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Departmental Syllabuses: New Subjects for Years 11 and 12 Students in Queensland Schools: Progress Evaluation Summary

E.D. Hobbs and J.A. Cronk

1. Introduction

Towards the end of 1985, the Department of Education, Queensland, began to develop syllabuses and guidelines for new subjects in Years 11 and 12. The new project was initially to refine and extend upon materials previously produced by the Division of Secondary Education to support secondary schools with school-based curriculum development. These materials were based on effective practices developed by secondary schools for the changing senior secondary population.

When the project began, over 2000 locally developed 'school subjects' were being offered by secondary schools. A research study carried out in 1986 indicated that near half of the Year 11 State secondary students in 1987 would choose to take one or more of these subjects.

The new Departmental syllabuses were to be developed in a collaborative process which would rely on the expertise of officers in the Division of Curriculum Services, the input of people from a wide range of groups within Queensland society, the experience and insights of teachers who would test the materials in classrooms, and the support of personnel in Regional Offices of Education.

During 1987, development of six Departmental syllabuses was underway:

Practical Computer Methods was in its second year of trial, Journalism was to commence trial in 1988, and the other four subjects began trial at the start of the 1987 school year. Preliminary planning for two other subjects - Catering and Design - was also underway.

This progress evaluation report provides a brief description and evaluation of the subjects and of the process by which the subjects are being developed. The purposes are to inform people in the Department who are interested in the progress of the project, and to share with people in other education systems the benefits of experience to date with the curriculum development process being used.

2. The Subjects

Practical Computer Methods aims to develop practical familiarity with basic computer operations, word processing, spreadsheet, file and database management, graphics, expert systems, interfacing and control. It is designed to cater for a wide range of student needs, interests and abilities. Skills in the use of software packages are developed by solving actual problems in the school or community setting. Practical Computer Methods pursues themes such as computers in the school and home; computers in business, commerce and industry; computers in the community; and computers as information tools.

Small Business Studies aims to develop students' understanding of how small businesses operate by challenging them to establish a variety of school based business ventures. These ventures and related studies develop understanding of the business environment, basic business skills, consumer awareness and interpersonal skills.

Australian Social Investigations aims to involve students actively in identifying and investigating social issues, to extend their understanding of the complexity of society and the positive roles they can play in it. Through investigating issues, students develop the processes and skills of recognition, decision making, informed participation and reflection.

Mathematics is one of a range of options in mathematics for senior secondary students. The goal is for students to develop abilities and skills in the use of mathematics in their everyday lives. Students are encouraged to take increasing responsibility for their own learning. Emphasis is placed on communication through mathematics and collaboration in group work. Mathematics is to be seen as an integral aspect of our society, with mathematical decision making involved in life roles as citizen, student, worker, financial manager, consumer or home technician.

Tourism is intended to assist students to develop an understanding of tourism and the tourist industry, including how the industry operates, its changing nature and value, its impact on and relation to environments, economies, cultures and societies. The subject features investigation of tourist activities in the local community and school-based tourism-related activities.

Journalism aims to expand students' communication abilities and develop a critical understanding of journalism, its role and influence in society. The basic organising principle is that students operate as working journalists, providing school and community services. Communication by television may be included as an option. Team work is fostered to enable students to build on their strengths and develop in desired areas. An integrated balance of theory and practice is to be achieved by linking study of principles to the actual journalistic tasks which are undertaken. Journalism is on trial in 1988.

3. The Development Process

The development process was designed to take account of three propositions:
  1. Any new senior secondary subjects would need to be more suitable to a wider range of students (in terms of interests, abilities and future needs) than the existing subjects accredited by the Board of Secondary School Studies. Schools were finding that the Board subjects seemed to be too abstract for, and of limited interest to, many of the students in Years 11 and 12. Most of the Board subjects had been established at a time when fewer than 30 per cent of the age group were in Year 11 or Year 12. In 1986, more than double that percentage were in Year 11.

