In 2012, QLD introduced the new ACARA syllabuses across all core strands and primary and junior secondary year levels. Many of us were excited by the challenge ahead and other more weathered souls were apprehensive of how we would face the many challenges it would present. I was lucky enough that my education department developed comprehensive resources to help guide us through our first year until we could refine based on what we had learnt. In 2017, we are still adjusting and learning how best to implement the curriculum, 5 years to achieve what is still not perfect and what will likely need further refinement in the years to come does not necessarily bode well for the further changes to high school curriculum.
In 2019, QLD will introduce the new senior ACARA syllabuses across all subjects. This time I am one of those apprehensive leaders patiently waiting to understand the full scope of how it will all work.
If you have been following for a little while you might have noticed that I like to plan and with so many unknowns planning is hard. With the introduction of these new syllabuses not only will teachers will be faced with a change in content breadth and depth in many subjects but the way that we assess our students and determine their exit scores is going to change from how it has been for the last 30 years (The OP system was introduced in 1987).
One of the most concerning changes for teachers in mathematics and science is that 50% of a student’s result will come from an external set of exams at the end of year 12. Unlike systems in other states this exam is not expected to be used as a scaling tool for the other 50% of a student’s result. While the emphasis placed on the mathematics and science end of year assessment is substantial, other subjects contributing to an ATAR will have at least 25% of their results determined by the final piece of assessment in year 12.
Why is this so concerning? In QLD students sit only one external exam in senior, this exam is the QCS (Queensland Core Skills Test). Where this experience differs from the new format is that how students perform on this test does not directly impact their individual achievement. QLD students have never been trained to sit for an external exam nor do they know how to prepare for it.
Even though the introduction of these syllabuses has been delayed by one year I am still concerned and have questions about the following 5 points:
- While the timelines for the implementation of the new curriculum have been extended by one year, at almost mid way through term 2 of 2017 I am still more or less clueless about what will be required of myself, my team or my students.
- When reading the syllabuses for my faculty I have noted that students need every possible second of class time that is in a year to manage to meet the time requirements of the unit. It is expected that students will finish their units by the beginning of term 4 to allow for revision and external exams.
- If you work in a school currently you would know that there is no way that we would have every lesson in the school year to teach as is required. School calendars are cluttered with excursions, public holidays, extra curricular events, school events etc. This term alone some of our students have already missed 5 of their 9 available lessons.
- Training in the new syllabi begins this year. Only 2 of my 4 syllabuses have scheduled training days and the number of staff that are able to attend training is limited. While some staff will be able to train in their appropriate subject in 2017 many will not have the opportunity until late in 2018. Will this give enough time to then train staff within the school that were not able to train?
- In some subject areas the content that is to be taught under the new senior has not been taught before. Who up skills these staff? Will courses be offered? Do we form working groups within our areas to share our expertise?
- Will leaders be able to access generic subject training to assist them in managing the implementation of multiple syllabuses that they may not be trained in?
3. Content retention
- Since the introduction of ACARA in the lower years in 2012 I have noticed that many students do not retain the knowledge they have learnt in a unit into the next one. In the age of Google students often think that if they forget it they can just look it up. While this is true, how do we address the need for students to remember up to 2 years of content knowledge for a 50% external exam.
- As with any change in curriculum resources must be changed, adapted and purchased. Where does the funding to purchase the new resources required come from?
- Do we buy textbooks? When? Do we wait? How do we pay for them?
5. External Assessment
- As mentioned earlier the move to external assessment is a massive change here. Even though students will not sit their first external exam until the end of 2020 the skills required to complete it to the best of their ability needs to begin now. As a student of the old OP system in QLD I am struggling to get my head around how you prepare students to be able to do well in external exams.
- How should I adjust my junior units to assist students in performing well in external exams? What are the major skills that they will need? How do we embed these into our courses of study?
So alot of food for thought. While I attempt to plan and prepare for the introduction of the new senior in QLD, I worry that I won’t be able to find solutions to these concerns that are going to enable my students in 2020 to perform at their best. I will of course be engaging with my fellow leadership team and colleagues over the next 12 months to try to determine the best plan that we can.
I welcome you to comment below with your suggestions or contact me privately.