Pyne announces curriculum review
Pyne announces curriculum review

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has announced a review of national schools curriculum, saying it will address criticism that it is too rigid, prescriptive and overcrowded.

He has appointed two critics of Labor’s reforms - former teacher Kevin Donnelly and business professor Ken Wiltshire - to head the review, which he said would provide students with a more robust curriculum.

Mr Pyne does not want to prejudge the review, but said there had been criticism of the national curriculum over a “lengthy period of time”.

“Criticism has 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,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Friday.

Mr Pyne questioned the need for the three current curriculum themes: Australia’s place in Asia, indigenous Australia and sustainability.

“Now there is some question about whether those themes fit with maths and science for example,” he said.

Professor Wiltshire once dismissed Kevin Rudd’s self-described education revolution as “about six dot points in search of a rationale”.

He chaired the review of the Queensland school curriculum under the Goss Labor government.

Dr Donnelly is director of Education Standards Institute and author of “Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars”.

He is a critic of Labor’s education reforms, including the Gonski review.

He was also a chief of staff to cabinet minister Kevin Andrews in 2004.

Dr Donnelly taught for 18 years in government and non-government schools and was a branch president of the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association.

Dr Kevin Donnelly

Review raises culture question

Mr Pyne wants an improved national schools curriculum to “celebrate Australia“, but denies a review is about correcting any perceived left-wing bias.

In a move that is likely to again spark a “culture” war over the direction of education, Mr Pyne on Friday announced a review of a curriculum he describes as too rigid and prescriptive.

He has appointed two critics of Labor’s education reforms to head the review which he said would provide students with a more robust curriculum.

Mr Pyne called for a return to a more orthodox system, free of what he called “partisan bias”.

But asked if he thought the current curriculum was too “left leaning“, the minister said he didn’t think it was “worthwhile getting into the particular views of whether the curriculum is one kind ... or another”.

Instead, he wanted the curriculum to be one that was robust and not one that tried to be “all things to all people”.

There should be a greater focus on western civilisation in our society, which he said was not being sold or talked about.

“(One) that isn’t too rigid, that doesn’t try and be prescriptive about every aspect of maths, science, history and English,” he told reporters in Adelaide.

“I also want the curriculum to celebrate Australia and for students, when they’ve finished school, to know where we’ve come from as a nation.”

Mr Pyne also questioned the need for the three current curriculum themes - Australia’s place in Asia, indigenous Australia and sustainability.

“Now there is some question about whether those themes fit with maths and science for example,” he said.

Mr Pyne defended the appointments of Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire, critics of what they say is a cultural bias in education, saying both men had a long history in the sector.

“It’s not possible to appoint anybody to review the national curriculum who doesn’t have a view on education,” he said, adding he was confident the findings would be objective and fair.

Dr Donnelly, a teacher for 18 years and once chief of staff to Howard government minister Kevin Andrews, describes himself as a “curriculum nerd”.

“We need to look at a curriculum that is teacher friendly ... that is world’s best,” he said.

“And we need to look at what will be, frankly, cost effective, because a great deal of money goes into education.”

Mr Pyne said he hoped the review would be completed by June, with a view to working with states and territories to improve the curriculum for 2015.

Reviewers are no fan of Labor

Kevin Donnelly once likened the findings of the Gonski schools funding review to a misplaced Fabian ideal of equality of outcomes.

Now the former teacher and critic of Labor’s education reforms is one of two people the Abbott government has appointed to conduct a review of the national schools curriculum.

The review’s other member, Ken Wiltshire, is a critic of the current curriculum, having previously lamented the “astounding devaluation” of the book in modern teaching.

Dr Donnelly, who taught for 18 years in both government and non-government schools, was critical of the Gonski review, saying it embraced a cultural-left, deficit view of education.

It justified compensating government schools and their communities at the expense of non-government school parents, he wrote in May 2012.

The arguments that “differences in wealth, income, power or possessions” should not be allowed to influence a student’s performance and that education must provide “equity of outcomes“ echoed the misplaced Fabian ideal of equality of outcomes championed by Victoria’s one-time premier and education minister Joan Kirner.

Dr Donnelly’s criticism of the system’s command-and-control model echoes the views of federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, who appointed him to the curriculum review on Friday.

Australian schools were suffering from the fetish for defining educational success in terms of what can be quantified and measured, he said.

Last year Dr Donnelly said Labor’s Australian Education Bill, which established a framework for implementing the Gonski reforms, would undermine schools and weaken teacher effectiveness because of its complexity, opaqueness and raft of unintended, harmful consequences.

He also has expressed concerns about a “subjective” view of culture that neglects the Judeo-Christian values at the core of Australian institutions.

“Multiculturalism is based on the mistaken belief that all cultures are of equal worth and that it is unfair to discriminate and argue that some practices are wrong,” he wrote in 2012.

Prof Wiltshire, a professor of public administration at the University of Queensland business school, branded the curriculum a “failure” in January 2013 - prior to changes that were put in place last year.

He believes a school curriculum should be based on a set of values, a missing feature of the Labor model.

“Curriculum should also be knowledge-based, yet we are faced with an experiment that focuses on process or competencies.”

Prof Wiltshire headed a review of the Queensland school curriculum for the Goss Labor government and came across future prime minister Kevin Rudd, then the premier’s chief of staff.

“Rudd took no interest in the implementation and allowed many of the initiatives to be sabotaged,” he wrote in July 2013.

“Indeed, his own gargantuan Office of Cabinet tried to sink many of the recommendations from the beginning, based on personal biases and ideology.”

Prof Wiltshire said most of the education reforms Mr Rudd initiated as prime minister had ended in a shambles.

The Greens say Mr Pyne’s perception of bias in the curriculum was clouding his judgment, accusing the minister of wanting to take Australian schools 'back to the 1950s'. File picture: Getty Images

Labor brands review a joke

Labor’s education spokeswoman Kate Ellis dismissed the review as a “farce” and a “joke”.

“This is nothing more than a distraction from the fact that this government has betrayed every school student and every parent of Australian children,” she told reporters in Adelaide, referring to the coalition’s “unity ticket” election promise.

The coalition last year tried to scrap Labor’s Gonski funding deals with the states, a proposal it eventually dropped after widespread criticism.

Ms Ellis also raised questions about the two men appointed to head the review.

The curriculum needed to be developed by an independent body, Ms Ellis said.

“We need to make sure that our children are getting the best lessons, not getting taught in political philosophies that the Abbott government seek to endorse,” she said.

The Greens say Mr Pyne’s perception of bias in the curriculum was clouding his judgment, accusing the minister of wanting to take Australian schools “back to the 1950s”.

“The response from Christopher Pyne is pure ideology,” acting leader Richard Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West