Jill Heinrich, Chief Policy officer organised a meeting for me with a team of curriculum, implementation and policy experts at the Board of Studies in Sydney. The Board has been committed to critical literacy as an aim of the curriculum for more than three decades – and, as such, the Board is confident that teachers across NSW are comfortable in their delivery of critical skills across the curriculum. The Board wants learners in NSW to become critical users of curriculum content. All learning areas are committed to creating opportunities for students to critique, evaluate, analyse and question.
The Board ensures that this aim is being realised through regular school inspection and re-registration visits. They examine schools’ syllabi and schemes of work for scope and sequence in critical skills. They also sample pupil work and monitor progression, not just in functional literacy but in critical and cross-curricular literacies too. They do not look for summative assessment of values or attitudes, rather they are keen to establish that schools are providing adequate opportunity for students to learn how to interpret visual and written texts. Identifying bias, exploring purpose and evaluating representation requires that students exercise critical judgement and feel confident to express and justify a point of view.
Problem solving has come to occupy a position of importance in primary education in NSW. The Board supports cross-curricular and project based approaches to problem solving in which learners of all ages are asked, ‘What’s your call to action?’, helping them identify a suitable project in which they feel personally invested. This negotiated approach to project planning and outcomes aligns well with Scotland’s increased focus on ‘personalisation and choice’.
The key learning from this research engagement is that the Board of Studies in NSW allows teachers at least 12 months of familiarisation time before they are expected to implement any new features of the curriculum. During this time, schools are given extra training by their sectors (Department, Catholic or independent) and are supported by specialist subject teams at the Board who are available to answer any questions and concerns. This time is clearly valued and appreciated by teachers who can reflect on the curriculum’s new shape, direction and focus. They can tailor their classroom teaching and resources accordingly without feeling that they are rushing to implement changes. UK education officials should be aware of this example of good practice!