Alan Tudge

The truth about Terra Nullius and why First Nations people say Tudge is wrong to say we need optimism

Australia’s federal Minister for Education, Alan Tudge, will not endorse the  draft national curriculum for secondary teachers of Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) because  the changes are “overly negative”and could teach kids a hatred of their Country” (ABC 2021).  

But from a First Nations perspective, the time has come to speak the truth about what has happened since the invasion of the sovereign lands and waterways, the act of Terra Nullius and the legacy of this mindset. 

The draft national curriculum was publicly released for comments in early 2021. It revealed substantial changes to the Year 7-10 History curriculum and is to be finalised and given to all state Education Ministers for their consideration and endorsement by the end of this year. 

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 2012, many secondary teachers of HASS have lamented the lack of Australian History taught in Years 7-10. Australian History which was previously covered in Year 8 was moved and watered-down into the primary school curriculum, leaving secondary HASS to cover a very broad scope without much Australian and Indigenous History until Year 10. 

The new draft History curriculum proposes the inclusion of more Australian focused content earlier; including pre-colonisation First Nation histories in Year 7 and more detailed consideration of Australians’ roles in both WWI and WWII in Years 9 and 10 respectively. Year 10 will still include the civil rights History of Australian and Indigenous peoples – the only Australian and Indigenous focuses to date.

Many of these inclusions will be welcomed and celebrated by Australian HASS teachers, but our purpose here is not to defend the draft curriculum but to question the minister. 

Perhaps Minister Tudge is what Noongars call ‘dwokabert’ (deaf ears)?

Minister Tudge argues that contestability should not feature prominently as a historical concept in our curriculum, but that we “must give an optimistic view of our country.” Do these values represent, “the vast majority of Australian people?” Do we not have a responsibility to teach about the pluralist backgrounds and perspectives of our diverse society? Isn’t our role to equip secondary school students with critical thinking skills to make choices, based on well-informed and widely-considered ideas and beliefs?  And most importantly, surely Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples will remain rhetorical unless we teach a true and accurate account of Australian history in order to develop future generations of Australians who are well-informed about Australia’s rich, diverse and unsettled history?

The goals for education in Australia were formally confirmed again in the Alice Springs (Mpartwe) Declaration in 2019. They included the creation of “active and informed citizens.” Minister Tudge’s agenda, to propagate patriotism and blindly optimistic views about Australia, are accompanied by his argument that History “should be about teaching accuracy” rather than contestability. It is ironic that contestability and debate is one of the key pillars of the liberal democracy that the Minister is arguing should be appreciated, while he is, at the same time, rejecting that History should be contested.

This is what is most concerning about Minister Tudge’s rhetoric – he is poisoning the curriculum well by insisting on the unquestioning acceptance of an incorrect, or at least out-dated, version of Australian History. To come out in opposition now to curriculum change, after his government commissioned Marcia Langton A.O. to integrate and thus infuse Indigenous knowledges into curriculum material just last year, is disrespectful and ‘winyarn’ (sorrowful).

Returning to the Howard Era arguments for “accuracy” and teaching “what happened” as fact in History is contrary to the Australian educational goals of developing critical and creative thinkers. If we want a better way forward then we need to look no further than the Australian Coat of Arms with its ‘waitj’ (emu) and ‘yonga’ (kangaroo) standard bearers. Both animals cannot walk backwards and they symbolise forward thinking and national progress.

Australian students should be challenged to understand that there are different perspectives of our National history, it is not a single story.  Critical thinkers, in History, ask questions about whose stories are being told, what perspectives are being represented, and whose versions of History are we reading? We do not accept just “his story,” but we look for “her” stories, and “their” stories. It is essential to the process of reconciliation to know the true histories of Australia as it is a vital element in providing systemic change in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples which holds the power to Heal Country on both sides of history.

 From left to right:

Dr Olivia Johnston  is a qualified HASS secondary teacher and now an Edith Cowan University lecturer who is upskilling and mentoring the next generation of HASS teachers in Western Australia.

Dr Libby Jackson-Barrett is a Noongar teacher, scholar and researcher. Her PhD thesis offers an accessible insight into Indigenous Theories of Knowledge and Yarning Circles with 3 cups of Tea patience.

Dr Christine Cunningham is an Educational Leadership academic. She admires her early career co-authors very much and is the Higher Degrees Coordinator at Edith Cowan University’s School of Education. 

Many thanks to Peter Broelman who allowed the use of his cartoon which is the main image for this story, as selected by the authors

Why Alan Tudge is now on the history warpath

Australian children will never defend the country if the draft history curriculum is adopted. That’s the takeaway from the Federal Education Minister Allan Tudge’s speech to the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) on Friday. 

