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Rudd And Gillard Promote National Education Curriculum

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his deputy, Julia Gillard, have promoted the proposed national curriculum for schools during a visit to a Canberra school.

Speaking at Amaroo School, Rudd said the national curriculum was “a key pre-election commitment”. Australia would have a national curriculum for the first time in 2011. “This is in English, it’s in maths, it’s in science, it’s in history, and what we’re on about is making sure the absolute basics of knowledge, the absolute basics of education, are taught right across the country.”

As Education minister, Gillard said: “Curriculum has often been a mystery, a mystery for parents, for employers, they didn’t know what was being taught in Australian classrooms. We’re taking a very different approach. It’s there on the web for all to see and for all to comment upon.”

Of different curriculum offerings from the States, Rudd said: “..Over a long period of time I think what you’ve seen in different states across Australia is pretty patchy standards emerging, pretty patchy standards, let’s just be frank about it. Various states have tried to fix up these holes on the way through whether it’s on literacy or numeracy or in other areas, but over a period of time a whole lot of, shall I say, less than adequate standards and less than adequate content has crept in.”

Gillard said the History curriculum would be neither a “black armband” or “white armband” view of Australia’s past.

Both politicians talked of the importance of a “back to basics” approach to education. Rudd said: “This hit me in the eyeballs quite some time ago when I was sitting down reading a story to a littlie and I began sounding out words and the littlie did not know what I was talking about. That worried me a lot because this was not a little one so little that the ability to spell out c-a-t was, should have been beyond them and when I went through the c-a-t and the d-o-g, it wasn’t working.”

Transcript of press conference with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

RUDD: As I said yesterday, the Government needs to lift its performance, deliver more, and that’s why are here today – to deliver on a key pre-election commitment for an Australian national curriculum.

After 110 years, next year, 2011, Australia will have its national curriculum for the first time. There has been so much squabbling over this, so much fighting, so much disagreement, but, in fact, it’s time we got on with the business of doing it, and through the good work of Julia Gillard and all of the officials who have assisted her, we are about to deliver on that commitment today.

What I remember over the years is going around Australia talking to so many, many kids at schools around the country, particularly schools with large Defence communities, who would say this: why is it that when we change states that our kids are put at two disadvantages? One is, the inevitable change in school, but secondly, we find ourselves in a completely different curriculum environment.

We listened carefully to that, and that’s why, prior to the last election, we undertook to the Australian people that we would deliver Australia’s first national curriculum. This is in English, it’s in maths, it’s in science, it’s in history, and what we’re on about is making sure the absolute basics of knowledge, the absolute basics of education, are taught right across the country.

When it comes to teaching the basics, let me be very frank: what we need to make sure is our kids know how to sound out letters, that they know grammar, that they know punctuation, that they know adding up, taking away, counting – these essential elements must be part of the basic knowledge in the school education of all Australian kids, and that’s why we are proud to launch this national curriculum document today.

This will be out for public consultation through until the end of May. We want feedback from across the Australian community. We want feedback from all those who have views on the content of what we’re putting out there. We’ll listen to those views carefully, shake any further gremlins out of the system, that’s what it’s all about, but what we’ll have from 2011, for the first time in the history of the Australian federation, is a national curriculum, P-10, right across this country.

Over to you, Julia.

GILLARD: Thank you very much, and that’s what happens when you’re in schools.

Can I just briefly say the following, can I very much thank Barry McGaw and the team at the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. They have moved a mountain to deliver My School. They have moved a mountain to deliver today the draft Australian curriculum in maths, English, science and history, and on and from today parents, teachers, interested Australians will be able to get on this website – www.australiancurriculum.edu.au – and comment themselves.

Curriculum has often been a mystery, a mystery for parents, for employers, they didn’t know what was being taught in Australian classrooms. We’re taking a very different approach. It’s there on the web for all to see and for all to comment upon. The website won’t be the only way of commenting. People will also be able to go to face-to-face consultations right around the country, but I would note this – this is a world-leading digital curriculum. The curriculum will always be available through this website. Gone will be the days of paper documents that needed to be refreshed and updated. The curriculum will be on this website not only for the purpose of consultation, but it will be there on the website for teachers to refer to and use, so they can go to this website, use it to help them plan their lessons as they teach the Australian curriculum.

