April saw the publication of the first major review of the whole NSW school curriculum since 1989. It was led by Geoff Masters from the Australian Council for Educational Research.
Entitled ‘Nurturing wonder and igniting passion’, it aims “to ensure the curriculum equips students to contribute to Australian society in the 21st century”.
What they say about the school curriculum in NSW
Well, ‘Nurturing wonder and igniting passion’ says reform is urgent and significant change is needed! Issues include a crowded curriculum; frequent separation of knowledge and skills, theory and application in academic and vocational learning in the current curriculum, and finally a syllabus that is too constrained by guidelines about what, how and when content should be taught. Flexibility, and the ability meet individual needs are lacking. What the new NSW school curriculum will now aim to do is:
“provide better integration of theory and the application of theory; build students’ skills in applying knowledge; and [be] more flexible in relation to the timing of teaching and learning to accommodate students’ widely varying levels of attainment and learning needs.”
A smaller number of subjects is envisaged, and it will make sure:
“Vocational learning is not quarantined to a set of vocational education and training (VET) subjects, but is seen as relevant to every student and area of learning. Skills such as problem solving, working in teams, collaborating, communicating, and thinking critically and creatively are promoted in all subjects and are also developed and demonstrated through a major investigative project that every student undertakes.”
This will all take time to implement, though! And there is a welcome focus overall on generic skills and breaking down the academic-vocational divide.
What about present views of VET in NSW schools?
Many of those making submissions to the review note the continuing priority being given in schools to the ‘traditional academic pathway’ from HSC study to ATAR to university entry with other pathways treated as ‘alternative’ or ‘non-academic’. Not all schools embrace VET studies either. Despite the fact that these studies work well for many students and are seen as desirable, they are seen to cost more to offer than traditional academic courses. Others responding to the review expressed concern about the narrowness and low level of many VET in Schools programs. With VET subjects often offered at relatively low levels (Certificate I to III), “they are not perceived as being as rigorous as other senior school subjects.” More specifically, VET in Schools programs:
“often prepare students narrowly for work in particular occupations, rather than providing them with broader exposure to an industry and the kinds of preparation that industry requires.”
The review reported perceived difficulties in integrating VET programs with their competency-based approaches to teaching and assessment into traditional senior secondary arrangements.
VET delivery is also seen by some review respondents as ‘complex and cumbersome’ and the range of compliance requirements “placed an undue burden on schools in terms of time, teacher training, resourcing, and administration, and on VET teachers who are being overburdened with requirements.” Simply, some feel VET for schools burns teachers out.
Variable quality is also an issue, and VET courses offered in schools often don’t have enough work placement or on-the-job training when compared to VET offerings post-school, so industry tends to hold a low view of school-delivered VET and sees schools producing students who are not job-ready. On the other hand, the review reported that vocational pathways are undervalued by schools, and the vocational education sector itself is described by some contributing to the review as ‘in decline’.
The solution, the review says, is to stop conceptualising and teaching academic and vocational learning as very separate streams, which the review sees as making little sense. Rather, as this article noted above, there is a broader role for vocational learning in schools to begin cultivating generic capabilities and 21st Century Skills – many of which are best developed through applied and work-integrated learning.
Finding out more
The Review’s website provides access to the review’s final report, summaries of key findings based on consultations as well as a series of fact sheets targeted at particular audiences. Also, just reminding you readers that we featured the review of VET in schools in South Australia recently.