The minister called for yet another curriculum reform to ensure “a positive, optimistic view of Australian history”. 

His reasoning? “Individual students learn to understand the origins of our liberal democracy so that they can defend it, they can protect it, they can understand it, and they can celebrate it”.  

The impact of such talk on the education system is cause for concern. Curriculum reform is expensive for the economy and disruptive for the sector. Tudge’s comments are unusual given the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (ACARA) just completed a public deliberation over the History curriculum earlier this year.

This begs the question:

What the hell is the Minister doing? 

It’s about the election but there is something more. The use of two political spaces, Sky News and the libertarian think tank Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), rather than the more bipartisan National Press Club, supports the campaigning thesis.  My previous research has shown CIS and the Institute for Public Affairs have a specific focus on causing education issues to go viral. When an issue goes viral, it becomes something talked about in more households and more online accounts, whether challenged or accepted. As the lobbyist theory goes, more viral = more likely to have popular influence. Add to this Tudge’s online blocking of multiple historians and teachers of history over the past weeks, as they question his weird focus on optimism, a clearer picture emerges. This commentary is not about policy. It is about the election and getting that little word “optimism” associated with the Coalition. 

It’s probably electioneering

There is a federal election on the horizon, and even if the Government is re-elected, there will be a cabinet reshuffle. So why is Tudge making so much noise about History education when he only has five months left in the job? I believe the imminent election is the key to unlocking Friday’s weird flex.

It is tempting to look at the transcripts from Tudge’s comments and dismiss them as far-fetched. But it is more important to draw back the lens to view a government with an election in five months, after a pandemic year filled with bad press. 

When taking a broad view of the Federal government, it is interesting to note that the word “optimism” is popping up in many Federal press releases and media interviews. Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, has been using the word consistently since COVID19 vaccines were developed, but the word has also crept into other portfolios. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the “man for optimistic narratives”, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is optimistic of an economic recovery, Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan is optimistic about resolving the French submarine diplomatic disaster, “government sources” from Attorney General Michaelia Cash’s office say they are cautiously optimistic about resolving the industrial relations bill, and Foreign Minister Marise Payne even has “optimism” in her Twitter profile, even if it is about breeding racehorses. 

Optimism has popped up enough times to warrant attention. The word taps into a public desire for something good to happen after the heartbreak and restrictions of the COVID 19 pandemic. We also know that the current federal government is very keen to ensure popular optics. “Optimism” is a useful word for dismissing the Opposition’s criticism of the Government at the same time giving hope to the population. It’s a powerful word that escapes a lot of generalised attention, and does a lot of political heavy lifting.

How “optimism” works in History education

The tactics of this current government’s History education rhetoric is different to the Howard government. The History Wars have a few skirmishes every time there are announcements about education’s role in the development of the nation. While Ministers and their lobbyists clutch pearls over declining scores in literacy and numeracy, and students are squeezed into STEM for the economy, History has always been about what type of nation Australia’s children should be actively informed about. In the past, this battle for the soul of the nation has at least had some semblance of debate, with academics, historians and politicians getting into the nitty gritty of what it means to raise active and informed citizens. They have engaged with alternative readings of events, even if only to dismiss them. 

Tudge’s History War is different. 

Tudge’s reasoning is riddled with misinformation and weird predictions but he keeps coming back to this word “optimism”. While he drags out the History Wars’ bread and butter about balancing the positive things Australia has done alongside the violence of the colonial past, his desire to squeeze in the use of “optimism” in other ways looks more forced.  

For example, as mentioned previously, the review of the Australian Curriculum was just completed in July. It was not until after the Australian public were invited to make submissions on the proposed changes to school offerings that Tudge began to get quite vocal about changing it. Which leads me to wonder, if he really wanted to make the curriculum more optimistic, why didn’t he begin this campaign before the review ended. A closer look at his reasoning shows that some of the items in the History curriculum he thought were pessimistic have already been removed in the latest draft. So why did he think they were worth talking about? 

He uses old news to argue that if the draft curriculum goes forward, students “won’t necessarily defend our democracy as previous generations have done” using data from the Lowry Institute to support his claim. Apart from being completely impossible to make that prediction, what Tudge doesn’t say is that the Lowry Institute poll on democracy shows young people’s faith in democracy is on the rise, trending up from 31% of the population believing in democracy in 2012, to 60% in 2021. So using Tudge’s logic, the current History curriculum is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. 

But by flipping a 60% win to a 40% deficit, Tudge can politik about the need for optimism. 