This is a world first, to have a curriculum delivered in this format and in this format alone, to move from the world of paper to the digital world, and that’s a very big achievement. That has happened because of Barry McGaw’s leadership and the team at ACARA.

I would also note that we will shortly move to a situation where 155 schools around the country will be trialling this national curriculum, using it in their classrooms and providing feedback as they use the national curriculum.

This is an important day for Australian education. I think many Australians will be delighted to see that after 110 years we have a national curriculum in the first four core subjects. I’m looking forward to the comments of Australians on this curriculum. I’m looking forward to seeing it alive in Australian classrooms, firstly in our 155 trial schools, and then from next year on in classrooms right around the country.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, presumably we’re changing the current situation because it’s not what we want. How did we get, then, to the crazy position where we’re not teaching children the most basic things that they need – literacy and numeracy? How did we get to it?

RUDD: I’ll turn to Julia on that because she has been dealing with each of the state curriculum authorities but can I just say one basic principle first and that is getting the States and Territories to agree over a long period of time on a single national curriculum with basic standards in it has been really, really hard. There has been a lot of resistance, there’s been a lot of bureaucracy, there’s been a lot of people getting in the road; that’s the first thing.

The second is over a long period of time I think what you’ve seen in different states across Australia is pretty patchy standards emerging, pretty patchy standards, let’s just be frank about it. Various states have tried to fix up these holes on the way through whether it’s on literacy or numeracy or in other areas, but over a period of time a whole lot of, shall I say, less than adequate standards and less than adequate content has crept in.

So what Julia has done, consistent with our pre-election commitment, is seize the bull by the horns and get on with the job. It’s detailed work, it’s hard work, it is back to basics and making sure that the 80,000 kids who change States every year have the same basic national curriculum.

GILLARD: Thank you Prime Minister.

What I would say to that question is this: first, national curriculum has been talked about for a long period of time and that reform has always ended up crashing and not delivered because of state based squabbling. We are now beyond the days of state based squabbling. Every Education Minister, State and Territory has agreed that they will teach the national curriculum, that it will become the curriculum of this nation.

On the question of quality and standards; there has obviously been a big debate in the teaching profession and amongst those who generate curriculum about the best way of teaching reading, about the best ways of approaching maths and science and history. I believe through this high quality and consultative work lead by Professor McGaw we have resolved those debates.

So this curriculum unashamedly has phonics, has the relationship between sounds and letters. It unashamedly has grammar taught at every level so that we can reassure ourselves that kids in school are learning grammar. It is there to take kids through everything we would remember in maths from counting and multiplying, addition, subtraction, division, through algebra, geometry, measurement, statistics, probability theory and the like.

It’s a high quality curriculum where Barry has looked for the best around this nation, but also the best around the world and we have specifically looked at what is being done in those countries that are beating us in international testing.

JOURNALIST: Would this curriculum die if there was a change of government (inaudible)?

GILLARD: Well that’s really a question that you’d need to put to Mr Abbott. What I would say is this; we were fought every step of the way in delivering the schools legislation that is making this curriculum a reality.

I had to fight, as some in this room would recall, in December 2008 to get the schools funding bill through as the Liberals argued with us about curriculum and they argued with us about transparency. That is they argued with us about this Australian curriculum and they argued with us about My School. Well when they brought that spirit of opposition against a track record of not having got anything substantial done in Government, I can imagine that Mr Abbott’s going to look for a reason to oppose this national curriculum.

That’s what Mr Abbott does, it’s what the Liberal Party has done in education but to coin a phrase, when in Government you’ve been all talk and no action in education as the Liberal Party was I think we should be looking forward to something a bit better than just continued opposition as we deliver these big reforms in education.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

RUDD: As Julia answers that, one addition to what she said. In the schools agreement that the Minister referred to just before, this would not be happening, we would not have a national curriculum today had not the Minister Julia Gillard insisted that it was a precondition for the extra funding to be delivered to the states through the schools agreement. That is bottom line stuff, you want to know how this has happened, that’s how it happened.

A lot of opposition on the way through, some from the states but in terms of the hullabaloo from the Liberals and the Senate on this question it was tough passage.

