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National education agenda 1997-8

 Continuing Challenge & Change  


This paper has been prepared for the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council by Jim Cumming. We believe it is an essential read for all principals and other interested educational observers, as it provides a concise, accurate and current outline of some of the most significant and/or emerging educational issues in Australia.

Please feel free to download the document, and we trust that it assists you in meeting our educational responsibilities for Australia's children.

  • Overview

  • Literacy and Numeracy

  • Civics and Citizenship Education

  • Enterprise Education

  • The Middle Years of Schooling

  • Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VET)

  • Assessment and Accountability



Various peak bodies and forums currently initiate and respond to educational issues from a national perspective. The Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), for example, comprises Territory and Commonwealth Ministers with portfolio responsibility for education, employment, training and youth affairs. Several other national groups with constituencies that include teachers, parents, education system chief executive officers, unionists, principals and deans, also pursue educational matters that are considered to be in the national interest.

In general, these groups develop policies and responses to national priorities and
issues through a variety of strategies. Many establish sub-committees to conduct
research and formulate recommendations on current and emerging needs. MCEETYA, for
example, has several task forces that are currently investigating a range of issues
including 'benchmarking in literacy and numeracy in schools', 'racism in schools'and 'the implementation of the New Apprenticeship scheme'.

Some players appear to exert greater influence than others in relation to the national education agenda. The government, for example, not only determines its own priorities, but also allocates substantial funding to initiate large-scale projects in specified areas. As part of its Quality Outcomes Program, the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs has identified a number of focus areas, including 'outcomes based assessment and reporting across key learning areas', 'teacher and principal development and professionalism' and 'school organisation and reform'. The Department also conducts major Literacy and School to Work Programs.

Agencies like the Curriculum Corporation, the
Australian Council for Educational Research and the
Australian National Training Authority
, also influence the national education agenda by the conduct of research and development projects (e.g. 'civics and citizenship education' and 'vocational education'). Similarly, publications in the form of reports, journals, curriculum and professional development materials, as well on-line and other services are invariably focussed on national issues (e.g. 'the middle years of schooling' and 'information technology').


The purpose of this document is to keep Australian school principals well informed with regard to the current and emerging 'national education agenda'. Given that there so much is happening in education (often on a number of fronts) a major objective of the APAPDC is to ensure that all school leaders have access to up-to-date information, contacts and resources.

The nature of contemporary demands and pressures often result in many principals having limited opportunities to identify and explore the ever-expanding literature and electronic material available on contemporary issues. Essentially, this document aims to further the professional development of principals at both the individual and collective level.

In the following material, the background and recent developments associated with items on the national agenda are summarised briefly. A small number of issues are then outlined with a view to identifying significant points. As a means of promoting debate and action within and between groups of principals and other school leaders, a series of questions are posed. A selection of contemporary resources and further reading is also listed for those who would like to pursue the issues in greater depth.


Some years ago, the APAPDC published a resource kit for principals entitled Managing Change. As part of that material, various topic areas were examined. Since that time, there have been changes not only in governments, but also in education systems and the teaching profession. As a result, some of those areas have remained as priorities, others have been redefined, and new priorities have emerged.

The items on national education agenda outlined in this document include:

  • Literacy and Numeracy

  • Civics and Citizenship

  • Enterprise Education

  • The Middle Years of Schooling

  • Vocational Education

  • Assessment and Accountability

While each item has general relevance for both primary and secondary schools, a few will have special interest for one particular sector. For example, primary school principals should take special note of Commonwealth policies and funded programs in the area of literacy and numeracy, given their current emphasis on early assessment and intervention. Secondary school principals, should note the Commonwealth's focus on vocational education at the secondary level. However, it should be noted that one of the Commonwealth's civics and citizenship education programs being implemented by the Curriculum Corporation, specifies middle primary, upper primary, lower secondary and middle secondary components as part of its current curriculum design work.

One of the most significant developments in the past few years has been the rapid advance in electronic information exchange. There has been substantial growth in web sites, bulletin boards and on-line services. Where possible, examples of interesting sites and networks have been included in this material. Readers are reminded of the APAPDC EdNA Project and our own web site.