These are tactics, not ANOTHER education reform strategy

This points to education tactically being used to further the Federal Government’s re-election campaign, rather than a strategic move to save the soul of the nation. Tactics are localised responses to circumstances, whereas strategies are more stabilised and long term. So in other words, the federal cabinet ministers are finding issues to associate with the word “optimism” and putting it in front of as many voters as possible. For education, the History Wars have a history of going viral, even before the internet. And if you look at Tudge’s comments on Friday, the History curriculum is nestled in with the other two big viral topics – literacy and numeracy test scores. 

Ultimately, education cannot continue to be used by politicians this way. Education researchers and journalists need to work hard on holding these tactics up to the Australian public and pushing back on the use of words like “optimism”. While researching for this article, it became increasingly noticeable that the media has begun to use the word to describe the Government. And it’s not just the Murdoch press. Every time a journalist associates that word with the Federal Government, they are giving them free political advertising. 

This is just another electioneering policy announcement where Federal politicians have called for a review of the Australian Curriculum: History declaring the hearts and minds of Australia’s youth as under threat. This same rhetoric was used in the 1990s when Henry Reynolds and Keith Windschuttle faced off over the “black armband view of Australian history” in the proposed national curriculum. We need to start asking why this government sees the need to renew the History Wars while still pointing out the misinformation in their rhetoric. 

Education researchers need to look hard at their expert subjects and then pan out to see if they are simply being used as a pawn in a wider federal agenda. Education has been in a state of flux for many years now and this requires research that pre-empts, just as much as it reacts. That involves looking wider than the education portfolio. If we look outside of our silos, there’s some clues about where we are going.

Naomi Barnes is a lecturer in Literacy, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology

It’s anarchy in England. Australia’s ITE must now steer clear.

The announcement of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review (QITER) and publication of the expert group’s discussion paper reminded some in the initial teacher education (ITE) and research communities of the continuing influence of England on Australian education policy as well as this country’s own unique history of a hundred and one damnations in teacher education reform. The QITER discussion paper refers to English innovations such as  Now Teach as well as to policy documents like the 2015 Carter Review. And the QITER expert panel has met with their English equivalents, according to panel members at a recent Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) event.

 Since that ACDE event, the English panel, tasked with conducting a review of the ‘ITE market’, has published its report. The panel proposes dismantling much of England’s ITE infrastructure, forcing all providers to be reaccredited from scratch (to financially unviable criteria and unrealistic timelines); mandating 28 weeks’ placement in schools in all 38-week postgraduate ITE courses; and requiring absolute compliance with a government-prescribed curriculum – the Core Content Framework – under threat of dis-accreditation through inspections by the government’s schools inspectorate. Despite having demonstrated high quality ITE provision over at least the last ten years, according to the government’s own data, it is now possible for universities and school-based providers to fail inspections on the basis of what some of their staff believe and say in interviews with inspectors (there is no observation of training). Indeed, in the last few weeks, courses have started to fail because of what some people believe about teaching and programs have closed.

Unsurprisingly, these proposals shocked the sector and have led to unprecedented collective opposition: from all types of ITE provider (indeed, the response from school-based trainers has been the strongest); the UK Chartered College of Teaching; teacher unions; and individual professionals. Some high-profile universities like Cambridge have intimated they will close their courses. In an interview with Times Higher Education, Jo-Anne Baird, director of Oxford University’s Department of Education, said ‘I don’t know any university that would be able to create a model that runs counter to the principles of academic freedom.’ Even leaders of so-called ‘Teaching School Hubs’, likely to benefit from the proposals, have ‘expressed fury’ at the government’s response.

 So, in these last few weeks, especially, I wasn’t surprised that colleagues in Australia, noticing what they describe as ‘similar voices’ here, have asked me, as a relatively recent arrival in Melbourne  from London, whether what is happening in the UK could happen here? 

My answer has been ‘no, at least not yet’ and this is why.

First, England is not the UK. Historically, Scotland has always had greater independence in education and, since political devolution in 1999, Wales has been developing its own distinctive education system that is largely autonomous. So, my summary of the current state of ITE pertains to England only. We are not talking about comparisons with ‘UK policy’ but considering Australia (crucially, a federation) in relation to one out of the four UK jurisdictions.  And what has gone on in England, as I will explain, makes it an international outlier – or aberration, depending on your point of view.