GILLARD: Thanks for that question and it’s an important one. This is the curriculum for all schools and all school systems. All schools and school systems at the moment invest in professional development for teachers. They invest in professional development to teach teachers about the curriculum. Obviously that effort will be moved from teaching about state based curriculums to teaching about the Australian curriculum.

Then of course your question raises the vital question of teacher quality. We need to be lifting teacher quality right around the country and we’re doing that through the investment of more than half a billion dollars which is already leading to reforms like Teach for Australia, bringing the best graduates into teaching, into reforms like rewarding leading and accomplished teachers for going to disadvantaged schools and teaching in the classrooms that need them the most, investing in professional development to lift standards around the country.

This reform, the national curriculum, interlocks with My School, it interlocks with what we’re doing on quality teaching, it interlocks with what we’re doing in literacy and numeracy, it interlocks with what we’re doing to support disadvantaged schools as well as of course our very big capital programs for schools.

The reforms all work together, better quality teaching, quality national curriculum, transparency through My School.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, some of your colleagues are concerned about the excessive criticism. Does this mean your mea culpa has gone too far or is your Government (inaudible)?

RUDD: I think it’s just important to acknowledge the fact that we need to do better, deliver more, get back to the basics, that’s why we’re here today, to deliver on the basics of a national curriculum.

This is a key pre-election commitment of ours. It’s taken a lot of work to get right. We’ve got a public consultation ahead now to shake any further gremlins out of the system but this is the back to basics stuff that the Government’s on about and there’ll be more of it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, you’ve finished your health blueprint. When are you going to roll that out?

RUDD: I like the presupposition to the question, Michelle. Let me tackle that first and I’ll go to the second bit. The first is we are still having discussions with various states and territories on key elements on what we propose to do. In fact I was meeting only last week also with the heads of various medical organisations as well. And as far as the second point is concerned, Michelle, it’ll be released in due season.

On the question of basics, getting the basics right for the future of the health and hospital system is hard work, it’s detailed work and we will honour our pre-election commitments.

JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, you’ve introduced the curriculum, My School, other commitments you’ve honoured. Do you agree with the Prime Minister’s assessment of the Government that it hasn’t been up to the mark?

GILLARD: Look I do agree with the Prime Minister’s assessment and what I believe the Prime Minister is challenging me and other ministers and the Government overall to do is to keep improving, keep rising to the challenge, keep delivering on the things that matter to working families. And here we are today talking about a big new reform that matters to Australian families. It matters vitally to those who look forward to moving school many times, as defence force families do, they know that when their child starts prep that that child will probably move four or five times during the course of his or her education. But it’s also vital for every child in every school. I think every parent wants to know that their child is studying a high class, rigorous curriculum and that’s what the Australian Curriculum is all about.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, you say that want to do better. What’s been the problem? Has it been taking on too much at once, is it too much process? Can you go a level deeper than you have in your examination on what you think has been the problem?

RUDD: No, not really. I think the bottom line is this. We need to do better, deliver more and get back to the basics. That’s what we’re here to do today.

On the question of basics, I listened carefully to the questions before about concerns about teacher quality. This hit me in the eyeballs quite some time ago when I was sitting down reading a story to a littlie and I began sounding out words and the littlie did not know what I was talking about. That worried me a lot because this was not a little one so little that the ability to spell out c-a-t was, should have been beyond them and when I went through the c-a-t and the d-o-g, it wasn’t working.

That’s part of the reason we were doing this. We both went to schools where we were taught years and years and years ago how to sound letters out, sound words out. We have got to have that as well as other basics out there so that the mums and dads of Australia, wherever they go across this country of ours, Australia, can be confident that this basic national curriculum is going to give their kids the basic skills for the future.

JOURNALIST: On bullying (inaudible), I know that there is an inquiry going on at the moment, but what can the Federal Government do?

GILLARD: There is a Parliamentary inquiry at the moment to look at the question of bullying but of course in the meantime, the Government is continuing to act.

With our state and territory colleagues, we have a National Safe Schools Framework and under that framework, schools right around the country engage in anti-bullying activities and as you move through schools like this one, you will often see the posters and the learning material that is helping teachers have the conservation with children about not engaging in bullying and what to do if they are bullied.