If you have any comments on the material presented in this document, or have suggestions for other areas that might be explored as part of either the current or future national education agenda, please contact:

Ms Susan Boucher
Executive Officer
EDC, Milner Street
Tel: 08 8463 5860
Fax: 08 8463 5865

 Literacy and numeracy  


Education systems and schools, along with many other groups have consistently emphasised the importance of literacy and numeracy in young people's education and development. Research reveals that if children have not met appropriate literacy and numeracy standards by the end of primary school, they are unlikely to bridge the gap during the remainder of their schooling. The statements and profiles in English and Mathematics prepared for Australian schools have provided a useful framework for curriculum and professional development at various levels in recent years. State-based assessments of students at key stages of their schooling (e.g. Years 3 and 5) have been introduced as part of a sustained effort to raise the standard of literacy and numeracy across the country. A series of Grants for National Literacy Strategies and Projects has also been implemented.

Recent developments

At the MCEETYA meeting of March 1997, agreement was reached on new national literacy and numeracy goals. First, that every child leaving primary school should be numerate, and able to read, write and spell at an appropriate level. Second, that every child starting school from 1998 will achieve a minimum acceptable literacy and numeracy standard within four years (recognising that a very small percentage of students suffer from severe educational disabilities). Ministers also endorsed a national plan to support the national literacy and numeracy goals. The plan provides for early assessment and identification of at-risk students, early intervention, regular assessment against agreed national benchmarks, national reporting of student achievement and recognition of the importance of professional development in improving literacy and numeracy learning outcomes.

Key issues

Standards: The issue of standards in literacy and numeracy is controversial, with a
range of views being expressed with regard to purpose, definition and change over time. The Australian Council for Educational Research (see further reading below) has examined performance in reading and basic mathematical skills for a representative sample of fourteen year olds over the period 1975-95. Comparison of test results suggests that there has been little change in reading ability during the past twenty years, with around thirty per cent of students not achieving mastery in basic reading comprehension.

However, the period saw an increase (from around 80 to about 85 per cent) in the proportion of students achieving mastery in the mathematical skills assessed.
Benchmarks: An objective of the national literacy plan is to develop national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The original intention was to assess students from 1998 against a series of benchmarks for each level. In September 1997, the then Commonwealth Minister for Schools released details of the National School English Literacy Survey claiming that a significant proportion of students in Years 3 and 5 had not reached the required standard. The controversy surrounding the benchmarks would suggest that considerable work will be required between the Commonwealth and the States to determine common and agreed benchmarks in these areas.

Technology: While considerable emphasis is being placed at present on the improvement of basic skills in literacy and numeracy, there is also a need to consider higher-order competencies, particularly in the context of changing technologies and cultures. A research project funded by DEETYA and under the leadership of Colin Lankshear (see further reading below) is investigating the links between literacy, language and technology. One issue under investigation is young people's acquisition of fluency in new literacies and discourses (e.g. digital- and hyper- text), compared with the more conventional (e.g. print-based). The outcomes of this research are anticipated by the end of 1997.

Focus questions
  1. How should literacy and numeracy be defined in contemporary school contexts
    (e.g. basic skills, higher order competencies, social proficiency)?

  2. To what extent is there a need to reconceptualise literacy and numeracy in relation to technological/social change (e.g. digital text, multi-media, computerised maths)?

  3. Which strategies are most likely to enhance literacy and numeracy outcomes for all students (e.g. additional curriculum time, new teaching approaches, additional learning materials)?

  4. Given that research has identified differences in learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy for particular students, how can the needs of these groups be addressed most effectively (e.g. socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity)?

  5. How can schools support parents and caregivers to work with children in the
    development of literacy and numeracy skills (e.g. parent activities, learning materials, networking)?

A number of journals and newsletters provide useful information on current issues, e.g.

  • Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom

  • AAMT home page -

  • The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

  • Literacy Research News

  • Numeracy = Everyone's Business, Report of the Numeracy Education Strategy

    Development Conference (AAMT, 1997)

Further reading

Lankshear, C et al 1996, Literacy, technology and education: A project report, The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 19, 4, 345-359

Lo Bianco, J and Freebody, P 1997 Australian Literacies, Language Australia, Canberra

Mapping Literacy Achievement and Literacy Standards in Australia 1997, DEETYA, Canberra

(Reports from the National School English Survey)
Reading and Numeracy in Junior Secondary Schools: Trends, patterns and consequences
(1997) Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell

Changing Education: A journal for teachers and administrators 1996, 3, 1, 1-24 (An issue on the theme of critical literacy)

Numerate Students; Numerate Adults Department of Education, Community and Cultural Development Tasmania

EQ Australia Summer 1996, and Autumn 1997
Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Skill Levels, Australia 1996 Australian Bureau of Statistics

 Civics and Citizenship Education  


Building on the work of the Civics Expert Group undertaken during 1994-96, the
Commonwealth Government introduced the Discovering Democracy Program in May 1997. The aim of civics and citizenship education at the national level is to assist students to understand the relevance of political and legal systems to everyday life, and develop capacities to participate as informed, reflective and active citizens in their civic community. Most school education systems and schools are developing curriculum policies and programs in civics and citizenship to complement work in the key learning area of Studies of Society and Environment.

Recent developments

The Discovering Democracy Program in the schools sector has three components, namely, curriculum materials, professional development and national activities. The Curriculum Corporation has been funded by DEETYA to provide schools and teachers with access to materials that will enable all young people to complete the compulsory years of schooling with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to take their place as effective and responsible citizens. Curriculum writers are preparing eighteen units of study for primary and secondary students around the following themes: Who rules? Law and Rights; the Australian Nation; and Citizens and Public Life. The units are designed to relate to current State and Territory curriculum frameworks and syllabi. Unit materials will be trialed in schools in early 1988 and then distributed free to all government and non-government schools at the end of that year.

Key issues

Content: A major emphasis in the Discovering Democracy program is ensuring that all
students develop an understanding of the history and operations of Australia's system of government and institutions, as well as the principles that support democracy in this country. An extensive range of content areas has been identified including federation, parliament, the legal system, participation and human rights. Given that history is being used to illuminate civics and citizenship, it will be important to ensure student needs, contemporary issues and future perspectives are also addressed. Clearly, essential knowledge is important, but this will need to be constructed in contemporary settings that have meaning for all students irrespective of their background, experience or learning style.

Pedagogy: Providing students with stimulating, productive and rewarding learning
environments in this area of the curriculum is likely to be a major challenge. As one expert has noted recently, the best content cannot survive poor teaching. However, there are a number of emerging developments that are likely to provide teachers with creative ideas and strategies. The rapid growth in multi media technology, for example, is likely to provide greater opportunities for many students to engage in interactive and self-directed learning, with appropriate guidance from teachers. There is also a good deal of interest in community-based learning and the implementation of projects that involve students with adults other than teachers, as a means of developing active citizenship in a range of contexts.

Organisation: The introduction of civics and citizenship education on a large scale
raises a number of structural, staffing and resourcing issues for school leaders. If all students are to be engaged in these studies from Years 4 - 10, then schools may need to re-organise their existing arrangements in relation to timetabling and teacher-student groupings, and possibly facility and technology usage. All teachers of this new curriculum ( especially those who are unfamiliar with Studies of Society and Environment ( will require professional development and other forms of support. If school-community partnerships are to be extended, then parents and personnel from service and other agencies will also need to be supported. In other words, while the Commonwealth is funding significant curriculum and professional development, education systems and schools will also need to review their current and future resourcing capabilities and requirements in this area.

Focus questions
  1. How can all students become actively engaged in civics and citizenship education (e.g. hands-on materials, community-based learning, student participation projects)?

  2. Who should teach civics and citizenship (e.g. all teachers, specialist teachers, teaching teams)?

  3. What steps are being taken to ensure that all students have access to the expanding range of multi-media materials (e.g. CD Roms, WWW sites, on-line services)?