  2. Any new subjects should be readily recognisable, understood and accepted as having valid outcomes by educational or training authorities and employers. The existence of several hundreds of subjects developed at school level makes recognition and acceptance of them on students' school reports very difficult.

  3. The decision to offer any new subjects would rest with the Division of Secondary Education, the Regional Offices of Education and, ultimately, schools.
Consequently, the Division of Curriculum Services undertook to develop new subjects using a process which would take best advantage of the expertise within the Division; provide for input from a wide range of educational personnel, people working with youth, and potential employers; build on the previous work by the Division of Secondary Education; would have close co-operation between the Divisions of Curriculum Services and Secondary Education; and involve schools and Regional Offices of Education.

The development process has three essential elements:

  1. A curriculum team of full-time officers from Curriculum Services Branch is responsible for the development of all materials. Where possible, officers are appointed directly from the classroom for the writing tasks.

  2. Reference groups are convened at various stages of the process to provide input and reaction from a variety of suitable people inside and outside the Department.

  3. Selected schools trial the materials as part of the development process.
The development process aims at efficient allocation of responsibility. The time-consuming work of writing syllabuses and support materials is performed by the full-time officers who have the time and access to resources to carry out these tasks effectively and efficiently. The reference groups and trial teachers bring to bear on the developing materials the insights and perspectives of a range of sources in the wider community. Reference group discussions can concentrate mainly on conceptual issues, to which all members can make a contribution, as opposed to technical issues, which generally can be left to the education professional. Practical considerations are the main responsibility of teachers who take part in the trial.

Two other important aspects of the process are involvement of support personnel from Regional Offices of Education, and evaluation by Research Services Branch.

A significant enhancement to the development process is being made in the case of Journalism. Early in the year, schools were asked to express interest in becoming 'associate schools' in the development of the Journalism syllabus, teacher guidelines and units of work. In return they received copies of resources developed. The trial schools were then selected from among the associate schools. Those not selected are kept informed of progress in the development process. The curriculum officer has been undertaking fieldwork in some of the associate schools to gather information and carry out preliminary trials of proposed approaches.

4. The Evaluation Process

Both the development process and the resulting course materials have been subject to evaluation by the Research Services Branch. Evaluators have worked closely with the course developers, with the common goal of ensuring that the course materials are valid, feasible and appropriate.

The evaluation has three main purposes:

  1. to investigate and document the validity and feasibility of the syllabuses;
  2. to contribute to ensuring the effectiveness of the development process; and
  3. to provide information on practical considerations in the implementation of the syllabuses by regions and schools.
To achieve these purposes, the tasks of the evaluator have been to:
  1. work with the individual curriculum officers;
  2. attend reference group meetings and trial teacher seminars;
  3. collect information from reference group members, trial teachers, students and other interested persons;
  4. assist with the processes for establishing information flow among curriculum officers, trial schools and other support personnel; and
  5. prepare frequent short reports to provide a focus for discussion among evaluators and curriculum officers, and a medium for the communication of progress within the Department.

5. The Reference Groups

An essential feature of the development process, especially in the early stages, is obtaining input from reference groups. The reference groups are convened when appropriate to assist the curriculum officers to maintain a broad perspective and to provide critical reviews of their work.

In each of the subjects, reference groups have met three or four times to react to successive drafts of syllabuses. In some cases, the groups have maintained association with the development process through the trial period. In the case of Australian Social Investigations, a separate reference group was convened before drafting of the syllabus commenced to consider possibilities for the basic nature of the course.

Aspects discussed in the reference group meetings have included:

Membership of the groups has been wide ranging, including school personnel, inspectors, government departmental officers, TAFE officers, youth workers, university and college lecturers, practitioners in relevant fields, business people, and representatives of employer or employee groups in relevant industries. Organisations which have been represented include: Each meeting has been attended by an evaluator who records the points raised by members of the group. After the meeting the evaluator meets with the curriculum officers to discuss these points and any desirable follow up action to be undertaken. Generally, the reference group meetings have been found by the participants, curriculum officers and evaluators to be effective and worthwhile.

