National Curriculum Review: time to ask the teachers

I'd like to begin by explaining the motivation behind writing this article and my engagement with the National Curriculum Review. In my worldview our children are more important than our selves. It then follows that the next most important people are the parents and teachers because they are the ones who spend the most time raising our children. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. It is my delightful obligation to be a part of that village.

Teaching is an intellectual activity, and therefore cannot be micromanaged. Yet teachers are regularly bombarded with changes in curriculum and assessment which they did not request. Why is this happening? Do any of us, who have never spent any time in a classroom, really know better than an experienced teacher as to what should be taught, or how it should be assessed in that classroom?

Insisting on a national curriculum constrains a teacher's freedom to teach, so it needs to be justified with good reason. If we look at Year 12 Specialist Mathematics, a national curriculum is appropriate because most of the students will go on to take first Year university mathematics, which is much the same in most places around the world. Thus, all such students will have access to an appropriately detailed and world-class curriculum in Year 12.

If we look at the other end of the spectrum, the Foundation primary year, does this require a national curriculum? Given that we already have NAPLAN testing the basics embedded in the primary school years, do we need to constrain the Foundation-year teachers in such a way? Particularly when at this age there will be considerable developmental variation in the children. I cannot come up with a good argument in support of this. This is not to suggest that a curriculum here is not important. Far from it. It is just that a locally-determined and relevant curriculum may be more beneficial in the early years.

So, where are we at now, and what should happen next? We have a National Curriculum from Foundation through to year 12 in several subjects. This has been reviewed, and some recommendations for changes have been made. For my part, I am not comfortable with Science being split across Physical, Chemical, Biological and Earth sciences down to the Foundation year. I don't think it is realistic or desirable that all early primary teachers across Australia should be teaching and assessing these four categories. This is not done in Finland or Singapore, and I doubt elsewhere. This is the basis of why I believe that for the early primary years the National Curriculum is too crowded. However, this is not for me to decide, but the teachers.

Forums should be set up across Australia where primary school teachers are given the time to discuss the recommendations of the review that affect them, and be given the authority to determine which, if any, are implemented and how. It is very important that those who are affected by any action have ownership of that action. Naturally, not all will agree with any suggestion, but in a democracy we are used to resolving such conflicts.

I've already made the case why teachers are some of the most important members of society. The truth is that this is better recognised in the developing world, and is a constant battle in ours. We need to be reminded that we live in one of the best countries in the world because of the teachers who taught us, and the generations before us. Teaching needs to be one of the most sought after professions. It requires great intellectual, organisational and social skill, all too rare in a single person. Such people deserve to be treated with great respect and be left in charge of their affairs as much as possible. If there is any merit in the ideas given in the Review then they will only be truly realised if it is the teachers who take ownership.