Responding to the Federal Government initiatives the Western Australian Government used its constitutional powers to establish its own curriculum authority and to review the State Education Act. In 1995, the publication of the Review of Curriculum Development Procedures and Processes in Western Australia identified a number of curricular priorities, the key one being the creation of a Curriculum Council with responsibility for developing a curriculum framework for all schools.
By 1997, the Western Australian Curriculum Council was established and an important feature was the greater involvement of non-government schools and the community (especially business and commercial interests) in statewide curricular development processes. In 1998, the Curriculum Framework was published with an aim ‘to ensure that all students in Western Australia have the knowledge, understandings, skills and values necessary to participate and prosper in a changing world and new millennium’. This a very assimilationist goal, at least in the things that are deemed to matter.
As well as adopting and modifying the eight learning areas initially put forward by the Commonwealth Curriculum Corporation (established in 1990), the Curriculum Framework incorporated an explicit statement of Australian shared core values. These were intended to underpin the Curriculum and were woven through all aspects of the Curriculum Framework (Curriculum Council, 1998, 16). There are five core values, each supplemented with a number of key indicators – 32 in all. Core Value Four reads:
Social and civic responsibility, resulting in a commitment to exploring and promoting the common good; meeting individual needs in ways which do not infringe the rights of others; participating in democratic processes; social justice and cultural diversity.
The seven indicators for this core value include:
· participation and citizenship
· sense of community
· contribution to the common good
· respect for authority
· cooperation and reconciliation
· social justice
· responsibility and freedom
· research and advancement of knowledge
In the Western Australian Curriculum Framework, Overarching Learning Outcome No. 8 states:
Students understand their cultural, geographic and historical contexts and have the knowledge, skills and values necessary for active participation in life in Australia;
No. 9 states:
Students interact with people and cultures other than their own and are equipped to contribute to the global economy; and
No. 13 states:
Students recognise that everyone has the right to feel valued and be safe; and, in this regard, understand their rights and obligations and behave responsibly.
The Learning Area Statements for Society and Environment include a definition and rationale. The latter involves such processes as:
· participating in a rapidly changing world;
· acquiring knowledge, skills and values;
· connecting different perspectives; and
· aiming for civic responsibility and social competence.
There are seven Learning Outcomes for Society & Environment and Seven reads:
Students demonstrate active citizenship through their behaviours and practices in the school environment, in accordance with the principles and values associated with the democratic process, social justice and ecological sustainability.
In addition, each Learning Outcome is described in terms of the phases of child development.
As can be seen from the statements above, the language of the Curriculum Framework is very general and the outcomes are expressed as processes. The selection of content is left to the teachers, the school and the community. In reality, if the teachers do not possess the background knowledge and content relevant to the outcome, one has to ask what interpretation will be placed on such generalities. Under such circumstances it is to be expected that the teachers will rely very heavily on texts and prepared resources. The supervision of the implementation of the Curriculum Framework thus becomes of critical importance.
In addition, while the statements include words such as ‘participation’, ‘contribution’, ‘cooperation’, ‘interact’ and ‘social competence’, there is no direct reference in the curriculum documents to the non-government and voluntary associations of a civil society. There is no reference to the role of teachers and community groups in fostering a wide range of clubs, societies and associations through which the concepts, skills and values of active citizenship are to be practised and learned. For many teachers their imagination and resources stop at class parliaments and student representation on school councils. Community-based competitive team sports would appear to be one of the few examples that connect families, schools and communities.
The Curriculum Council Act of 1997 states that its objects are, inter alia, to:
(b) provide for development and implementation of a curriculum framework for schooling which, taking account of the needs of students, sets out the knowledge, understanding, skills, values and attitudes that students are expected to acquire, and
(d) provide for the assessment and certification of student achievement.
he functions of the Curriculum Council are to develop a curriculum framework, coordinate the implementation of the curriculum framework and to provide professional development. In relation to implementation a governing body of a school (the Director-General of government schools) has to ensure that it provides schooling in accordance with the most recent version of the Curriculum Framework and the Curriculum Council, with the approval of the Minister can give direction on the implementation of the Curriculum Framework and also on the reporting requirements.
The review of the School Education Act 1999 was the second response to the changing national focus on the outcomes of schooling and a common curriculum. The School Education Act 1999 is largely concerned with management of staff and resources. Part Three, Division Three, Clause 64 states:
The curriculum in a government school is to be determined by the chief executive officer (director-general), but any determination is to be made in accordance with the requirements of the Curriculum Council Act of 1997.
In reference to Parent and Community Involvement, Division Eight, Clause 115 states: A government school is to have a Council unless it is exempted by the Minister under Section 116. The Constitution of Councils (Section 117) states that membership will be drawn from parents of students, staff of the school and members of the local community. The functions of a Council for a school are to
take part in establishing, and reviewing from time to time, the school’s objectives, priorities and general policy directives and in planning of financial arrangements, and in evaluating the school’s performance in achieving them.
In addition, with the approval of the Minister, a Council may take part in the selection of the school principal. Just what a school’s objectives, priorities and general policy directions mean in relation to the implementation of the Curriculum Framework is not clear. It may only refer to resource management.
Already it is becoming clear that if the teachers are not well educated in the area of the outcome statements, the supervision of the implementation of the framework is effected at such a distant level from the classroom that greater import has to be placed on the preparation of the teachers in both content knowledge and teaching strategies. For example, what is the point of training teachers in questioning techniques if they do not know the subject area from which the questions are drawn?
The consultative committees within the WA Curriculum Council and the school councils within the government school sector both represent important steps towards a civil society, so that in the language of strategic planning and quality assurance, all relevant stakeholders are represented in the development and evaluation of policy. The cohesion of the two bodies relies on cross membership of councils. The potential for the councils and committees to contribute avenues for ‘active’ citizenship is still in the future and the formal links between the Curriculum Council and the government and non-government school systems remain undeveloped, as are the relationships between schools and community-based voluntary associations. Once again, the documents make no reference to a civil society and the potential roles of teachers and schools within such a society.