With the exception of one subject, the levels of commitment to the developing subjects were high. In the case of Mathematics, reservation on the part of some members remained evident, possibly based on a belief that existing Mathematics courses were sufficient to meet the needs of all students.

In all cases, high levels of satisfaction with the concept of reference-group involvement in syllabus development were expressed by group members. Appreciation of the opportunity to contribute freely during meetings was found to be usual among reference group members.

The evaluator of the Mathematics reference group observed a tendency for discussions to concentrate on 'technical' issues rather than 'conceptual or fundamental' issues and suggested that technical issues would be more appropriately dealt with by the curriculum officers in consultation with their colleagues. The chairman of the reference group, however, felt that discussion of technical issues gave a means to validate the scope of the syllabus and to foster commitment to the new subject.

As a general finding, the reference-group process seems to have been highly effective in helping a broad perspective to be maintained in the new subjects. The process has the advantages that members can provide input without having to make regular long-term commitments of time, while the time-consuming work of drafting documents can be carried out by the full time officers of the Department. While it would be possible for the group's membership to be varied according to the task at hand, to date little variation in membership has occurred. Groups of up to 18 members (including curriculum officers and evaluators) have proved to be manageable so far.

6. The Trial Process

The subjects have been designed for four sequential semesters of study. Correspondingly, two sequential years of trial have been undertaken in each case.

Three-day seminars for trial teachers have been held prior to each of the two years of trial in each subject. Most were held in Brisbane. The seminars have been very well organised, and have received good ratings or evaluation comments from the participants. Over the period of each seminar, a firm commitment to the respective courses has seemed to develop among the trial teachers. The level of involvement by the teachers in the workshops has been very high throughout.

The sessions received most favourably by the teachers have been those related to:

Concerns most frequently expressed by the participants related to implementation strategies and student assessment. The teachers were concerned about finding the time to write work programs and prepare for classroom teaching in a new course. Schools and Regional Offices of Education may have to consider making some allowance for trial teachers, especially in the early stages of the trial. Release for attendance at the seminars is one form of such allowance. The teachers also expressed a need for guidance and discussion on student assessment, recognising that assessment procedures would have to be compatible with the general teaching approach. A basic problem is how to design programs for assessment of individual students in courses which emphasise group work, involvement in tasks where the product is designed for immediate use in a real life situation, and negotiation with students on projects or topics. Assessment procedures have been addressed in some trial teacher networks and in the developing syllabus guidelines.

The seminars have emphasised understanding the intended nature of the courses and how they can be approached in the classroom. Some were particularly concerned with supplying background information or in developing the relevant skills needed to teach the subject. For example, familiarity with relevant software was provided in the 1985 Practical Computer Methods seminar. Some of the seminars have given special attention to establishing contacts and forming communication networks. Other important aspects covered have been the role of trial teachers in the development process, and procedures for data collection within the trial.

The trial teachers' seminars have come to be conceived of not only as familiarisation of teachers with a syllabus and how to teach it, but also as one key element in the wider process of involving the trial teachers in the task of developing the new subject. The initial seminar begins by communicating to the trial teachers the part they have to play as co-developers of the course along with the curriculum officer and the evaluator. This includes outlining the nature of data collection processes in which they will take part. Close communication then has to be maintained among project officers and trial teachers.

Throughout the trial process to date, the curriculum officers have been actively supporting and working with the trial teachers by means of visits, phone contact, Keylink messages, mailed correspondence and meetings with groups of trial teachers.