Since 2010, the school system in England has become increasingly ‘academised’ – meaning the majority of secondary schools and increasingly large numbers of primary schools are either directly controlled by the education minister for England or controlled by that minister through an intermediary trust (a ‘multi-academy trust’). Local government has been marginalised to the extent that it now has few residual powers. England therefore has a highly centralised school system in terms of lines of accountability; schools are ultimately directly controlled by the education minister. These centralising, controlling policies come from a different branch of British conservatism to the one that has historically emphasised small government.

 This degree of tight control over a national school system is fundamental to understanding ITE reforms in England and what is possible in Australia. To create the conditions for the English situation to be replicated here, a new constitutional settlement between the states and the Commonwealth would be essential so that Mr Tudge and his successors directly control all Australian government schools. 

Control over schools in England – cleverly presented by Conservatives as an opportunity for a ‘school-led’ system – is critically important in explaining is the situation in England because when the state controls school funding, the curriculum and assessment, teachers’ professional standards, in-service professional development and qualifications, it is a comparatively small (if significant) step to then control how teachers are trained.

 Secondly, the distinctive context for the English ‘ITE Market Review’ has been produced in part by the abolition of virtually all autonomous, non-governmental regulatory or deliberative bodies (known as ‘QUANGOS’) in education in England following the 2010 general election. Justified by austerity policies following the global financial crisis, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the National College of Teaching and Leadership and others were all abolished by the education minister, Michael Gove, alongside then special advisor, Dominic Cummings, an architect of the Vote Leave (Brexit) campaign.

In the Political Economy of Teacher Education (PETE) project, my colleagues and I drew on the work of Jennifer Wolch to describe the abolition of these agencies as ‘selective dismantling’ of key institutions that provide democratic oversight and scrutiny. As we pointed out, such selective dismantling ‘reduces opportunities for public deliberation and accountability while strengthening the decision-making powers of policymakers’. Governance structures, professional regulation and accreditation, curriculum and assessment policies, funding – are all now owned by the ministry – the Department for Education – right across England, with few exceptions. One exception is Ofsted (the schools inspectorate) that also inspects all ITE providers. However, in addition to being seen less as an independent agency than a tool of enforcement for party-political purposes, Ofsted has also been empowered to conduct ‘research’ that becomes an integral part of justifying policy. Concerns over the quality of Ofsted’s ‘research’ reached a peak recently concerning its review of Mathematics teaching when authors of several studies cited asked for the review to be withdrawn over misappropriations of their research.

So, beyond a single national government school system controlled by the minister, for similar conditions for ITE reform to exist in Australia, all Commonwealth and state regulatory and deliberative bodies would have to be abolished – goodbye AITSL, ACARA, the teacher regulatory authorities, etc – and their powers redirected to the federal minister in Canberra.

Additionally, a national inspection agency would be needed, with right of entry to all government schools and all universities and powers of dis-accreditation. And finally, that inspection agency would have to be controlled by the federal minister and the agency led by a political appointee who, even if they didn’t gain the approval of parliament, as would normally be expected, would nonetheless be empowered by the minister.

 In addition to these structural differences, the cultural, political and economic contexts for education in England have also developed along highly distinctive lines, something we identified in the PETE project as a new political economy of teacher development, In 2016, Verger, Fontdevila & Zancajo characterised English education policy as ‘privatisation as state reform’ where ‘public sector monopolies’ had to be marketised to be made more efficient and radical policy interventions were justified by ‘crisis frames’. In our early work in the PETE project we aligned ITE policy reforms in England with the loose coalition of interests known as the GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement. Under this analysis – and consistent with Wolch’s research on outsourcing public services to the private sector – a market of new entrepreneurial, private providers would emerge that would challenge ‘vested interest’ legacy institutions such as universities.

Innovation would come through market disruption.

However, what has happened in England – or, at least, has become more obvious – is that successive governments have not primarily intended to create a market of any kind; there has been no genuine interest in new forms of enterprise and competition. Their intention has not been merely to create what Wolch called a ‘shadow state’ – an assemblage of multiple non-state providers functioning in a (quasi-) market ‘administered outside of traditional democratic politics’.

 Rather, for these Conservative governments, the ‘market model’, as Wendy Brown observed, is just familiar narrative cover for increasing state control. 

Since 2010, reaching its apex in the recommendations of the latest report on ITE, England has experienced the heightening of the fundamental ‘free market/strong state’ contradiction in modern British conservatism where an absolute commitment to restoring/sustaining (often regressive) cultural traditions and traditional forms of authority has trumped free market principles and libertarian instincts and has done so in increasingly authoritarian ways.

