Change brewing for NSW school students

By Greg Whitby, 6 July 2020
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

We’ve been waiting a long time for the NSW Government to respond to calls for big changes in education.

The NSW Curriculum Review led by Professor Geoff Masters had some bold and inspiring suggestions. The wait is over: so what does this mean for schools, kids and their teachers?

Sadly, it seems several of the stronger recommendations of the Review like axing the ATAR, shaking up assessment, and razzing up reports may not have been the Government’s cup of tea. This has seen a watered-down version, with the sweetener (if that’s your thing) being that it’s all about getting ‘back to basics’. In fact, it’s of an entirely different flavour to the original.

Several of the really big changes that were recommended have been marked ‘support in principle’ or ‘noted’. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a lifetime of experience in reading Government reports has taught me that this is a polite way of saying that no action will be taken on this particular front. This is not my first curriculum review.

As mentioned above, the Government has highlighted a stronger focus on ‘the basics’: literacy and numeracy, particularly in the early years. Nobody disagrees that the basics matter, but there’s so much more to a great education. There’s some interesting stuff in there about students learning at their own pace too, but again, it’s only supported ‘in principle’.

The Government response will also see some culling of the subjects on offer to senior students. We need to know a lot more about what’s on the chopping block. Some media reports suggest critical thinking is one of the subjects to be cut. To me this seems like just the kind of a skill we should be seeking to strengthen at school!

I’m encouraged that there has been some take up of the smart thinking in the original report on skills. It’s great to see the consideration of connecting the learning pathways to real-world credentials in areas of skills shortage.

There’s also a focus on reviewing extra-curricular learning. It’s easy to rubbish some of these things, but what students learn about issues like road safety, financial management and workplace skills could fall into this category.

If you ask me, bigger changes are still brewing in education. This weak Government response to sensible calls for reform is disappointing. If I had to read the tea leaves, I’d say that we’ll return to some of the stronger suggestions one day. Wouldn’t it be gutsy to get this done now?

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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