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Understanding curriculum hierarchies, curriculum justice and curriculum form in Australian senior secondary education

Paper Presentation | Philip Roberts and Kate O'Connor | Saturday 24th of June,  11:30am | Dr Philip Roberts and Kate O'Connor


This paper discusses the theoretical perspectives informing a program of work aimed at understanding examine how curriculum structures impact school curriculum offerings and how student and school characteristics interact in complex ways with curriculum structure to shape student participation and achievement in upper secondary curricula. This work brings together Connell’s (1993) work on curriculum justice, Teese’s (2000) work on curriculum hierarchies and Luke, Woods and Weir’s (2013) conceptualisation of equity and the technical form of curriculum. Our aim is to uncover the policy contexts and discourses that facilitate as well as hinder equity of curriculum access, participation and achievement through an examination of the different ways these issues play out in different Australian state curriculum cultures (Yates et al., 2011). In this paper we explore these concerns through a policy analysis of the senior secondary curriculum in four different state cultures: Victoria, NSW, ACT and WA. This analysis focuses on (1) formal statements of intent and values in relation to senior secondary; (2) curriculum and assessment guidelines issued to schools; (3) regulatory arrangements, especially in relation to issues of external moderation and scaling for the purposes of the ATAR. We consider both the technical form of curriculum (particularly in relation the level of prescription or flexibility) and the approach to social justice and equity informing that, paying attention to both to the explicit commitments of the documents and to the implicit metaphorical claims and regulatory agendas (e.g. modes of assessment and certification) they set up. The paper considers the differences evident between these states and the opportunities and challenges these present for an equitable and socially just curriculum.

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Presenter Bios

Dr Philip Roberts | Associate Professor | Chief Editor, Curriculum Perspectives Journal, ACSA

Dr Philip Roberts is an Associate Professor in Curriculum Inquiry and Rural Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Canberra. He is the research leader of the Rural Education, Curriculum and Communities Research Group in the Centre for Sustainable Communities at the University of Canberra and an ARC DECRA Fellow (2020-23). Philips’ research focuses on the role of knowledge in curriculum, rural knowledges and the sustainability of rural communities.

Prior to moving to the university sector 14 years ago Philip was a teacher and school executive in rural and remote schools for 12 years. He has held various positions on state curriculum boards, departmental boards, teacher registration boards and the teachers union. Philip has spent his career advocating for and supporting initiatives aimed at enhancing equity for rural, regional and remote communities.

Throughout his research career he has been awarded in excess of $6m for research projects with a focus on education and the development of professionals in rural, regional and remote areas and published over 60 academic publications on these topics. He teaches pre-service teachers, and post graduate classes on curriculum development, the use of data in educational decision making, and the preparation of professionals for rural communities.

Kate O'Connor | Director of Research, La Trobe University

Kate O’Connor is Senior Lecturer in Policy and Leadership and Director of Graduate Research in the School of Education at La Trobe University. Kate’s research focuses on curriculum policy and practice in secondary schooling and higher education, both separately and as a trajectory. Her work draws on theoretical perspectives from curriculum inquiry, education policy studies and sociology of education, and is concerned with questions relating to the knowledges valued in education and the implications of different ways of structuring curriculum at the policy level. She has expertise in qualitative research methods, historical research and policy analysis and has worked on projects concerned with changes in school curriculum policies over time, the nationalisation of schooling reform, the changing context of disciplinary knowledge across the educational trajectory and the curriculum and knowledge implications of new digital platforms.

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