Distinctively, too, English education ministers have relied on a very small number of individuals (a few teachers, current and former, often with very limited classroom time, usually active on Twitter, and one with unsuccessful experience as a nightclub bouncer; some chief execs of those multi-academy trusts; and always, always the same professor) upon whom they have bestowed political patronage, a sub-set of whom have also been funded to compete with legacy providers like universities or traditional education entrepreneurs. In the PETE project, we characterised these types of organisations as ‘co-created shadow state structures’ as they arose out of the meeting of the needs of an authoritarian state with the entrepreneurial instincts of some of those in receipt of political patronage. In our analysis of one policy intervention in 2017, for example, we found one organisation had won the largest proportion of the available funding for teacher CPL despite the fact that it didn’t exist at the time of the tender and had no track record.

Again, for similar conditions for ITE reform to exist in Australia, a different kind of conservatism would have to be dominant in policy-making, similar to the variety that has taken control of education in England. My limited experience of Australian politics suggests that while cultural restorationism and authoritarianism are not entirely absent from politics here, what tends to dominate are more classical liberal models that value ideals of small government, free markets and personal liberty. 

That’s not to say that traditionalism and authoritarian statist instincts, in the way that Poulantzas conceptualised them, do not have influence but they are not determining education policy in quite the comprehensive and urgent way that they are in England.

Finally and crucially, ITE providers in England – including, perhaps especially, the universities – lost the arguments about teacher education a long time ago, largely because they were not present in them. 

The organisation representing universities involved in ITE in England went along with the general direction of reforms and only recently seems to have woken up to the fact that it is now ‘do or die’ for the sector

Additionally, sector leaders in England, often in the research intensive universities, prioritised research performance and league tables and were prepared to proletarianise teacher educators (and I use that word technically) in pursuit of ‘research excellence’, as Jane McNicholl and I showed. What has been missing in the years leading up to the current crisis in England are confident, non-defensive voices arguing the case both for genuine diversity of provision and innovation in ITE and for building strong research programmes in teacher education, just as would be the aspiration in any other area of research. Universities, especially, if they believed they had a strong contribution to make to ITE and that, as universities, that contribution was partly in the form of research and innovation, failed to make it happen in England.

In discussing what might happen in ITE in Australia, I have met a few people who have argued vigorously for a more ‘joined-up’ education system here. I have heard frustration that good ideas emerging from the Commonwealth government are not picked up by states and that children and young people do not always get the education they deserve. One or two have even said to me they wished Australia was following the example of England in both the direction, coherence and pace of reform. My response has been ‘be careful of what you wish for’. Australia needs to aim a lot higher than England when looking for good ideas to influence innovation here. There are excellent examples of evidence-based interventions elsewhere in the world that can improve the quality of teaching. We need to look up, not down, we can’t be complacent, and we shouldn’t let the empire strike back. 

Viv Ellis is Dean of the Faculty of Education at Monash University. His latest book (with Lauren Gatti and Warwick Mansell), The New Political Economy of Teacher Education: The Enterprise Narrative and the Shadow State, will be published by Policy Press in 2022.

Australian curriculum review: strengthened but still a long way from an amazing curriculum for all Australian students

There is much to admire in the proposed revisions to the Australian Curriculum, which were released for public consultation this week. I’d give it a B+.

The curriculum content organisers and core ideas have been revised to ensure that they are more closely aligned, with some trimming of content to enable greater depth of study. There is also less prescription to enable a broader range of curriculum opportunities within the framework of the Australian Curriculum.

However, perhaps the most remarkable shift is the clear break from Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire’s 2014 curriculum review, which called for greater emphasis on Australia’s Western cultural canon and Judeo–Christian heritage. The proposed changes have a clear commitment to cultural diversity, plurality and inclusion of multiple perspectives, which is embedded throughout multiple aspects of the revised curriculum.

This can be most clearly observed in the revisions to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority, which emphasise ‘truth telling’ and deeper, more honest engagement with the complex and confronting histories and experiences of First Nations Australians.

Terms such as ‘occupation’, ‘colonisation’ and ‘invasion’ are embedded into the conceptual bedrock of the curriculum, which sits in stark contrast to the recommendations posed by the Donnelly–Wiltshire review.

Cue outrage from the conservative commentariat.

Almost immediately, the Institute for Public Affairs decried the changes as demoting the values of Western civilisation and Christianity, while also forcing the curriculum to become ‘monocultural’, with the Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program, Dr Bella d’Abrera, claiming that ‘children will be taught the historical lie that Australia was invaded by the British’.

Donnelly also quickly sprang into action, criticising the proposed changes as being ‘politically correct’ and enforcing a ‘cultural-left interpretation of the nation’.

