculum?', 'How might it be used in different times and circumstances to serve particular interests?'
Different answers to each of these questions will draw different degrees of support, for or opposition to, this Principle. As it stands, the ambiguity around the Principle is counter-productive, and the statement needs further clarification.
It is notable that the report does not attempt to demonstrate how values might be infused into, or used to inform, schooling practice. In fact, ethics and religious values are added as a ninth learning area, or subject, as part of life-skills. (This addition also carries the unfortunate negative inference that the rest of the curriculum is not necessarily about the development of such skills.)
As for living successfully in the present, the working conditions and buildings of our students are far from current best practice in industry and commerce, let alone them being futuristic. Simply changing a curriculum package will have little significant impact on improving schooling's contribution to the futures of Queenslanders. To achieve that end radical measures are required that change the conditions in which students and teachers carry out their daily work of learning. To do less is to apply a simplistic solution to a problem that calls for extensive and costly 're-tooling of the schooling industry'.
It is essential for schooling at all levels to take students, through knowledge of the disciplines and scholarship, beyond common sense understandings and to extend their ability to construct their meanings and to conduct their activities.
Written statements of content derived from knowledge domains contained in a syllabus is one form, albeit fragile, of guaranteeing what is being taught and learnt in schools is based on scholarship and goes beyond common sense.
Further, it is logical to expect that the domains of knowledge spelled out in the syllabus will become more differentiated as the students progress through the school from the highly undifferentiated, integrated experiences of early childhood to the subject-based studies of the senior years.
However, stating in a syllabus knowledge to be learnt neither makes it suitable for use in a classroom nor guarantees its passage from page to pupil. For classroom use, syllabus knowledge has to be translated into pedagogical knowledge and that translation depends upon the teacher's own mastery of the content, that is, of the subject matter, processes and the values of the particular knowledge domain itself, not simply the isolated 'bit' required for the lesson, unit or year level.
To ensure that teachers have such mastery over content requires intensive and extensive teacher in-service education designed to update and maintain the currency of their command over syllabus content. Unless this occurs, the effectiveness of syllabus statements as a guarantee that the content at all levels of schooling both transcends common sense and goes beyond the personal construct of the teacher, is likely to be minimal.
I suggest the report writers might pay more attention to how syllabus knowledge is translated into pedagogical knowledge and what is required to achieve these translations in order to guarantee that schooling extends each student's intellectual constructs beyond the tyranny of their immediate locale and history.
To accept the scope of curriculum as defined in this report is to accord to the proposed curriculum authority the potential power to determine what all students should learn, how and when they learn it, and how they will be assessed. This is an extensive range of potential powers over the individual employing authorities, teachers, parents and students to assign to any single State authority, statutory or otherwise.
Given the possibilities of such potential power, we need to investigate critically the meanings of terms such as 'curriculum', 'syllabus', 'curriculum management' and 'curriculum delivery' in this report. We need to be sure of exactly what is being referred to in each usage, and the implications of such usage for curriculum development, management, implementation and evaluation in this State.
In short, I have been reinforcing our professional and social obligation to give an educational report of this significance the critical attention it warrants. By careful scrutiny of each recommendation, and by lodging our reactions with the appropriate authority, we can influence the contribution of this report to ongoing school reform in Queensland. It will be another backward step for schooling in this State if, like the Hughes Report, the best of this current report founders on the political reefs of power plays and sectional fears. It is up to us to guarantee that it doesn't.
|Please cite as: Lennox, P., Pitman, J. and Logan, L. (1994). Three papers presented in response to the (Wiltshire) Review of the Queensland School Curriculum (Shaping the Future). Queensland Researcher, 10(2), 1-16. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr10/rev-qld-sch-curric.html|