The Practical Computer Methods trial has completed its second year within 30 trial schools. It seems to be a successful syllabus in both Years 11 and 12. All of the Year 11 trial schools continued with the subject in Year 12, and PCM was offered to Year 11 students in 1987 in schools other than the trial schools. During the trial, some of the trial schools established networks of communication, mainly within the boundaries of the Region. Regional computer consultants were key people in the networks.

Four subjects began trial in 1987. Fewer trial schools have been used than in the PCM trial, making the trial process more manageable. Australian Social Investigations had seven trial schools; Mathematics 17; Small Business Studies, 13; and Tourism had 12.

Extensive visits to the trial schools have been made by evaluators. Interviews were held with school administration, trial teachers, students and parents and local community members. Surveys of the trial teachers were carried out by mail at the end of the first semester, and the trial teachers were de-briefed during the seminar in the second semester of 1987.

Indications were that the trial was progressing satisfactorily in all subjects. Some teachers seemed to be coming to terms with the teaching approaches in the syllabuses, and others were developing high levels of expertise with them. Most of the teachers were finding the approaches to be effective, even for students with school histories of poor achievement or attitude. The students seemed to be growing into the greater measure of responsibility demanded of them, and achieving well.

The trial teachers have shown a willingness to work hard to come to grips with the syllabuses and the activity-based teaching methods. Many of the trial teachers have reported working long hours, especially in the initial stages. For the PCM teachers, gaining familiarity with the software packages proved very time-consuming. Tourism and Small Business Studies teachers have been willing to spend time making the necessary arrangements with local business people and community agencies.

Some of the teachers seemed to have been reluctant at first to give students the chance to do things themselves and to take control of their own learning. Work load seemed to reduce as they learned to 'let go', and began to feel comfortable with students taking more active roles in the learning process.

Generally, teachers' morale and commitment have seemed to be high, apparently because of the success being achieved by their efforts. Indications are that students' responses to the subjects have been very favourable.

Both evaluators and curriculum officers have observed that, through teaching the subjects, the trial teachers are gaining an appreciation of the teaching approaches which the syllabuses require. Commitment to the approach seems to follow its practice. Many teachers reported that the personal and professional growth which has accompanied their involvement in the development process has been very rewarding. The trial subjects appear to be establishing a new climate in classrooms, and changing relationships between students and teachers.

Information flow among trial teachers, curriculum officers and evaluators has been strongly emphasised as a crucial aspect of the development process. In practice, Keylink has been a good medium of communication for some of the trial teachers, but not for others. Also, it is clear that the time demands on teachers make the keeping of extensive notes or logs a somewhat unrealistic expectation. Telephone calls to teachers are difficult because of their class commitments. As a result personal contact by visiting has proved to be essential for curriculum officers and evaluators to exchange information with trial teachers.

To date the trial teachers' work has contributed strongly both the refinement of the syllabus and preparation of guidelines for implementation of the syllabus.

7. Emerging Features

As the project proceeds some characteristics of the new syllabuses are becoming apparent.

A prominent feature is that the learning process is based on students' first hand experience. As far as possible, the experience is gained in tasks that have a value beyond the learning they provide. That is to say, contrived or simulated exercises are avoided in favour of projects which provide some form of benefit to the school or community, or which relate to significant issues. The 'ventures' to be undertaken in Tourism or Small Business Studies provide the best examples of these. Ventures may include conducting a small business, or carrying out a community project. In Practical Computer Methods, projects include record keeping (file management) for school or community organisations. In Australian Social Investigations, research undertaken on issues of local, national or global importance leads to decision making on the issues and ultimately, to reflection on the outcomes and resulting reactions. Some mathematics projects have been of value to the school or community.

A second feature is that, as far as possible, the experiential activities involve the student in the community. The community is seen as a rich source of educational experiences for the students. Ideally, community workers, business people or local management personnel become partners with the school in the educational process and school-community links are strengthened. Experience in schools with community-based learning projects indicates that strong student motivation can result, and that the community personnel perceive advantages to themselves as well as to the students. Added benefits to students are gained from the opportunities to work with adults and to make a contribution to their community.