Even the federal education minister, Alan Tudge, was quick to express concern that the proposed curriculum changes came at the risk of ‘dishonouring our Western heritage’.

The culture wars are far from dead and we can expect to hear more public proclamations of the calamity that will surely befall society if Australian students learn the truth about the histories and cultures of First Nations Australians in the classroom.

Another concern about the ‘decluttered’ curriculum revisions is the emphasis, yet again, on increasing the focus on literacy and numeracy in the early primary years. Schools already emphasise the ‘basics’ in the first years of schooling, with many public schools timetabling only one or two lessons each week for the arts.

Any curriculum that focuses on literacy and numeracy at the expense of the arts, humanities and social sciences is an impoverished curriculum.

The perennial argument that we need to go ‘back to the basics’ to fix declining performance on standardised tests misunderstands the problem. Take the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for example, which is a triennial test of 15-year-old students’ performance in reading, mathematics and science. While the national aggregated data demonstrate a small decline in performance over the past couple of decades, when the data are disaggregated, a much more nuanced picture appears.

Australia has one of the worlds most segregated and inequitable schooling systems. Performance on PISA is intimately tied to socioeconomic status and geolocation. The basic correlation is that the closer to the city and the more money and education that your parents have, the better your chances of performing well on PISA.

NAPLAN is much the same.

The MySchool website includes a series of technical reports that explain the correlation between school performance on NAPLAN and its Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA), which is based on parental education and occupation, geolocation and percentage of Indigenous student enrolments. The annual ICSEA technical reports consistently demonstrate approximately four-fifths of the variance in schools performance on NAPLAN is accounted for by ICSEA.

In plain language: what happens in the lives of young people has a much bigger effect on their success on NAPLAN and PISA tests than the curriculum or pedagogy they experience in school.

Australian schooling is starkly divided into those who can afford independent school fees and/or to supplement school learning with extra-curricular activities such as music lessons, dance and art clubs, sporting teams and the like.

However, for young Australians living in poverty and complex situations, including those in out-of-home care, or who do not have access to rich extra-curricular opportunities, the school curriculum is the only place where they have an opportunity to be exposed to the rich diversity of culture and creativity that is available through the arts, humanities and social sciences.

A greater emphasis on the basics in the curriculum might produce a small bump in test results, but the effects of an impoverished curriculum will be much longer lasting, especially for those students who are most marginalised and disadvantaged.

As such, we need to shift the debate away from one that engages in endless cultural and ideological dispute, or one which focuses on the lowest denominators of basic literacy and numeracy, to one that asks how we can meaningfully ensure that all young people, but especially those least advantaged, have access to an engaging, high-quality and rich curriculum.

The proposed changes are a good start, but we still have a long way to go.

Dr Stewart Riddle is an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland. His research interests include social justice and equity in education, music-based research practices and research methodologies. He also plays bass in a band called Drawn from Bees.

The photograph used in the header image is of Kevin Donnelly. The author of the image is credited as “wife of Kevin Donnelly”. Image hosted here. It is available under a Creative Commons license.

Why bizarre milkshakes will never replace world-class consent education

The Government would only have had to go as far as Victoria to do better, writes Amanda Keddie.

Education academics, women’s rights campaigners and many in between have criticised some of the material in the government’s new respectful relationships resource for schools.

Particularly controversial in the Good Society resource is a video of a girl asking a boy to try her milkshake. When he says he’s happy with his own, she smears her milkshake all over his face. 

While well-intentioned, the video is simplistic and likely to be viewed by secondary students as condescending. The video is designed to be a lesson in decision-making when someone crosses the line in relationships that may be abusive.

I reviewed the entire Good Society resource from a gender-justice perspective and found problems beyond those in the milkshake video. These include that gender-based violence isn’t addressed in the materials for the primary school years, and harmful gender norms are perpetuated in some of the materials around consent. The resource also overwhelmingly focuses on heterosexual relationships.

What is this resource?

The Good Society resource is part of the Australian government’s Respect Matters program, which aims “to support respectful relationships education in all Australian schools” and to “change the attitudes of young people towards violence, including domestic, family and sexual violence”. The Respect Matters program itself is part of the government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children

The resource includes more than 350 videos, podcasts and activities for children in the foundation year of school, up to year 12. 

It’s divided into year levels (foundation–year 6, 7-9 and 10-12) with a series of activities for students to explore topics, including:

– positive relationships, inclusion and exclusion, friendships and identity (foundation-year 6) 

– peer influence, social power and gender (years 7-9) 

– sexual consent and sexting (years 11-12).

