National Report on Schooling in Australia 2011

National initiatives and achievements

2.6 Promoting world-class curriculum and assessment

Australian governments are committed to working together with all school sectors to ensure world-class curriculum and assessment for Australia at national and local levels (Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians 2008).

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

The key national strategy to support this commitment identified in the MCEETYA four-year plan 2009–20121 was the establishment of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

ACARA is responsible for the delivery of key national reforms in curriculum and assessment including:

  • development of a rigorous, world-class national curriculum, which builds on early childhood learning, from the first year of schooling to Year 12

  • alignment between the Early Years Learning Framework and school-based curriculum frameworks that relate to the early years of schooling

  • development of plans to improve the capacity of schools to assess student performance, and to link assessment to the national curriculum where appropriate

  • managing the development and overseeing the delivery of assessments and reporting for the National Assessment Program (NAP), including national tests in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and sample assessments in Science Literacy, Civics and Citizenship, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy.

ACARA is an independent statutory authority, established in December 2008 under the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Act (2008) (the ACARA Act), and is subject to the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act (1997). ACARA became operational at the end of May 2009.

ACARA is a cooperative enterprise between state and federal jurisdictions and its activities are jointly funded by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. The ACARA Board comprises members nominated by Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers, as well as the National Catholic Education Commission and Independent Schools Council of Australia.

ACARA’s work is carried out in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including teachers, principals, governments, State and Territory education authorities, non-government education authorities, professional education associations, community groups and the general public.

Its role in the reporting of educational information is outlined in Part 2.8: National initiatives and achievements – strengthening accountability and transparency.

In terms of curriculum and assessment, the functions of ACARA, as provided in Section 6 of the ACARA Act, are to:

  • develop and administer a national school curriculum, including content of the curriculum and achievement standards, for school subjects specified in the Charter²

  • develop and administer national assessments

  • provide school curriculum resource services

  • provide information, resources, support and guidance to the teaching profession.

The Australian Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum is being developed in phases. Each phase involves substantial consultation with government and non-government education authorities, professional associations, teachers, academics, business, industry and parent and community groups across all States and Territories and comprehensive review and revision processes. Development of the Australian Curriculum from Foundation³ to Year 12 (F–12) follows ACARA’s Curriculum Development Process and Curriculum Design papers.

The overall development of the Australian Curriculum is guided by the Shape of the Australian Curriculum which is approved by Education Ministers and was first published in 2009. The third version of the shape paper was published in October 2011. It provides background for the implementation of the first phase of curriculum development and guides further development of the Australian Curriculum.

The Australian Curriculum F–12 comprises content descriptions, elaborations, achievement standards and annotated work samples, which are published online.

The first phase of curriculum development, which commenced in 2009, involved the development of curriculum content and achievement standards for English, mathematics, science and history, with Foundation to Year 10 (F–10) and senior secondary development operating on different timelines. The development of the Australian Curriculum for this phase was guided by shape papers for English, mathematics, science and history as well as the first Shape of the Australian Curriculum paper.

In December 2010, Ministers approved the content of the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum in English, mathematics, science and history, subject to the validation of achievement standards.

The 2011 validation of F–10 achievement standards involved feedback from classroom teachers and State and Territory school and curriculum authorities. Revised achievement standards and refined curriculum content for F–10 English, mathematics, science and history were approved by Ministers and published on the ACARA website in October 2011. In addition, to clarify achievement standards for each of these subjects, portfolios of student work were developed and published in December 2011.

Responsibility for implementing the Australian Curriculum lies with each State and Territory. Implementation of English, mathematics, science and history Australian Curriculum from Foundation to Year 10 commenced in some States and Territories in 2011 with substantial implementation planned to occur by the end of 2013 in most States and Territories.

Draft senior secondary (Years 11 and 12) curriculum for English, mathematics, science and history was released for public consultation in May 2010. Feedback was reviewed by advisory groups and State and Territory education authorities and this analysis, along with ACARA’s responses, has informed the draft senior curriculum in these learning areas, to be released for consultation in the first half of 2012.

The second phase of the Australian Curriculum development involves the learning areas of geography, languages and the arts.

Following national consultation during 2010, the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography was published in January 2011 and the draft Australian Curriculum: Geography F–12 was released for consultation in October 2011. The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: The Arts was published in August 2011 and writing of the draft F–10 curriculum began after the consultation period. Following publication of the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Languages in November 2011, curriculum writing began for F–10 Chinese and Italian.

The third phase includes the development of the Australian Curriculum for other learning areas specified in the Melbourne Declaration: health and physical education; technologies (including information and communication technology and design and technology); civics and citizenship; and business and economics. In mid-2011, work began on the development of shape papers for technologies and health and physical education, with national forums in both learning areas held in December 2011.

In addition to its focus on learning areas, the Australian Curriculum pays particular attention to general capabilities. These encompass skills, behaviours and dispositions that students develop and apply to content. The Australian Curriculum includes seven general capabilities: literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology capability, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical behaviour and intercultural understanding. These are addressed in each learning area as appropriate.