  4. What forms of professional development are most effective for teachers (e.g.
    school-based activities, special-purpose schools, networking)?

  5. With whom should schools be establishing or extending partnerships in order to improve the quality of civics and citizenship education (e.g. teacher training institutions, public bodies, community agencies)?


Education systems and other service providers such as the Parliamentary Education Office and the Australian Electoral Commission have produced a range of resource materials (e.g. The Parliament Stack CD Rom, Prime Ministers CD Rom, Our Constitution).

The Curriculum Corporation will be releasing three CD Roms in 1997-98 as part of the Discovering Democracy materials program (e.g. One Destiny!) The Corporation has also established a Discovering Democracy home page as a means of promoting information sharing and networking (

Further reading

Discovering Democracy Information Update No 1, APAPDC, 1997
Kennedy, K 1997, The substance of citizenship, Education Review, 1, 4, 11. EQ Australia 1996, 3, 5-51 (collection of articles)
Curriculum Perspectives 1996, 16, 1, 47-65 (collection of articles)
Kennedy, K (ed) 1996, New Challenges for Civics and Citizenship Education, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra
Print, M (ed) 1995, Civics and Citizenship Education: Issues from practice and research,
Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra, APAPDC, 1997
Kennedy, K 1997, The substance of citizenship, Education Review, 1, 4, 11. EQ Australia 1996, 3, 5-51 (collection of articles)
Curriculum Perspectives 1996, 16, 1, 47-65 (collection of articles)
Kennedy, K (ed) 1996, New Challenges for Civics and Citizenship Education, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra
Print, M (ed) 1995, Civics and Citizenship Education: Issues from practice and research, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra

 Enterprise Education  


Many schools have provided opportunities for enterprise education over the years through industry sponsored programs such as Young Achievement and E-Teams. An Enterprise Education in Schools Program was initiated by the Commonwealth Government in 1995. In general, the emphasis has tended to be as much on the inculcation of enterprising cultures, mindsets and qualities in young people, as on the development of their enterprise knowledge, skills and expertise. In announcing the current Government's commitment to enterprise education, Dr David Kemp stated that "enterprise education is about giving young people the skills to succeed in all aspects of life". During the triennium 1997-99, $3.2 million will be provided for the development of enterprise education in upper primary and junior secondary schools.

Recent developments>
The Curriculum Corporation has been funded by the Commonwealth to produce curriculum professional development resources on enterprise education. A package of materials is currently being developed for release in March 1998 that will include a video, CD Rom and texts on enterprise. AusIndustry has initiated a School-Industry Links Demonstration Program that involves the funding of local projects designed to foster enterprising qualities and skills among students in Years 7-12. For details of how to access details of selected projects that have been funded recently see the Resources section below. A number of developments in enterprise education are also underway at state and territory level. For example, in South Australia a three-year program 'Ready Set Go' is being implemented and Enterprise Academies are being planned.

Key issues

Participants: Should enterprise education be for some students or for all? In the past, many enterprise education programs have tended to focus on groups of young people who have been identified variously as 'non-academic' or 'high fliers'. Even the classification of programs (e.g. 'alternative', 'extension', or 'extra curricular') has provided an indication of the differing status that has been accorded to enterprise education initiatives. One of the main issues for schools today, is their capacity to offer enterprise education to those students, families and communities who want it included as part of the mainstream curriculum.
Location: A related issue is the location of enterprise education in the curriculum. Traditionally, the home of enterprise education in secondary schools has been the business studies faculty, or more recently the learning area of Studies of Society and

Environment. Specific projects and activities have been implemented ( often resulting in the development of student-owned products or services. In many primary schools (as well as some middle schooling structures) teachers have endeavoured to integrate enterprise education across the curriculum. In these situations, all teachers have assumed responsibility for the fostering of enterprising skills and qualities through their regular teaching practice.