There are positive aspects to this resource including teacher guides for each topic with clearly stated learning objectives. All content is linked directly to the Australian Curriculum and there are links in the resource to extensive professional learning support for teachers. 

The resource draws on some powerful video material that foregrounds the voices of young people to stimulate students’ interest in, and discussion about, each of the topics. Some topics, like sexting, are addressed comprehensively.

But there are several serious issues.

Nothing on gender-based violence for young children

The government launched The Good Society after Chanel Contos’ viral petition for sexual consent to be taught earlier in schools. But the resource does not mention issues of sexual consent until years 11 and 12. 

Children live in a very gender inequitable world and absorb its messages. And the unfortunate reality is young children experience unwanted sexual contact. They need the language and strategies to challenge these experiences and protect themselves.

There is strong evidence attesting to the significance of supporting young children in the early childhood and primary years to critically analyse harmful gender identities. 

And we know young children are capable of understanding gender-based violence. In a recent study my colleague and I observed a teacher in a year 1 to 2 class eliciting comments from students who defined different forms of gender-based violence including “when someone says girls can’t play soccer” and as “when boys are teased when they cry”. 

This teacher was drawing on the teaching materials in the Victorian Respectful Relationships Education curriculum. These materials focus on defining gender-based violence and examining its effects through age-appropriate playground and school scenarios.  

But such defining and analysis are absent in The Good Society materials from the first year to year 6. Gender identity features in some of the cartoon stories and there are some gestures to what gender respect might look like. But the materials are quite childish and condescending. 

Of concern, some of the the stories reinforce gendered messages. One features a soccer game, where the male character outperforms the girls who “struggle to get the ball”. The girls are angry about the unfairness of the game and force him to pass the ball to them. Without proper critique, this story leaves gender binaries (boys as physically strong and in control and girls as less powerful) intact. 

Young women presented as sexual gatekeepers

For years 11-12, The Good Society’s materials explore issues of sexual consent under the headings of influences (like social forces and technology) and situations (such as alcohol and drugs, and parties). These are important focus areas and there are some powerful videos in this section that could open up transformative conversations about gender justice. 

But several of the videos about sexual consent reinforce the notion of females as sexual gatekeepers and males as sexual initiators. 

One year 11-12 resource video called “Kiss” involves two teenagers engaged in a passionate kissing session that, for the young woman, is getting out of hand. She halts the process and is relieved when her male partner agrees to “keep it above the clothes”. 

The teacher guidance associated with this video recognises tensions of ambivalence around sexual consent. But the decision-making centres on the sexual objectification of the woman. For instance, there are questions about whether the young woman should allow the young man to “squeeze her butt” or “squeeze her boobs”. 

There is no real critical engagement with the gendered dimensions of sexual consent, such as the hetero-sexist presumptions that position boys with the power to sexualise and dehumanise girls, and girls with the responsibility to police boys’ excessive sexual appetites. 

There’s a good resource available

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has said the resource was developed in consultation with experts, such as the eSafety Commissioner, Foundation for Young Australians, and parent, teacher and community groups. 

I am surprised this consultation did not draw on the Victorian Respectful Relationships model currently being taken up in more than 1,850 Victorian government, Catholic and independent schools. 

This program’s curriculum resources draw on an extensive evidence base. And it situates teaching and learning within a whole school approach, where gender respect and equality are examined and monitored in relation to staffing, school culture, professional learning, support for staff and students and community connections. 

Amanda Keddie is a Professor of Education at Deakin University. Her research examines the processes, practices and conditions that can impact on the pursuit of social justice in education settings. Amanda’s qualitative research has been based within the Australian, English and American schooling contexts. Follow her on @amandamkeddie

This work is being co-published with The Conversation.

Main image from the The Good Society

Teachers do not want or need another review. Trust is proven to work.

Christine Cunningham, Maggie McAlinden, Michelle Striepe, Christa Norris, Madlen Griffiths, Zina Cordery, Wei Zhang.

We are a group of exhausted expert teacher educators from Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia with a long and proud history following in the footsteps of Edith Cowan who did so much to improve the lives of women, the poor and the under-educated. As teacher educators, we understand the influence that those in power have over others and we were dismayed to see yet another Education Minister call for yet another review of teacher education in these times of turmoil. Despite being highly educated professionals, our agency is being eroded by the current precarity of all work in higher education, yet we feel compelled to speak up on behalf of those who can’t. We write this blog to ask the Education Minister to trust teachers and teacher educators and to stop the decay of  public trust in our education system through a stopgap review.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has decided to again review Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Australia. 

We do not believe another review is necessary. 

