The release of the Curriculum Review Report and the Government's ‘Initial Responses’ early this week created great media interest in primary education. I will comment on a couple of opinion pieces that appeared in the ‘Australian’ newspaper after this brief response to the recommendations.
The Government has identified five key themes in the Report recommendations:
As has been previously written in this column, APPA's submission to the Review focused almost exclusively on the theme of overcrowding. Naturally, we are delighted that both the Review Panel and the Australian Government have indicated this issue must be addressed as a matter of priority. On this and the associated issue of 'reconceptualisation' of the curriculum, APPA will argue strongly for the voice of the profession to be heard before any decisions are made. To believe, for example, there are only two ways to skin a curriculum cat strikes me as somewhat optimistic. I would expect much wider debate before this matter is settled.
The provision of documents and other resources to assist parents to understand the content taught in each year of primary school is an initiative primary principals will obviously welcome. APPA will advocate for any materials to be descriptive rather than diagnostic in nature and for advice to parents about working in partnership with teachers to be unambiguous.
The theme of accessibility for all students to the curriculum is important to APPA and we would expect to participate in any process designed to improve it. The curriculum provisions for students with disabilities for example must not be a ‘bolted on afterthought’ to the Australian Curriculum. However, APPA's advocacy priority in this area will continue to be to influence all Australian governments to ensure adequate resources are available to support the students with disabilities in our classrooms. This is much more than a curriculum review theme!
APPA’s submission to the Review certainly touched on balance in the curriculum. We believe there are examples of the Cross-curriculum Priorities being applied in a manner that is tenuous at best. Any work that addresses the nature and application of Cross-curriculum Priorities in the primary school must include input from APPA. The General Capabilities – strongly endorsed in our submission – must be given greater importance in the revised Australian Curriculum. APPA sees the involvement of successful primary educators in this work to make it a reality.
ACARA's governance and its remit have not assisted nationally consistent implementation of the Australian Curriculum. Any changes to structure that allowed ACARA to act on behalf of all education systems and to provide evidence of what works best in curriculum provision and student assessment would be welcomed by APPA. We continue to have confidence in ACARA's ability to lead nationally consistent approaches to this work.
Turning now to the public debate. Minister Pyne in his opinion piece in the ‘Australian’ said, ‘Having a national curriculum enables efficiencies in development and implementation through the sharing of learning and teaching resources. It makes clear what all Australian students should learn and the quality of learning expected as they progress through school. It signals to teachers what is to be taught and informs parents what should be expected from the education system regardless of where they live.’
APPA agrees with Minister Pyne. An Australian Curriculum makes sense. Arguing for greater autonomy in his opinion piece, Stephen Elder, Executive Director of Catholic Education Victoria, said of his submission to the Review Panel, ‘We recommended the scope of the Australian curriculum be limited to a maximum of 80 per cent of available teaching time, enabling flexibility for individual schools or jurisdictions to provide local and topical content, including religious education and the opportunity for deep learning.’ APPA agrees with Stephen Elder. The Australian Curriculum must not require all the time or resources available to primary schools for implementation.
Lest it be thought that APPA isn’t sure where it stands on this issue, let me say this. There is no forced dichotomy here. It is not a national curriculum or a school-based one. There is room for both national consistency at the core and school, even classroom, curriculum provision to enrich it. APPA will work tirelessly to ensure that the processes established to address the review panel recommendations result in a stronger curriculum for primary students and their teachers.
All the best,
President, Australian Primary Principals Association
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Provide a brief description of where you currently work as a school leader.
I am currently Principal of Harrison School, in the ACT. The school is a preschool to year 10 campus, with over 1400 students. I opened the school in 2008 with 335 students (P-6). We added a year from 2011 to fill the secondary campus.
How long have you been a school leader? What/where was your first appointment?
My school leadership journey began as an executive teacher and consultant, before taking on principal roles. I have been a school principal for 14 years. I had the opportunity to be acting principal at a small country school in central New South Wales, before being appointed to a school in Orange. The small school welcome was working out what the shovel behind the door was needed for in the school. Our office manager said when the kids see a snake they call for the Headmaster (term used at the time) to ‘deal with it’. Thankfully I survived the year without having an unwanted visitor in the playground.
When, and why, did you originally want to become a school leader?
After my experience in the small school, I decided to take a serious look at school leadership as I had enjoyed, and received great satisfaction, from leading a community.
What makes you smile at work?
I think the comments from children about the world and their perspective on events make me smile the most. They remind you of what is really important.
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What are you most pleased about in relation to your staff?
I am pleased that I have developed the skills to deal with a wide range of people and strategically inspire people to take up ideas and implement them in the school community.
What was the best day you ever had as a school leader?
Each day is always different. My best day would be the first day of my new school in 2008, when I declared to all the students, parents and staff, that our new school was open for learning.
What personal and professional attributes helped you through your worst day as a school leader?
This is where I draw strength from my values and beliefs to deal with the challenges I face as a school leader. The attributes that help me include a positive mindset, the ability to remain calm and then to focus on a solution that will allow us to move forward.
As an inexperienced principal, was the most useful lesson you ever learned from a more experienced principal colleague?
I remember discussing the process of decision-making with my mentor, in the early years. The advice I was given was to make sure your decision is based on your values or beliefs, and also connect to the vision of the school.
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What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you as a school leader?
It has been fun being part of the staff item each year at the annual school concert. Each year I arrive at the rehearsals and get directed to my part. One year, the theme included the song ‘Thriller’ and I was expected to do the Michael Jackson ‘moonwalk’. Well, we had people believing it was MJ and so our parents were so impressed. One even put the item on YouTube. This is my only claim to fame.
What tips would you give beginning school leaders about staying positive and keeping their energy levels high?
My three tips would include remembering why you are doing this work (visit a classroom daily); secondly, keep yourself fit and healthy (eat well and exercise), and thirdly, have a passion outside school (not in education).
If you could name just one thing that kept you going to school every day, even during tough times, what would that be?
The thing that keeps me coming to school is the chance to influence, or make a difference, to the life of a student. I also enjoy working with the people at school.
Principal, Harrison School, Canberra, ACT
Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988
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Connected Leader is an official publication of the Australian Primary Principals Association. In close collaboration with APPA, Connected Leader is designed, produced and edited, specifically for APPA members, by Debra J. Crouch, Managing Director of Vivid Word and Image design, to enhance the professional learning of Australian primary school leaders.
The opinions expressed in any of the internet-based resources accessed by links from Connected Leader, belong entirely to those who created those resources, and do not necessarily represent official APPA views and policies. At times, links to some resources may be deliberately selected to reflect the wide range of views held by Australian primary school leaders, and the views therein may be subject to debate in some sections of the education community. Readers are advised that, in the interests of brevity, not all of the available personal opinions or information about a particular event, development, issue or policy direction may be published in resources made available through links in Connected Leader. Interested readers who require more comprehensive information, or who seek the opinions of all stakeholders, are advised to directly contact the institution/s or persons cited in the resource/s or conduct their own private research.
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