I was very lucky to secure a meeting at the Australian government’s Department of Education in Canberra. Dr David Atkins, Curriculum and School Reform Branch Manager and Glen Toohey, Office for Teaching and Learning Assistant Director met me to discuss the role of the Commonwealth government in the process of curriculum reform and the setting of educational priorities. David explained that the federal department’s role is to act as ‘cheerleader-in-chief’ and to ensure that the agenda for curriculum and assessment meetings reflects the government’s strategic priorities for education. Given the autonomy of state and territories, the federal government cannot require changes to educational practice, but can provide some suggestions for the continuing improvement of provision and practice. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) holds regular meetings at which national educational matters appear on the agenda and are discussed in detail by ministers. The COAG reform council then reports on performance on educational outcomes across the nation, providing accountability to the funders (federal government) and the public.
Glen gave the view from Higher education: the Office for Learning and Teaching funds fellowships for academics at Australian universities to research a problem (like the lack of critical capacity in undergraduates) then disseminate solutions. There are associated grants available to universities to fund projects which focus on the improvement of teaching. Funding is also available to support Faculty members and administrative staff to cultivate improvements in students’ academic literacy as well as raising the profile of graduate employability skills.
Because Education is a devolved power in the UK, there is a simpler funding and reporting structure in each of the home nations, although lessons can be learned from the jurisdiction-objectivity exercised by bodies such as the Department of Education, ACARA and the COAG reform council. Priorities, objectives and targets are set by negotiation – what impact could this approach have in the UK?