While we acknowledge the capabilities of the four commissioned reviewers, chaired by former Department of Education secretary Lisa Paul AO PSM,  there have been many, many government reviews into teaching in recent decades but there is little implementation of recommendations.

This latest review is being justified by the Minister because Australian student achievement trends in two international standardised tests, the PISA and TIMMS, are slipping down on what we consider to be a problematic global league table. 

The results which concern the minister are shown in the graphs below. The first is taken from the Australian Council for Educational Research’s report on 2018 PISA data about Australian year 10 students and the second and third graphs from the 2019 TIMMS data about year 4 then year 8 Australian students.

Figure 1
Figures 2 and 3

Citing results from the 2018 PISA testing round ( Figure 1), the Minister is concerned that achievement standards have been slipping:

This review claims it will focus on ways to attract ‘high-quality’ candidates into teaching and investigate how ITE courses prepare teachers. We note that while it is a noble and worthwhile aim, as we always welcome high-quality candidates into the teaching profession, to conduct yet another review of ITE will not resolve the problem of declining standards alone. 

A range of corresponding factors are intrinsically interlinked to impact on students’ academic performance. Improved student outcomes may be a result of joint efforts from parents, school communities, neighbourhood safety, the list goes on. It is unrealistic to rely on a single factor, i.e. Review to lift students’ learning engagement or academic outcome. Efforts by teachers and educators to cater for distinctive contexts and individual needs have to be valued and rewarded, not scrutinised.  

Yet again, the blame for declining standards appears to be shifted onto individual teachers. After reading media reports on the new review, it is clear that the underlying message of this review seems to be that individual teachers are yet again being unfairly blamed for the decline in standardised test scores. Teachers are sick of being portrayed in the media as being to blame for circumstances that arise from a complex mix of historical, cultural, sociological and ideological factors.

So if we do not support a new review then what will stop the decline in standardised test scores which concern the Minister? 

We think the solutions are already available and they revolve around trust. Pasi Sahlberg and Timothy Walker in their recent book In Teachers We Trust  advocate a trust-based school system; where we trust in teachers, pay them highly and recognise them as essential workers. 

At the individual level, trust is a relational and moral emotion that reduces anxiety and makes people feel secure. When we feel safe, we learn better, we feel better. At the societal level, the trust between citizens/teachers and institutions is more complex, but has more or less the same effect. The erosion of trust increases anxiety at both levels and for everyone concerned. When trust is absent or diminished in a society or institution, anxiety rises and our capacity to teach and learn declines which is what we may be seeing reflected in the PISA results. 

The development of trust is the best path forward. Supporting teachers in this way is important because, after all, it is the work of teachers and principals that has the greatest impact on school effectiveness and student learning (Grissom et al., 2021; Leithwood et al., 2004). 

Teachers who have taught for a long time and then study to the PhD level are the professionals who teach people to become teachers. They are essential, highly qualified workers who can be trusted.

Trust in teachers themselves, trust in those who educate them.

We are concerned this new review may potentially negate the ‘Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers’ report from the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, or TEMAG. This report, issued late in 2014 was prepared by a panel of experts based on wide-ranging evidence, research and international best practice.

Instead of focusing attention on ITE, we’d like the current government to show some trust in teachers and have the moral courage to implement recommendations from previous reviews  alongside  leaders of State/Territory governments, leaders of the various State/Territory educational systems and leaders at the school level. We’d like to see the government start listening to the experts rather than wasting taxpayers money on yet another review. 

Improving an entire system can only come from the will, collective work, shared knowledge and moral leadership of all those who work within the system (Fullan, 2002).

Top left and then clockwise:

Dr Christine Cunningham is a secondary trained HASS, dance and ESL teacher with a PhD in Educational Leadership and is currently the School of Education’s Higher Degrees by Research Coordinator at Edith Cowan University.

Dr Maggie McAlinden is the TESOL program leader at Edith Cowan university, and has a PhD in Intercultural Education). 

Dr Michelle Striepe is a senior lecturer within the School of Education at ECU with a Masters and EdD in Educational Leadership. 

Dr Donna Barwood is a Lecturer in the School of Education with a PhD investigating the teacher workforce.

Wei Zhang is a humanities and Chinese language trained teacher and current PhD candidate with the School of Education at ECU.

Zina Cordery  is a digital education specialist with a Masters of Research Practice  and is a current PhD candidate with the School of Education at ECU.

Madlen Griffiths is an ITE professional experience specialist with a Masters of Research Practice and is a current PhD candidate with the School of Education at ECU. 

Dr Christa Norris is a lecturer and leader of the Internship program at ECU with a PhD in STEM education