Nurturing wonder and igniting passion 

NSW curriculum review: overview of reform directions

Premier Gladys Berejiklian is working to make Maths compulsory through to the HSC as part of what is being called the biggest shake up of the NSW curriculum in over 30 years. 

In May 2018 the NSW Government announced a comprehensive review of the school curriculum to “ensure that the NSW education system is properly preparing students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century”. 

Professor Geoff Masters, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research, is leading the review. 

The Interim Report has now been released, with a strong message that change is required. 

The changes proposed are significant and while implementation will take a number of years, some changes will happen more quickly. 

The long-term vision of the Review is for a future school curriculum that supports teachers to nurture wonder, ignite passion and provide every young person with knowledge, skills and attributes that help prepare them for a lifetime of learning, meaningful adult employment and effective future citizenship.

Three broad areas of curriculum reform have been identified. These relate to:

  •   the content of the curriculum
  •   the structure of the curriculum
  •   the senior school curriculum

Within each area, a number of reform directions have been identified.

Reforming the content of the curriculum 

This area of reform aims to promote deeper learning through a less crowded curriculum that prioritises the development of core disciplinary knowledge, conceptual understandings and ways of thinking and working, together with skills in applying these in real-world contexts.

Reform Directions 

  1. Creating a less crowded curriculum
  2. Promoting deep understanding
  3. Building skills in applying knowledge
  4. Identifying a common entitlement for all students that specifies what every student is entitled, and expected, to learn while at school. 

Some of the noteworthy changes signaled in this part of the Review are the need to reduce curriculum content by 15 to 20 per cent, all students developing a basic knowledge about and appreciation of Aboriginal languages, cultures and histories, the possibility of students in all schools learning a language from primary school, and students applying their learning to real world problems and meaningful projects in the senior years of school. 

Reforming the structure of the curriculum

This area of reform aims to reorganise syllabuses into a sequence of attainment levels to support teachers in establishing where individuals are in their learning, meeting individual learning needs, and monitoring whether students are on-track with year level expectations to meet the standards expected of every student by the end of school.

Reform Directions 

  1. Creating a more flexible curriculum
  2. Restructuring the curriculum 
  3. Setting high expectations 
  4. Monitoring whether learning is on track 
  5. Ensuring continuity of learning 
  6. Assessing and communicating learning. 

Some of the ideas that depart from current practice in this part of the Review include reconceptualising the curriculum as less prescriptive and more as a frame of reference that enables teachers to establish where students are in their learning while moving away from age-based classroom groupings. 

Reforming the senior school curriculum 

This area of reform aims to ensure that every student is well prepared for further learning, life and work through rigorous senior secondary courses that integrate knowledge, skills and attributes and prioritise both theory and application in learning.

Reform Directions 

  1. Creating a more integrated curriculum
  2. Recognising progress and attainment
  3. Introducing a major project
  4. Redefining learning areas
  5. Reviewing the ATAR.

The big ideas in this area include creating a more integrated curriculum – less polarised into “academic” and “vocational” and honouring both, introducing a major project that every student would undertake in the senior years of school, usually as part of a project team and in a learning area of their choosing, and universities bypassing the calculation and reporting of the ATAR and instead building more transparency by telling students their current ranking for the courses to which they have applied (for example, “there are 63 places and you are currently ranked 68th”). The Review found that there is high demand across the community for the senior secondary curriculum to focus less on immediate post-school destinations and more on developing a strong foundation for ongoing learning, life and work for all students.

The 15 Reform Directions of the Interim Report echo many of the recommendations of the 2018 Gonski Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. These will undoubtedly inform NSW education policy over the next decade. They will also help shape our next strategic plan which we will develop over 2020 for launch at next year’s Speech Night. 

Our School’s deep and long term commitment to languages’ learning, Indigenous education and excellence in project-based learning, as well as our more recent exploration of deeper learning as an entitlement for all students, stand us in good stead to respond with energy and imagination to the reform directions which are emerging. 

Public consultation on the Interim Report is open until 13 December. IGS will continue to be involved in consultation meetings to have our say as the review panel moves towards delivering a final report to the Minister for Education and Early Childhood in early 2020. 

To read the full report see

Shauna Colnan