In addition to that, we’re investing through the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation on dealing with the newer challenge of cyber bullying. Obviously bullying in the playground has always been with us. Now with new technology it’s taking on new forms – facebook, mobile phones, chasing kids back into their homes so that they feel like there’s no safe space for them. The Alannah and Madeleine Foundation is working directly on that.

And then my ministerial colleagues, both Minister Conroy and Minister O’Connor have also announced cyber safety investments because we do understand that there are dangers for children on the internet, dangers about who they might get talking to through websites and chatrooms, dangers like bullying and we need to make sure that we’re working with kids, working with parents, working with families to understand these new dangers.

RUDD: There’s a whole lot more to be done on this too. These are first steps. When we were all at school, bullying stopped and started once you got inside the school gate, that’s the extent that it existed – in school. Now, as Julia rightly said, it follows you home. That’s what’s different here. And there’s a whole lot of trauma out there amongst the kids and their mums and dads today and we’ve seen the most horrific examples of it most recently. But you know, underneath it all there’s a whole lot of families way beyond that who are really concerned. We’ve taken these steps but technology is rolling this on and we need to take further steps as well.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

RUDD: I’ll get Julia to answer in terms of the processes with all these school curriculum bodies. Let me just say this, there’s always been a thousand debates about what’s right and what’s wrong about education. I think you’ve been through a few of those Barry over the last year or so. I think your hair is almost white since I last saw you.

But you know something, you’ve got to get on with it and I think all of us intuitively as parents know that if our littlies are capable of sounding out letters, it actually helps. It’s not perfect, it’s one part of what we describe as basic education in reading. It’s these basic building blocks which taken together, all help.

GILLARD: I suspect I could carry on about this for a very long period of time but I’ll try not to.

Obviously as the Prime Minister says, one of the foundations of reading is phonics, sounding out words, recognising a word c-a-t, cat.

Then of course you’ve got to recognise the meaning of the word, what is a cat. Then you’ve got to be able to put it in a sentence – the cat sat on the mat.

Then you’ve got to understand the punctuation, capital letter, full stop.

Then you’ve got to recognise that the order of words matters, the child sat on the dog means something different to the dog sat on the child.

And then of course we want people to get creative. Do they want to write a story about a cat or do they want to write a story about a dinosaur or an alien.

And of course, this is – I haven’t started on apostrophes yet for the press gallery, I could certainly do apostrophes at length for the press gallery – so all of these things, these layers of complexity are built up through the curriculum.

We’re not expecting kids in year 10 to be sitting around going c-a-t, cat. We’re expecting them then by that stage of learning to be reading great works of literature and debating their meaning. But you build it up, layer by layer and that’s what this curriculum’s about.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

RUDD: Firstly as I said the other day Australia is not satisfied with the answer that we’ve received from the Israeli Government so far in relation to the use and abuse of Australian passports. Second point I’d make is this. The Australian Government always reviews UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on their merits and this one reviewed on its merits. This specific resolution does not explicitly endorse the so-called Goldstone report and therefore, we have taken our decision based on its merits. I go back to my original point however and that is that we still have a way to go yet with the Israeli Government on the other matter.

JOURNALIST: Minister, talking about getting back to basics- one of the criticisms of the Government at the moment is that money has been wasted on the Building the Education Revolution- that schools are (inaudible). Would you get back to basics and check whether (inaudible)?

GILLARD: Value for money in tenders for the Building the Education projects are checked continuously, as part of the program and part of the guidelines. There has been parts of the country where the tenders originally received were not seen to offer value for money, and so retendering has been engaged in. I would also note that sometimes we see in the media price comparisons which are not apples to apples. Obviously the cost in Building the Education Revolution are the costs of the building including fit out, so if we’re looking at a classroom like this one, it’s not just the per metre cost for putting up the walls and the ceiling, it’s actually the cost of the things that make it usable like the interactive whiteboards, the carpeting that we’re standing on now, and so on and so forth. So, I would say to people, value for money, we’re checking it continuously. Obviously, if people are concerned about value for money questions, we’re always happy to hear from them, but some of the comparisons done can be misleading, because they are comparing basic per metre costs with the full cost of a fitted out building.

JOURNALIST: What is the cost of the rollout of the curriculum going to be?