Partnership: Contemporary advocates of enterprise education often emphasise the
importance of genuine links between schools and their local communities. Increasingly, this is seen to include not only the connections with business and industry, but also with community groups and service agencies. While many schools have embraced the rhetoric of strong partnerships (e.g. with parents and employers), this is not always demonstrated to the same extent in practical ways (e.g. through jointly planned and implemented projects). A new initiative designed to acknowledge the value of productive partnerships is the 'Enterprising Communities Award'. To be piloted in 1998 as part of the Enterprise Education in Schools Program, this award will focus on the contribution a school can make to the enterprising nature of the community.

Focus questions

  • What values should underpin enterprise education activities (e.g. personal, community, commercial)?

  • Who should develop enterprising attributes?

  • Who should teach enterprise education (e.g. teachers, business representatives, community members)?
  • How can enterprising attributes and skills be developed most effectively (e.g.
    experience, projects, presentations)?

  • What kinds/levels of partnership need to be developed between schools and their
    communities to create an enterprising culture (e.g. business and industry, service and voluntary agencies, parents and citizens)?

  • To what extent are changes to curriculum, teaching and organisation necessary to
    implement enterprise education effectively (e.g. structures, personnel, resources)?


The Curriculum Corporation has established an enterprise education web site

( Two of the main features include:

  • an enterprise education newsletter Ed-Ventures which is available on line and in hard copy on a quarterly basis; and

  • an enterprise education database with contains details of resources, ideas, projects, programs and contacts.

Other web sites include:

Further reading

Approaches to Enterprise Education, 1995, Curriculum Corporation, Carlton
Cumming, J 1997, Community Based Learning: Adding value to programs involving service agencies and schools, Dusseldorp Skills Forum, Sydney
Cumming, J 1992, Resourceful Communities: Integrating education training and work for young people in rural Australia, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra
Kearny, P 1991, Training through Enterprise: A Practical introduction using enterprise briefs, Enterprise Design Associates, Hobart
, 1995, Curriculum Corporation, Carlton
Cumming, J 1997, Community Based Learning: Adding value to programs involving service agencies and schools, Dusseldorp Skills Forum, Sydney
Cumming, J 1992, Resourceful Communities: Integrating education training and work for young people in rural Australia, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra
Kearny, P 1991, Training through Enterprise: A Practical introduction using enterprise briefs, Enterprise Design Associates, Hobart

 The Middle Years of Schooling  


There has been extensive activity with regard to the education, care and development of young adolescents over the past decade in Australia. The upper primary and junior
secondary years of schooling (Years 5-8) have become the focus of attention for many
groups, both within and beyond the education sector. Many projects and activities have been initiated at local, state/territory and national levels, and a substantial amount of material has been produced for a diverse range of audiences.

There is an increasing level of community concern that not all ten to fifteen year-olds are deriving significant benefit from their schooling experience. Parents are concerned about children for whom the transition from primary to secondary school is problematic. Teachers and Academics are worried about aspects of alienation, motivation and stress in students. Many groups are concerned about the impact on young teenagers of youth unemployment, drugs, violence and other social issues.

Recent developments

A national middle schooling project funded by DEETYA and managed by the Australian
Curriculum Studies Association (ACSA) has been implemented during 1996-97. Ten forums have been conducted around the nation in order to construct a set of principles and future directions for the middle years. Research circles on integrated curriculum and authentic assessment involving school-based teams supported by teacher educators and researchers have also been operating. A report and two sets of curriculum materials will be available in 1998. A poster summarising the collaboratively derived "Principles of Middle Schooling" upon which coordinated strategies can be based has been sent to all schools in Australia. A web site has also been developed to promote the exchange of information and ideas and to link existing networks on middle schooling in Australia

A number of projects designed to create positive environments and to extend learning
opportunities for all young adolescents ( especially those who are experiencing
alienation or disadvantage ( have been funded and implemented by many sectors. The
Australian Centre for Equity through Education (ACEE) has been promoting the integrated provision of education, health and community services through 'full service' schools and other mechanisms. A project on Community Based Learning for adolescents has also been initiated with a view to adding value to programs involving service agencies and schools.