A third feature of the subjects is that they aim to cater for the full range of students in secondary school Years 11 and 12. In practice, however, practical limitations operate on the range of students who will include school subjects in their program. Currently, assignment of a Tertiary Entrance score requires that students take 20 semester units of Board subjects. The Departmental syllabuses can be submitted by schools for accreditation as 'Board-registered school subjects', but cannot be used for tertiary entry purposes. Students who wish to obtain a Tertiary Entrance score can take at most one 'school subject' in any year. A recent study (Hobbs, 1987) has shown that 60 per cent of Year 11 students in State schools consider obtaining a TE score to be 'very important'. Nonetheless, in 1987, an estimated 50 per cent of Year 11 students selected one or more 'school subjects' in their program of six subjects. An estimated 20 per cent selected more than one school subject.

In some of the trial schools, students of above average ability have not been encouraged to take the new subjects. In mathematics, higher ability students are advised to take Board mathematics subjects to avoid closing off tertiary options. Reports by teachers in the trial schools are indicating, however, that students from a wide range of general ability levels chose to take the trial subjects in 1987. Only students from the very highest ability levels were not represented. Teachers are also indicating that the subjects are suitable or very suitable for students at all ability levels.

Another feature of the new subjects has been their emphasis on the goal of a sound general education. They have not been conceived of as vocational training. General preparation for the workforce has been one of the goals, but this has shared importance with preparation for other life roles, as well as development of students' understanding of themselves, their community and the social system in which they live.

Two other features of the subjects are to develop co-operative learning and to increase students' responsibility for their own learning. All of the syllabuses emphasise group learning as a preferred strategy. Tourism, Mathematics and Small Business Studies include teacher-learner contracts as a basis for some of the student work and assessment. Mathematics and Australian Social Investigations involve teachers and students negotiating the topics, projects or issues to be taken up. This is done in a developmental way, reducing the level of teacher direction as students become more responsible for decisions about their own learning.

The effectiveness of the development process will be judged by the quality of the syllabuses and associated materials, and by the outcomes of teaching the subjects in schools. Three strengths of the development process are already apparent:

First, the reference groups are proving to be an effective forum for wide ranging input to the developing syllabuses.

Second, the trial is providing a rich source of ideas and improvements. The trial is integral to the ongoing development process itself. Its effectiveness within the development process depends on the level and quality of information flow among trial schools, curriculum officers and evaluators. Much is being learned about how this information flow can best be established and maintained.

Third, the process is flexible. This flexibility allows accelerated development in cases where related courses already exist at the school level. The flexible process has also accommodated a range of styles among the curriculum officers. Variety in numbers and types of trial schools has also been possible. In the event that experience with any of the trial subjects should prove to be unsatisfactory, return to a phase of re-writing with reference group and other input would be possible. Throughout the development process, input from any source can be received and acted on as appropriate.

Ultimately, in Years ll and 12 a subject will have to be accepted by schools, students, parents and the community as being valid and useful. Otherwise, the subject will not be able to find or retain its place in a school's prospectus. The development process for the Departmental syllabuses seems to have the potential to ensure that the new subjects will be widely perceived to be both valid and useful.


Cronk, J.A. and Hobbs, E.D. "Development of Practical Computer Methods for Secondary Schools: A Progress Evaluation Report." Research Series. Department of Education, Queensland, 1987.

Hobbs, E.D. "Senior Secondary Subject Selection by Boys and Girls." Research Series. Department of Education, Queensland, 1987.

Please cite as: Hobbs, E. D. & Cronk, J. A. (1988). Departmental Syllabuses: New Subjects for Years 11 and 12 Students in Queensland Schools: Progress Evaluation Summary. Queensland Researcher, 4(3), 4-20. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr4/hobbs.html

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Created 10 Mar 2008. Last revision: 10 Mar 2008.
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