GILLARD: Well, the curriculum’s being developed by ACARA, but professional development monies obviously are held by states and territories and school systems, and they will use their curriculum support systems to rollout the national curriculum. We are in a circumstance where as a Government we have almost doubled the amount of money going into school education. We have invested in an unprecedented way in school education. That means of course states and territory schools and school systems have got more resources than they ever have had before to roll out the Education Revolution, including rolling out the Australian curriculum.

RUDD: On buildings, by the way, before I go to Hugh’s question- I was speaking to Anne, the Principal here, before. This school has grown from 150 kids six years ago to more than 1000 kids now, is that right Anne? And so the investment here is six new state of the art classrooms, and I think an associated learning centre. So our response, I’ve got to say, right across the nation is, from schools everywhere is basically one of ‘thank God, you’re helping us meet with the current pressures on our schools’. Hugh.

JOURNALIST: Some people are concerned (inaudible)?

GILLARD: Well I may turn to Barry at this point as well, but obviously in designing the Australian curriculum, Barry McGaw and others have led a consultative process. I believe if you properly look at this curriculum, to adopt Barry’s phrase originally, it is neither black armband nor white blindfold. There have been some claims made about the contents of the curriculum in media in recent days that actually factually aren’t right. I would ask people to do what we’re here to invite them to do today, jump on the website and have a look themselves. This is the feedback period, the comment period for Australians, and I would invite them to do that.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how would you characterise the role of the Education Union in the debate over the national curriculum (inaudible)?

RUDD: Just as Julia answers that, can I just add one point as well. Some of the debate at the weekend was over the including of indigenous perspectives in part of the curriculum. I’d just draw your attention to what Mr Howard had to say about this back in ’06/’07 and the inclusion of indigenous perspectives in the curriculum. I’d draw your attention to the current inclusion of indigenous matters in the WA State Government’s curriculum. I mean, let’s all keep this into some perspective. We’re on about the basics. The basics in these four core subjects, which go to the three and a half million kids over time in the Australian school system, it doesn’t matter which state they’re in, they can benefit from it.

GILLARD: Well, we of course are laying out our Education Revolution reforms. We’re laying out another big one today with the Australian curriculum. I expect that people will have different views. Obviously the Australian Education Union had a view about My School, it may well have a view about this Australian curriculum, and it will express its view. We, as a Government, we’re determined to make a difference for Australian kids. So what drives me, what drives the Prime Minister, what drives the Government, is that we want to make a difference for every child in every school. Sometimes that requires us to overcome some opposition, but we’ve done it in the past and we’ll continue to do it because that’s our focus- have we made a difference for a child in a school. I believe this curriculum will. I believe My School does. I believe our new investments in teacher quality and literacy, numeracy in disadvantaged schools and school capitals are making a difference for those kids.

RUDD: As we go-

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MCGAW: Well no, specifically in relation to history, we’ve been very careful to make sure that we’ve had balanced voices at the table. As we started the original draft of the shape of the curriculum in history- it was crafted by a team that included school-based history teachers and historians that might be characterised as left and right. We had John Hirst and Tony Taylor and Stuart Macintyre in that group. Now, that’s a diverse group of eminent historians. And what they brought forward is a proposal that, for example, with respect to Aboriginal and Indigenous- or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, that their history should be represented in the curriculum. Their history before the arrival of Europeans, and upon the arrival of Europeans, their perspectives, as well as those of the settlers. The settlers perspectives are part celebration. It’s not black armband in that sense at all. It’s people travelling enormous distances and setting up a whole new country in a hostile environment, on the one hand. But there are indigenous perspectives on that as well, and we’re covering both.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd-

RUDD: Look, just as I go, because I’ve actually got to get back to work- as you go here can I just draw this- this is work to, but most of the work’s been done prior to this. Draw your attention to the fact that here at the Amaroo school we have the Guinness Book of Records champions for the single largest number of air guitarist performers simultaneously? 1,177. Have I got that right Anne?

PRINCIPAL: No, 1,877.

RUDD: I’m sorry, 1,877. So could you- 88. So if I could ask you to note that appropriately for your bulletins this evening.

GILLARD: And can I invite those who are interested to join Professor McGaw and I, we will be in a classroom with the curriculum on computers, so particularly for our print journalist friends who might want to go through the website and learn its functionality whilst Barry’s there to help them, that’s available to them.

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