Key issues

Resourcing: Many advocates of middle schooling claim that additional resources are
needed to address issues that have been identified such as student alienation and
learning progress. However, in a climate of economic rationalism, the emphasis is very much on making better use of existing resources. Strategies need to be developed both within and between local primary and secondary schools, to ensure that high levels of cooperation are established and maintained. At the same time, greater flexibility in staffing and administrative arrangements, as well as incentives for review and development in the middle years, need to be provided at the system level.

Training and Development: A greater focus on young adolescents' needs and learning
styles is required in both the initial training and professional development of teachers to expand the repertoire of teaching practices being employed. Given that most training programs are structured in terms of primary/secondary education, or focus mainly on key learning areas, the special needs and requirements of adolescent learners are often neglected. An established knowledge base on middle schooling has been developed by practising teachers and teacher educators in recent years that should be tapped and utilised in programs concerned with enhancing teacher professionalism.

Evaluation: Many of those involved in middle schooling reform have indicated that a
number of practices associated with middle schooling (e.g. teaching teams, integrated curriculum and flexible use of learning time) are having a positive impact (e.g. reductions in behaviour problems, greater time on task and improved learning outcomes). However, more hard evidence is needed on the effectiveness or otherwise of new approaches to curriculum, teaching and organisation. More information is needed about what is working (or not working) and why in the middle years, through rigorous valuation exercises conducted at school, state and national levels.

Focus questions

  • What is the role of the school in addressing the developmental needs of today's young adolescents? (e.g. personal, intellectual, social)?

  • How can schools work to meet local needs and external demands in genuine partnership with other agencies (e.g. feeder schools, organisations, institutions)?

  • What can be done at school, system and other levels to bridge the primary-secondary divide in education (e.g. entrenched cultures, arrangements, practices)?

  • What changes are needed to improve learning outcomes for all students in the middle years and how can they be implemented most effectively (e.g. curriculum, teaching, organisation)?

  • What forms of support are most useful for those engaged in the reform of the middle years (e.g. teachers, parents, community workers)?


From Alienation to Engagement: Opportunities for Reform in the Middle Years of Schooling

(1996) Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra.
Teaching Prosocial Behaviour to Adolescents (1995) AGCA, Adelaide
The Middle Years Kit (1995) National Schools Network, Sydney
(1996) Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra.
Teaching Prosocial Behaviour to Adolescents (1995) AGCA, Adelaide
The Middle Years Kit (1995) National Schools Network, Sydney

Further reading
Collections of articles on the middle years of schooling have been published in a number of Australian journals, including:

EQ Australia (1997, 1, 5-45)
Education Review (1997, 1, 6, 13-16)
Curriculum Perspectives (1994, 14, 3, 41-55)
Unicorn (1994, 20, 2, 5-65)
Teachers Working with Young Adolescents (1996) Report of the working party on the preparation of teachers for the education on young adolescents, Queensland Board of Teacher Registration, Toowong


Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VET)
Schools have implemented various approaches to vocational education over the years. Some

of these include the offering of specific vocational courses; the embedding of

employment-related competencies in key learning areas; and the development of structured

workplace learning. For example, most secondary schools have implemented programs in

work experience and career education, and a number of primary schools have integrated

the world of work across the curriculum. Recent research by Ainley and Fleming (see

Further Reading below) has revealed that in 1996, 62% of Australian schools with Year 11

and 12 students implemented school-industry programs, compared with 46% schools in 1995.

The researchers also found that during 1996, 12.1% of senior students (45,200 in Years

11 and 12) participated in school-industry programs, compared with 7% in 1995.

Recent developments
In August 1997, the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training announced

details of the New Apprenticeships program. During the next two years, the Federal

Government will provide $550 million for at least 220,000 new apprenticeships and

traineeships. It is anticipated that many young people will combine a paid

apprenticeship with their secondary school certificate, by splitting their week between

school and the workplace. Most education systems have developed policies and programs in

vocational education, with a view to ensuring that all students have access to viable

post-school options. There is an increasing recognition that long-term learning pathways

are likely to involve various combinations of education, employment and training.

Key issues
Curriculum: Traditionally, there has been a separatio
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