The curriculum also gives special attention to three cross-curriculum priorities:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

  • Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

  • sustainability.

The Australian Curriculum Consultation portal allows stakeholders and the general public to read, review and provide feedback on draft curriculum materials as they become available. The feedback is used to revise and improve the draft materials so that the highest quality documents are developed and published.

Curriculum documents are progressively released on the ACARA Australian Curriculum website.

School curriculum resource services and information and support to the teaching profession

While implementation of the Australian Curriculum is a matter for each State and Territory, ACARA is continuing to work with States and Territories to facilitate implementation by providing leadership, advice and opportunities to coordinate implementation planning.

As the Australian Curriculum is developed, approved and released, ACARA is working with jurisdictions, sectors, other agencies and professional associations to provide tools and resources to support schools, teachers and the public in implementing and interacting with the Australian Curriculum.

ACARA collaborates with Education Services Australia regarding online resource discovery and access and with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership regarding professional learning requirements in relation to the Australian Curriculum.

To ensure the Australian Curriculum is accessible to students for whom English is another language or dialect (EAL/D), teacher resources have been developed in consultation with expert advisers and the States and Territories. The English as an Additional Language or Dialect: Teacher Resource was published on the ACARA website in August 2011 and will assist teachers to support EAL/D students in accessing the Australian Curriculum.

Advice has also been developed for schools and teachers on using the Australian Curriculum to meet the needs of students with disabilities. It is available on the Australian Curriculum Consultation website.

The National Assessment Program (NAP)

The National Assessment Program is an ongoing program of assessments to monitor progress towards the Educational Goals for Young Australians. The NAP encompasses the annual national literacy and numeracy tests (NAPLAN), three-yearly sample assessments in science literacy, civics and citizenship, and information and communication technology (ICT) literacy, and Australia’s participation in international assessments.

  • National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

NAPLAN is an annual assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australia in the areas of Reading, Writing, Language Conventions (spelling, punctuation and grammar) and Numeracy (number; function and pattern; measurement, chance and data; and space).

NAPLAN tests were first conducted in 2008, replacing former State and Territory based literacy and numeracy tests.

ACARA has been responsible for the development of and overseeing the delivery of the NAPLAN tests from 2010.
Information on results of the 2011 NAPLAN tests, including the key performance measures related to them, is included in Part 5: Student achievement.

The NAPLAN National Report for 2011 is published on ACARA’s National Assessment Program website. This report provides analyses of results including breakdowns by State and Territory, and student background characteristics, including sex, language background, Indigenous status, geolocation and parental education and occupation. Further information about NAPLAN for parents, schools and students is also available on this website. This information includes samples of the individual student reports that are provided to all students who participate in the NAPLAN tests, and background information about the NAPLAN tests. Average NAPLAN results for schools are also reported on the My School website.

  • The National Assessment Program – sample assessments

The national sample assessments test students’ skills and understanding in Science Literacy, Civics and Citizenship, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy. Selected groups of students in Years 6 and 10 participate in these sample assessments, which are held on a rolling three-yearly basis.

Sample assessments began in 2003 with Science Literacy, followed by Civics and Citizenship in 2004 and ICT Literacy in 2005. The third ICT Literacy assessment was undertaken by a sample of Year 6 and Year 10 students in October 2011.

Information on results of the 2011 ICT Literacy assessment, including the key performance measures related to it, is included in Part 5: Student achievement.

The full report on this sample assessment is available on ACARA’s National Assessment Program website.

  • National Assessment Program — international assessments

There are two NAP sample assessments conducted by international organisations that are used as a basis for key performance measures in the Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia: the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

PISA is conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and involves the assessment of a sample of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. The most recent PISA assessment for which results are available took place in 2009 and the national report for this assessment was released in December 2010. This and other PISA reports are available on the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) website.4

TIMSS is a four-yearly international sample assessment of student achievement in mathematics and science at Years 4 and 8 administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The most recent TIMSS assessment (TIMSS 2011) took place for Australian students in late 2010 with approximately 13,700 students sitting the test. Results from TIMSS 2011 are reported in Part 5.3: National Assessment Program – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

In late 2010, approximately 6,100 Australian students participated in an additional international assessment: the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2011. PIRLS is an international sample assessment of Year 4 student achievement in reading literacy administered by the IEA. National reports for TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 are available on the ACER website.

In October 2011, Australian Education Ministers also agreed to Australia’s participation in the IEA’s International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) in 2013.


¹ The Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA) replaced the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) in July 2009. In January 2012, MCEECDYA was replaced by the COAG Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood (SCSEEC).
² MCEECDYA (SCSEEC from 2012) determines the ACARA Charter and specifies the subjects for development within the Charter.
³ The Foundation year is known as Preparatory in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, Kindergarten in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, Reception in South Australia, Pre-primary in Western Australia and Transition in the Northern Territory.
4 An additional report, PISA 2009: Preparing Australian Students for the Digital World, was published by ACER in 2012.