Melbourne Graduate School of Education Curriculum Policies Project

Curriculum resources and the problem of writing about curriculum in Australia

Our attempt to build a resource of key curriculum documents for each state at each ten year interval revealed the enormous practical difficulty of building even the most preliminary overview and mapping of key agendas across Australia. Despite some prior pilot work, a good knowledge of existing literature, and confining the project’s scope and focus to the framing agendas that are constructed for secondary schooling, the amount of primary document and archival searching required and associated difficulties was much more onerous than anticipated, and the project had to do much more foundational work than expected before the main focus of the project could even begin.

The conceptual ambiguities regarding what is an appropriate curriculum document and the practical difficulties in sourcing non-current documents, meant that the task of collecting documents for analysis for each state and decade is a major research exercise in its own right. In most cases, consistent archives of reports and documents are no longer maintained in a catalogued repository once new policies are introduced. To begin to build the list of documents we used for the purpose of mapping each decade in each state, we had to engage in a lengthy process of going from library searching to interviews with those who provide documents from their own private collections, or provide further information about where something may be found.

The problem is that even within the guidelines we set up regarding the state documents we analysed, there is no consistency to the form documents take. Sometimes they are explicitly produced as a framework document; sometimes as a report, parts of which may be enacted and parts not; sometimes important parts of a state agenda may effectively be carried not by a report but by instructions to principals; sometimes specific enquiries and instructions may be developed about girls or boys or gifted or indigenous students and so on – and these may or may not be incorporated in other general policies, or given concrete effect. We tried to capture some of this complexity by proceeding with multiple types of analysis, using the interviews, seminars and feedback from those doing other studies of curriculum over the period to develop an overview comparative mapping across states and decades.

Our findings regarding the difficulties of seriously studying curriculum in Australia have been reported in a number of papers. In particular, Lyn Yates reported on the project difficulties and curriculum over the period 1975-2005 in an AARE symposium entitled 'Australian Curriculum Inquiry as Educational Research: ‘Really Useful’ Knowledge for the 21 Century?'. In addition, an article relating to the difficulty of analyzing the curriculum interests and changing focus of Australian education theses over last thirty years entitled ‘Classifying Curriculum Scholarship in Australia: A review of Postgraduate Theses 1975–2005’ was published in the Australian Educational Researcher, Issue 37 (1), pp. 125–143.

The resources we provide via this website which we hope other researchers will make further use of are:

top of page